USWNT Secures W Gold Cup Victory with Help from 2 Young Midfielders Previously Overlooked in World Cup

In the W Gold Cup final on Sunday, the U.S. women’s national team defeated Brazil thanks to a strong header from captain Lindsey Horan.

But the two young midfielders who epitomize the program’s post-World Cup metamorphosis were the real stars of the show, the anchors holding together a faltering USWNT.

Before the team left for New Zealand in the summer of last year, 20-year-old Korbin Albert had never even worn a USWNT jersey.

Sam Coffey did, but in 2023 she was oddly ignored and stayed at home to watch the United States implode.

Since their elders struggled in Australia, both have been warmly welcomed into the fold. And with pressure building following a 2-0 loss to Mexico last month, interim coach Twila Kilgore turned to the young players in the USWNT’s most important moment since the World Cup.

Kilgore, who has been in regular contact with the new coach Emma Hayes, benched the previously unstoppable Rose Lavelle for a quarterfinal matchup with Colombia. Albert has been having a blast at PSG in France, so she inserted him and never looked back.

A 3-0 victory over Colombia was secured by the Albert-Coffey double-pivot, which later maneuvered through an untidy and “unplayable” semifinal match against Canada. On the biggest stage, though, their most impactful performance took place at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium in front of 31,528 spectators. Coffey, a Portland Thorns player selected for the NWSL Best XI, also contributed to the game’s swing just before halftime.

In midfield, she rushed headlong into a challenge. Trinity Rodman was freed to move to the right after she emerged victorious in a duel.

Her patience was essential, but Rodman’s initial touch was erroneous. Emily Fox lofted a cross to the far post after she passed out of a double-team. Rising to meet it, Horan drove home what proved to be the game’s lone goal.

Horan’s position with the USWNT has been somewhat mysterious. Deep-lying playmaker, she is clean with the ball. As a sort of second , she is also extremely in the box, particularly when flying. Still, she isn’t maneuverable enough to affect games in either way.

Former US coaches have occasionally attempted to allow Horan the flexibility to do both. She was supposedly a “No. 8,” playing behind Lavelle and in front of a conventional defensive midfielder. However, it was never entirely successful. The American midfielders didn’t feel at ease. It became evident that looking into alternative solutions was necessary.

Kilgore decided to move Horan up to the No. 10 spot as his solution. The duo of Coffey and Albert allowed Horan greater freedom to attack. Horan used that freedom on Sunday, leaving everything behind her to be cleaned up by the relative newcomers.

However, Coffey and Albert’s intense pressure drove the best American sections of the play. After the game, Kilgore exclaimed, “What an impact they’ve had.” They also contributed to the U.S.’s stabilization in the second half. Going the full ninety, Albert—the second-youngest USWNT player to start a competitive final—was especially effective in one-on-one situations.

Behind them, the back four, which was held together by Tierna Davidson and Naomi Girma, the future and current center-back duo, also stood strong.

And in the end, this first-ever regional competition proved to be a resounding success for the United States.

As the Olympics get underway in July, this preparation is crucial.

For the USWNT, it was far from perfect. But it was galvanizing, and confidence-boosting. It was necessary proof that a program known for serial winning has not completely lost its way.

“We have, all together, owned our World Cup experience,” said Kilgore. “We’ve got back together. We’ve made some changes. We now play in a new way. Together, we are pursuing a goal.”