World champions setting the level for Gemma Grainger

Cymru face the formidable challenge of taking on reigning world champions the United States in San Francisco on Sunday (9 July, 9pm) and manager Gemma Grainger believes the experience will prove invaluable for her players as they look ahead to the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League campaign.

The match at PayPal Park will be the final send-off for the current world champions as they head to Australia and New Zealand after the match to defend their crown at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a tournament they won in 2015 and again in 2019. But while a party atmosphere is expected, the focus for Grainger and her squad is very much on matters on the field for what will be one of the biggest tests since her appointment in March 2021.

“We know how big the game is going to be as it’s their send-off game before the World Cup,” said Grainger at the recent squad announcement. “It will be a hype event for the whole country, so to be a part of that is brilliant. To play back-to-back world champions in their final preparation game I think is a sign of respect for the players and they should take huge credit for that. For us, we want to use this game to know what the level is like.”

Both teams will be without their respective captains. Veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn was ruled out of the United States squad earlier this month while Cymru’s Sophie Ingle was shown a second yellow card deep into injury-time in the 1-1 draw against Portugal in April and will be suspended for this fixture. However, Ingle will travel with the squad on Monday as Grainger uses the camp to prepare for the UEFA Women’s Nations League which starts in September. The versatile Rachel Rowe has also been ruled out of the Cymru squad with a calf injury.

“When you play the world champions you want to take your strongest and most senior players,” said the manager. “But it’s going to be an opportunity for other players. We’re taking a squad of 23 players and I want to see everyone step-up. I’m excited to see them all and I want to see them in the best shape to play as we will make changes in the game. It’s another step in our development and that’s what I’m excited about. We have to focus on the performance. We have a game plan and the measure of success for us is how we deliver that.”

This will be the first meeting between the two nations in a senior women’s international, but Cymru midfielder Jess Fishlock is very familiar with the United States squad as she continues to star for OL Reign in the NWSL, and was named the Most Valuable Player in the league in 2021. “We know we’re up against some of the world’s best players but we have a player in our team who plays in that league and knows those players well,” Grainger added.

“I want our younger players to come away from the camp and know what the level is. Because sometimes you only know the level when you feel it, and I know without doubt they will feel it. I want them to feel everything – the mindset and the mentality of the U.S. players. For our younger players it’s going to be invaluable. I’m excited for them and for them to be able to talk about what that level is and how that helps us reach the levels we want to reach.”

One of those young players is 19-year old striker Mary McAteer, who comes into the senior squad for the first time following her impressive performances for Coventry City. “With our younger players we have a development plan for them and we feel this is the right time for Mary to come in,” said Grainger. “Mary is a really exciting player, she’s very mature and focused. She’s a goalscorer and a player that we want to bring into this environment early as we believe she will be a starting player in this team in the future.”

Meanwhile, United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski will use the match to complete his side’s preparations before their defence of the World cup begins against Vietnam in Auckland on 22 July. “We’re really looking forward to having an exciting, productive camp and playing one last match to fine tune some things before we leave for New Zealand,” he explained to the official US Soccer website. “For everyone involved, the opportunity to be a part of a World Cup doesn’t come along very often so we are going to make sure to appreciate and take advantage of every moment we have together.”

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