USWNT to face South Africa in Cincinnati with 3 locals on the roster
The U.S. Women's National Team plays its first post-World Cup match in Cincinnati Thursday. Three players with Queen City ties are in town and training with the team.
Hometown favorite Rose Lavelle won't feature in the match — she's sidelined with a lower leg injury — but she's with the team this week for evaluation and to undergo rehab.
St. Ursula Academy graduates Aubrey Kingsbury and M.A. (Mary Alice) Vignola are also here. Vignola, a defender, was a late add to the roster, replacing Kelley O'Hara whose "return to play has been slower than anticipated" following the World Cup, according to U.S. Soccer.
"It's great to be back. I love Cincinnati so much," Lavelle told reporters Monday. "I'm always so happy to be home, and I'm always so happy when I can bring people here and show them what a great city it is. It is bittersweet. I obviously would love nothing more than to play, but it's not in the cards this week. Hopefully we'll be back at some point and I can play in front of Cincinnati again."
The game is being broadcast on TNT, Universo and Peacock. Kick-off at TQL Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. EDT.
Meet M.A. Vignola
Though Lavelle won't be on the field Thursday, she said she's excited to have two other Cincinnati natives in training camp this week.
"I was so excited when I saw M.A. (Vignola) got called in. (It's) so cool for her to have her first camp in her hometown," she said.
The national team call-up is Vignola's first since training camps at the U-14 and U-17 levels. The 25-year-old plays professionally in the NWSL with Angel City FC in Los Angeles, where she has two goals in 16 games. While in high school at St. Ursula, "she earned the No. 36 spot on the IMG Academy 150 List as a recruit," according to her online biography.
She played at Tennessee and was twice named to the All-SEC and United Coaches All-Region team in 2018 and 2019. After college, Vignola played professionally for two teams in Iceland before signing with Angel City in 2021.
"Angel City interim head coach Becki Tweed has tabbed her as 'one of the best fullbacks in the league,' " according to online sports outlet, Just Women's Sports.
She's not the only St. Ursula graduate
Aubrey Kingsbury also graduated from St. Ursula Academy, where she was part of the 2007 and 2008 state championship teams. She went on to play for Wake Forest, where she was named an All-American three times. The goalkeeper plays professionally in the NWSL for the Washington Spirit. She was named to the USWNT 2023 World Cup team earlier this year.
The 31-year-old earned her first national team call-up in 2019. She's played in one match, recording a clean sheet April 12, 2022, in the USA's 9-0 match against Uzbekistan.
Kingsbury was one of three goalkeepers on the 2023 World Cup roster and acknowledged she didn't expect to see playing time. Shetold WVXU ahead of the tournamentthat her role was to be the best player and teammate she could be, and push the other goalkeepers in training every day.
"I think it's really important that I prepare as if I were playing," she said. "If something were to happen and I'm going in, then I'm mentally ready."
A team in transition
Thursday's match at TQL Stadium marks the first time the national team has been back together since exiting the 2023 World Cup in the round of 16 earlier this summer. The U.S.fell to Sweden in a penalty kick shootout. The loss was the four-time champion's earliest-ever exit from the Women's World Cup.
"This is our first opportunity to turn the page, and so I think it'll be a really exciting game (and a) great opportunity for us," Kingsbury told media during training this week.
She says it's an added bonus to have the game in her hometown and to be able to play in front of family and friends as the team begins preparations for next summer's Olympics.
"It's just great to be together. (The World Cup) ended, obviously, very abruptly, so we all just kind of went our separate ways, went back to our club environments, and didn't necessarily have any closure. We worked so hard for the World Cup and it didn't go how we wanted it to go," she said. "Now we have a chance to redeem ourselves and we're all looking forward to the Olympics. It's coming up really quickly."
The team is led in Cincinnati by interim head coach Twila Kilgore. She replaces Vlatko Andonovksi, who stepped down after the World Cup in August.
A final farewell
At least two players from the 2023 World Cup team won't be making an appearance on the 2024 Olympic roster. Midfielder Julie Ertz and forward Megan Rapinoe are both retiring from professional soccer. Cincinnati will be Ertz's final international match. Rapinoe's final game will be Sept. 24 in Chicago.
U.S. Soccer says 'moments of celebration' will be held for Ertz before and after Thursday's match.
In 2021, fans waved farewell to Carli Lloyd who scored her final international goal during a match against Paraguay in Cincinnati.
History of USWNT in Cincinnati
This is the sixth time the USWNT has played in the Queen City. The team last played in Cincinnati in 2021, trouncing Paraguay 8-nil. Lavelle delighted fans by scoring a goal and turning in three assists.
In 2017, the USA defeated New Zealand 5-0 in front of 30,596 fans at Nippert Stadium. U.S. Soccer reported it was the largest crowd ever in Ohio to attend a Women's National Team match. Lavelle, a Mount Notre Dame High School graduate, was recovering from a hamstring injury and played just 33 minutes during the 2017 match.
Prior to 2017, the United States women played at Paul Brown Stadium in 2004 during a 10-game celebration tour after winning Olympic gold in Athens, Greece, and in 2008's "Achieve Your Gold Tour." Former national team defender and St. Ursula graduate Heather Mitts featured in both the 2004 6-0 win against New Zealand and the 2008 0-0 draw with Korea Republic.
The USA's first match in Cincinnati was a 7-0 victory over Canada June 12, 1993, at Galbraith Field.