United States
Mallory Swanson's comeback story is just getting started
United States

Mallory Swanson's comeback story is just getting started

Updated Feb. 17, 2023 12:24 p.m. ET

ORLANDO, Fla. — The only way Vlatko Andonvoski can describe the way Mallory Swanson is playing right now is by saying, "She's just feeling it." 

"She's in the moment," the U.S. women's national team head coach said Thursday following his team's 2-0 victory over Canada in its first match of the SheBelieves Cup, in which both U.S. goals were scored by Swanson in the first half. "She's not just confident and playing well. It's one of those things where you're just feeling it. And she's feeling it. That's the simplest way I can put it."

The Americans came out with high intensity Thursday night at Exploria Stadium against their northern rivals and Swanson (née Pugh, as she recently married Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson) nearly had a chance in the first minute. She didn't have to wait much longer to open up the scoring.

In the seventh minute, Trinity Rodman beat her defender on the right wing and cut inside before sending a cross toward the middle of the box. Alex Morgan was there to lay the ball off, and Swanson ripped a volley into the back of the net.


Swanson got her second goal before halftime, thanks to a mental mistake from the Canadians. In the 34th minute, defender Vanessa Gilles felt pressure from Morgan and tried to play the ball back to goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. But an unmarked Swanson read the play and intercepted the pass near the penalty spot, and only needed one touch to give the USWNT a 2-0 lead.

"I don't know if I would say that's what I expect, but that's what I want from her every game," Andonovski said. "Two goals, what else is there to say? And it's not just the two goals. Her flair in the game, she just makes it look easy. Every time I watch her play — in games and in training — she makes me feel like I can go back and play this game. That's how easy it looks."

Andonovski also praised Swanson's ability to combine with the players around her. He noted that she plays well individually as a brilliant dribbler and fearless attacker, but she also connects with Lindsey Horan and Crystal Dunn to make the left side of the field dangerous.

Swanson is the third-leading scorer on the team right now with 30 goals in 85 appearances. She scored a career-best seven goals for the USWNT in 2022 and has already scored five in 2023. She had three in the January friendlies against New Zealand, including a brace in the first match of the double-header. 

She has now scored in four straight games dating back to the team's Nov. 13 match against Germany. The streak could keep going Sunday when the U.S. plays Japan in Nashville in the second game of this friendly tournament.

Swanson's career trajectory has looked like this: She earned her first senior national team cap and turned pro when she was 17, started at the 2016 Olympics when she was 18, and played in her first World Cup by age 21. 

Things were going according to plan until they weren't. She endured injuries, including aggravating her hamstring twice, which led to inconsistencies in her performance ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and was ultimately left off the roster. She had never experienced adversity up until that point, but told FOX Sports last summer that she was happy it happened.

"I'm glad that it did, honestly," Swanson said. "A lot of good came out of it."

It took awhile for her to bounce back, though. She was down about missing those Games and needed time to reset mentally and physically. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she trained, reflected on her career, and sought help from a sports psychologist. She had support from friends, teammates and her now husband, all of whom helped her rediscover a passion for the game. 

Andonovski said Thursday that he knew she would make a comeback.

"After the Olympics, one thing we kept reminding our staff was how old Mal is, constantly," Andonovski said. "Like, we've gotta make sure we remember how old she is, meaning that we knew she was going to get back. We even assigned a coach that worked with her nonstop while she wasn't in camp, providing certain information that she needed to stay in touch with what we were doing so she didn't lose anything."

Swanson came back stronger. She was runner-up for NWSL MVP during the 2021 season with the Chicago Red Stars and was a finalist for the award last year, too, scoring 11 goals and leading the league with six assists.

Aside from putting together so many powerful performances lately, Andonovski said he has been equally impressed by Swanson's leadership.

"She's becoming a really good leader on and off the field," he said. "Her understanding of the game is very good and her ability to help the players around her is tremendous. We actually talk to her about it a lot. … Sometimes she doesn't realize how much she's helping with her communication, especially with some of the younger players who play around her like Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch or Trinity. 

"We're very happy with her, and I truly believe we still haven't seen the best of Mal."

If the world hasn't seen the best of her, how far can she go? Dominating this summer's World Cup? Winning the Ballon d'Or? Becoming the best player in the world? Andonovski and Swanson's USWNT teammates agree she could check all of those boxes.

"I wish I could tell you how far she can go," Andonovski said. "I want to take credit for some of the things that she does, but she's just special. She's so good that I don't think anyone can take credit for what she can do except for Mal."

For now, she's just feeling it.

Laken Litman covers soccer, college football and college basketball for FOX Sports. She previously covered college football, college basketball, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team and the Olympics at Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. 

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