Mallory Swanson, the hottest scorer this year for the world No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team, suffered an apparently serious injury to her left knee in a friendly against Ireland on Saturday, a setback that comes a little more than three months ahead of this summer’s Women’s World Cup.
Losing Swanson for the World Cup would be a major blow to the U.S. as it seeks to win an unprecedented third consecutive title this summer in Australia and New Zealand. The 24-year-old Swanson has been on a blistering scoring streak, leading the U.S. with seven goals in five games this year. She entered Saturday’s match in Austin, Texas, on a six-game scoring streak, tied for the fourth longest in team history.
But the expectation that she would be a centerpiece of the U.S. offense at the World Cup was thrown into doubt when Swanson fell to the turf late in the first half, clutching her knee and grimacing in pain after battling an Ireland player for the ball. Medical-support personnel loaded her onto a stretcher as teammates gathered around her, then transported her off the field.
“We don’t know the extent of the injury yet,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the game. “She’s getting checked out as we speak. I’m hoping for good news in the near future.”
Minutes before injuring her knee, Swanson had collided, head-to-knee, with Ireland’s goalkeeper while diving for the ball. She paced the sideline briefly but returned to the game.
The U.S. won the game 2-0, and faces Ireland in another friendly Tuesday in St. Louis, Mo.
The U.S. begins play in the Women’s World Cup against Vietnam in Auckland, New Zealand, on July 21. Significant knee injuries can take at least six to nine months to recover from.
Swanson’s play this year has been so dominant that it raised questions about who besides her might score for the U.S. at the World Cup. In February, Swanson scored four of the five team goals as the U.S. won the four-team SheBelieves Cup, which the Americans hosted.
Swanson, who was named Mallory Pugh until her marriage last December to Chicago Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson, was already making a comeback of sorts. Andonovski left her off the roster for the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics held in summer 2021, saying she needed to be more consistent.
Swanson had a resurgent year in 2022, both for the U.S. and for her club team, the Chicago Red Stars. She finished fourth in regular-season scoring in the National Women’s Soccer League. Swanson explained her improvement in part by saying she’d worked on finishing her easy scoring chances.
The injury to Swanson overshadowed the U.S. women’s team return of Julie Ertz, a two-time World Cup champion midfielder who had been away from the team since the 2021 Olympic bronze medal game after giving birth to a son.
Ertz’s return was greeted with enthusiasm by U.S. fans who hope she can return to previous form and re-establish a commanding presence in the midfield. Ertz came off the bench in the second half Saturday.
Swanson emerged last summer as one of the U.S.’s young scoring threats, along with Sophia Smith. The long-dominant team faces rising threats from improving national teams, especially in Europe, such as England and Spain. Another emerging U.S. forward, 20-year-old Trinity Rodman, came in to replace Swanson on Saturday.
Smith, Rodman and Catarina Macario—an explosive 23-year-old forward who’s coming back from her own knee injury—all would be playing in their first World Cups if they made the 23-player U.S. roster. Swanson played in three games, starting one game, in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and finished the tournament with one goal and one assist.
The 37-year-old Megan Rapinoe and 33-year-old Alex Morgan are near-locks to make the team at forward, Rapinoe probably in a reserve role.
Write to Rachel Bachman at Rachel.Bachman@wsj.com
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