USWNT stronger after pre-World Cup wake-up call, says legend Kristine Lilly

Kristine Lilly believes that the three-straight defeats suffered by the U.S. women's national team during the fall of 2022 will serve as an important wake-up call as they look to win a third-straight World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, beginning in July.

The U.S. succumbed to three defeats in succession for the first time since 1993 across October and November, going down 2-1 to England, 2-0 to Spain and falling 2-1 to Germany. The defeats also marked the first time since 2001 that they had conceded multiple goals in three-straight fixtures, while the loss to Germany in Florida broke a 71-game unbeaten streak on home soil.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

A subsequent 2-1 win over Germany, twice overpowering an understrength New Zealand in January and a 2-0 win over Canada in the first game of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday have gone some way to steadying the ship for Vlatko Andonovski's side since then, with games against Asian powers Japan and South American mainstays Brazil set to come this week.

"It's always good. Because sometimes you go through times just winning and you don't think anything of it," Lilly, who amassed 354 caps for the U.S. across an incredible 24-year career, told ESPN of those losses. "It's not cockiness, but they're confident. But sometimes it's 'alright, let's refocus again' and you know anything can happen on any given day.

"Those games, they've probably learned a lot about what they need to be better and they'll now gear up for the next couple of months to make sure they fine-tune everything.

"I think [Andonovski has] done well. The thing is that you have this young talent coming in. It's [about] fitting in the young, new players that haven't been in a World Cup -- which I think will be a handful -- and putting those nerves at ease.

"Because a first World Cup is nerve wracking and it's different when you step on that field. Moulding the team together with good chemistry and culture there, I think they'll be effective.

"I think he's done a good job so far and he's got the stage to come on and to do it. It's never easy, so hopefully they'll put the right foot forward and make things happen."

The USWNT's win over Canada came amid an ongoing fight between the reigning Olympic champions and their federation for equal treatment with the Canadian men's team. Saying they are playing in the competition under protest, Canada's players came out for the game wearing purple shirts featuring the message "Enough Is Enough."

Both sides also wore wristbands showing support for gender equality and for transgender rights following recent anti-transgender legislation passed in the game's host state of Florida.

"You know, it's just tough," said Lilly. "Every time we feel like you make steps forward and then it's like 'why are we still having to fight this fight?'

"The Canadian national team has done an incredible job. I'm not sure where they're falling short and what's happening with their support.

"You support the women and give them the financial support, the fields and the training, and good things will happen. This is what I've learned, when you do support the women's programs on every level of things -- financially, fields, coaching, games -- they get better.

"Sometimes it's just frustrating. It's a little bit discouraging. But the girls are coming together and standing their ground and knowing what they're fighting for is right."

Lilly spoke to ESPN as part of her FIFA ambassadorial duties for the Women's World Cup Trophy tour, which, alongside a FIFA "Unity Pitch," was on display in Melbourne on Saturday.

Aware of her surroundings, the two-time World Cup winner was quick to respond with an "Australia!" when queried as to who was the biggest threat to the USWNT at the upcoming tournament, before then pointing to a European power.

"England. Because Sarina Wiegman is the coach," she said. "I played with her at college [North Carolina]. She wins the European Championships with Holland, plays in the World Cup final in 2019, then goes over to England and wins the European Championships for England.

"This will be the test to see if she can pull it off. I think England will be a battle. Then there's Germany, Brazil. And some of these teams will surprise."