In the first half of the USWNT’s first friendly match against the Republic of Ireland, Mallory Swanson went down clutching her left leg after a challenge from Aoife Mannion, and it sucks. Swanson was in her God Mode era in the league, and for the USWNT. Suddenly it all ended in a ‘friendly’ match three months before the World Cup, and we will be writing God a sternly worded letter.

A not-so-friendly friendly match

Before the injury there were questions about Swanson still being on the pitch. Ireland came to the states with a gameplan to be physical, and a lenient referee allowed that to intensify. Minutes before Swanson’s knee injury, she suffered another dangerous challenge while chasing a ball sent into the box.

Swanson began curling her run to avoid a collision with the keeper but was shoved by an Ireland defender, sending her crashing head first into Brosnan’s legs. Swanson was down for several minutes before rising to her feet and being allowed to re-enter the game.

While the head/neck injury is entirely separate from the contact that damaged her knee, the intensity of the match and a narrow escape of a different serious injury had some calling for an additional layer of caution and protection ahead of a World Cup. Particularly for a player who was as important as Swanson, and in the form of her life.

Mal Swanson recently found God Mode

Prior to her injury, Swanson was on an unreal run with the USWNT. She’d already scored eight goals for the USWNT this year alone, and was on the meteoric trajectory that’s been expected since she turned pro as a teenager.

World Cups are only every four years, so any serious injury to a player this close to the tournament comes with an additional pang of sadness. Given that Swanson was in the form of her life and relishing in the spotlight as a central figure in the team’s attack, that sadness is multiplied. Still just 24, if Swanson missed this summer’s tournament, she won’t be playing in her next one until she’s 29.

As for the USWNT, Swanson’s injury is a big blow, for her NWSL club, Chicago Red Stars, it’s even more devastating. Aside from starting forward partner Sophia Smith, no U.S.-eligible forward has been better. Last year Swanson led the Red Stars to the playoffs with eleven goals and six assists despite being the understood focal point of their attack.

Swanson combined her speed, quickness of thought, dribbling ability and agility with sharper passing and much improved shot placement — the combination of which made her unstoppable for both club and country over the past year.

Who might step up in Swanson’s absence

Against Ireland, Trinity Rodman replaced Swanson and finished the match having created a handful of opportunities to score. Later, along with the news of Swanson’s diagnosis, it was announced that 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NWSL Draft, was called into camp to replace Swanson.

If the USWNT has Fort Knox-ian levels of riches at one position, it’s in attack. Though Swanson and Smith were the clear frontrunners and most talented young duo in the world, there are still plenty of exciting prospects. Lynn Williams recently returned from injury and is already making an impact at Gotham FC, Rodman (20) and Thompson (18) are exceptional young stars, and if Christen Press returns from ACL injury soon she could be yet another superstar caliber player vying for a trip to New Zealand.

Losing any player this close to a World Cup is sad, let alone one expected to play a key role. While her teams must find a way to move on in her absence, they must do so knowing there isn’t a direct replacement for one of the most productive wide forwards in the world.

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