Football Ferns to host defending champions USA in World Cup warm-up

The Football Ferns will kick off 2023 with a blockbuster showdown against World Cup champions USA.

The New Zealanders are scheduled to play a two-game series against the Americans, starting at Wellington's Sky Stadium on Wednesday, January 18.

The second game takes place at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday, January 21. 

USA - who captured their nation's hearts with their run to victory in France in 2019 - will provide the ideal World Cup warm-up for the Ferns, as they prepare to co-host the tournament in July.

The USWNT have won a record four Women's World Cups and will chase an unprecedented third straight win next year, boasting global stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan amid their ranks.

"This is a great opportunity for our players to experience two of our World Cup venues ahead of our opening game of the tournament," said coach Jitka Klimková.

"An important part of preparing for our home World Cup is playing big teams in big stadiums, and learning to deal with the pressure that comes with playing world class opposition at home and there's no greater test than the reigning world champions. 

"This is an opportunity for more of our players to experience these high profile games, and begin a year where we play at home more than ever before."

But while the quality of the opposition is top rate, the timing isn't great.

The games fall outside FIFA's international window, meaning the Football Ferns won't be able to field their strongest line up at a time when the A-League is in full swing.

"I don't know if all the players are going to be released to be honest," said Klimková.

"I know their priority, they've signed the  contracts. Their priority, if the clubs aren't going to release them, should be to stay at their clubs."

Nevertheless, the Americans will provide the ultimate dress rehearsal for the Football Ferns for July's World Cup.

"Any time you get to play against the best team in the world it's an incredible feeling," said Ferns player Emma Rolston.

"Just being able to work on your own skills against the top teams and seeing how we stack up against the types of teams that are really, really good."

USA will be based in New Zealand for the group stage of the World Cup, where they will play Vietnam and Playoff Tournament Winner A at Eden Park, before taking on the Netherlands at Sky Stadium in a rematch of the 2019 final.

"Everything about this trip is a positive for our team ahead of the World Cup,"  said USA coach Vlatko Andonovski.

"We will get some quality training time together and have two tough matches against a great opponent that is hosting the World Cup.

"We also get to experience the long travel and familiarise ourselves with the host cities, the stadiums, the training grounds and the culture, and hopefully we’ll play in front of some big crowds supporting the home team.

"It will be a great way to start the year."

Starting next week, the Ferns will host South Korea for a two-game series at Christchurch, with matches taking place Saturday, November 12 and Tuesday, November 15.