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2019 World Cup Previews: United States

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Just one thing can hold America back.

Soccer: Countdown to the Cup Women’s Soccer-Mexico at USA Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The United States arrives in France as the defending champion knowing that just one team, 2007 Germany, has ever repeated as World Cup winner. The U.S. knows that defending the title is hard; they’ve failed to do it twice before. Every year the gap between the haves and have nots closes just a little bit, and I’m worried that this is the year that we realize a lot of the world has caught up.

Eleven players who lifted the trophy in 2015 have not made the trip to France. Goalkeeper Hope Solo; defenders Christie Rampone, Whitney Engen, Lori Chalupny, and Meghan Klingenberg; midfielders Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly, and Lauren Holiday; and forwards Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach, and Amy Rodriguez have all made way for a new crop of players. So who’s replaced them?

The New Names

Adrianna Franch (G, Portland Thorns)
There’s very little chance that Franch plays this tournament, as she’s a clear third on the depth chart behind Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris.

Abby Dahlkemper (D, North Carolina Courage)
I would be surprised if Dahlkemper plays less than 90% of the minutes at center back in this tournament. Coach Jill Ellis trusts her, and I assume Ellis values her long ball.

Tierna Davidson (D, Chicago Red Stars)
Davidson, at 20 years of age, is the youngest player in the squad. I don’t believe she’s one of the top four American center backs right now, but she made it on the plane.

Emily Sonnett (D, Portland Thorns)
She’s a very good defender, but I fear that Ellis has brought Sonnett along because Ellis thinks she can play both center back and fullback. Her best position is center back, and she’s behind Becky Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper right now.

Crystal Dunn (F, North Carolina Courage)
Dunn is one of the best forwards in the world, let alone the United States, but Jill Ellis can’t figure out a way to get her on the field other than to stick her at fullback. This hurts both the offense and the defense, but after Dunn completely deserved to go to the 2015 World Cup, I’m glad she’s getting her due.

Sam Mewis (M, North Carolina Courage)
She could very well be the glue that holds the midfield together. She’s a great two-way player, but I’m not sure that Ellis believes she should start.

Lindsey Horan (M, Portland Thorns)
Whenever Horan is absent, it stands out. She’s perhaps the most important midfield player, and one example of a successful position conversion in a wave of failed ones.

Rose Lavelle (M, Washington Spirit)
When she’s healthy, she’s an extremely creative and dangerous player. She’s not healthy nearly enough, but she is now.

Allie Long (M, Reign FC)
Seemingly exiled after Jill Ellis’s pet conversion project failed mightily, Long returns to the team playing her preferred midfield role. Behind players like Mewis, Julie Ertz, Morgan Brian, and Horan, I don’t see Long playing many minutes.

Mallory Pugh (F, Washington Spirit)
Pugh will be stuck behind Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, but I can see her coming off the bench with fresh legs to run at tired defenders in the second halves of games, and that’s a great asset. As long as she’s not playing in central midfield or at fullback like Ellis has tried previously.

Jessica McDonald (F, North Carolina Courage)
I like Jess McDonald, but I think there is one too many forwards in this team. With Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Carli Lloyd on the roster, it’s not really clear what role there is for McDonald, even with Ellis choosing to frequently deploy Press wide.


This is a very good roster. From top to bottom there are players who are among the best in the world at their positions. Unfortunately Jill Ellis’s questionable decisions threaten to derail this team’s chances at repeating as champions.

Two particularly strange decisions stick out and make me believe that Ellis doesn’t know what to do with these players, so she’s trying to duplicate 2015 in the hopes that she’ll win again. The out-of-nowhere inclusions of two fixtures on 2015’s team, Ali Krieger and Morgan Brian, the latter of whom was the key to the U.S. winning the World Cup, are still baffling. Neither looked to be within a sniff of the team, let alone a World Cup squad, yet here they are. I like both players, but I object because the coach of this team has no solutions, so this is the result. On the field, Ellis’s continued attempts to convert players to new positions with poor results point to her being a poor judge of talent, which would be a handy skill when it comes to replacing players who have retired or otherwise.

The bottom line is Jill Ellis is a bad coach, but the talent of this team is enough to win World Cups. Or at least it has been in the past.

Group

E, with Thailand, Chile, and Sweden.

World Cup Outlook

The United States is easily good enough to win this group at a canter, which may be a significant problem. They’re likely to face one of Spain or China (Group B runners-up) in the round of 16, and a win in that game would probably have them staring at France (Group A winners) in the quarterfinals. If that happens, the U.S. is going out of this tournament.