The USWNT scheduled this pair of friendlies against Canada to close the year out with a challenge, and that’s exactly what they got. Facing their first potentially difficult opponent in months, the United States were frankly a bit lucky to even get out of Vancouver with a 1-1 draw. The CanWNT dominated the second half, and throughout the game exposed American vulnerabilities with high pressure and early balls over the top.
For the U.S. to end the year with a win, they’re going to need improvements from most of the team on the soccer side, but they’re also going to have to show quite a bit more fight. Canada, hyped up to get themselves on more even footing after years of repeated USWNT victories, treated Thursday’s friendly like a do-or-die qualifier. Matching that kind of intensity is just as important as cleaning up their passing after struggling with the awful turf surface at BC Place.
Key player: Samantha Mewis
The entire USWNT midfield was far from impressive Thursday, but of the starting trio it was Mewis who seemed the furthest from her best. Canada’s ability to get numbers around the ball completely stopped the Americans from building through the middle, and that meant the home side got the pinball-style track meet they wanted rather than the possession-based style the U.S. is (still) trying to establish for themselves.
Mewis will need to be sharper with her first touch, which is the foundation for playing that latter style. If the American central midfield is able to consistently play one- and two-touch soccer, Canada’s pressure will be less effective, and we’ll see more of the kind of passes that make a high press such a risk. We should also be hoping for more definition of roles between Mewis and Lindsey Horan, neither of whom seemed to be playing as a #10 or as a tempo-setting metronome in the last match.
Location: Avaya Stadium (San Jose, CA)
Kickoff time: 9:00pm Eastern
Projected USA starting 11: (433) - Alyssa Naeher; Taylor Smith, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara; Samantha Mewis, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan; Christen Press, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe
Bench: Ashlyn Harris, Emily Sonnett, Casey Short, Allie Long, Andi Sullivan, Carli Lloyd, Lynn Williams
Jill Ellis has chosen to limit herself to a seven-player bench, presumably to mimic genuine competitive games. However, that also means call-ups like Sofia Huerta and Chioma Ubogagu (both winger/forwards being looked at as prospective fullbacks for the future) don’t have a viable way into the squad. Unless Ellis agreed to limit Sullivan’s minutes — which she did in the last set of friendlies against South Korea — Huerta, Ubogagu, and goalkeepers Adrianna Franch and Jane Campbell were only called up to train, which is less than ideal.
In any case, look for some modest rotation today. Smith looked short of her typical best when subbing into the previous game, but her mere reputation for getting forward with a vengeance saw Canada immediately curtail the previously relentless forward runs from Adriana Leon. If Smith starts, look for O’Hara to move to left back, with Short making way. The midfield should remain untouched, but Press is probably going to get a start as a wide forward. Given that Williams struggled with her touch and decision-making in the last outing, Press probably comes in on the right side.
Projected Canada starting 11: (4231) - Stephanie Labbe; Ashley Lawrence, Rebecca Quinn, Shelina Zadorsky, Alyssha Chapman; Desiree Scott, Jessie Fleming; Nichelle Prince, Janine Beckie, Adriana Leon; Christine Sinclair
John Herdman made a planned 31st minute sub in the previous game, bringing Leon in and reshuffling the rest of his front four, shifting to this eleven. It will be interesting to see whether he sticks with the team that played for the last hour, as they were largely the better team during that time, or if Deanne Rose comes back in (with Prince moving up front, Beckie out to the left, and Sinclair into the attacking midfield role).
Sinclair’s role is an interesting one, as she’s the playmaking fulcrum in both versions of this 4231. With Prince up front, she plays a more traditional playmaker’s role, while as the lone forward, she holds play up while looking to set up runs from the speedier trio underneath her. The USWNT seemed uneasy with that latter set-up, among other things, and Herdman knows that his program needs to beat the Americans to overcome a major psychological hurdle that stands between them and becoming a real global contender.
Available TV: Fox Sports 1
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
we our friends have to say about it?: Stars and Stripes FC points out that there may be more pressure on Ellis these days than ever before, which makes a game like this just a bit more important than your average friendly.
What are you drinking?: I almost made a margarita last night, but got lazy. Tonight, though, I think it will be time to combine Olmeca Altos Plata, a shot or so of Grand Marnier, and the juice of half a lime in a shaker.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.