The last time the United States invited elite women’s national teams over for a friendly tournament, their guests trashed the place. The USWNT finished dead last in the SheBelieves Cup, which ended with a humiliating 3-0 loss to France. Tonight, the Tournament of Nations - which works on a similar set-up, with the US facing Brazil, Japan, and Australia - kicks off, and the Americans are hoping to recover some lost pride and keep a grip on their #1 worldwide ranking.
That won’t be easy. The Matildas are first up, and Australia may be remembered for high-pressing the USWNT to the brink during the 2015 World Cup’s group stage. Australia will not have any fear, and with world-class players like Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, and Steph Catley, they have every right to see themselves as capable of winning tonight.
Key player: Mallory Pugh
Of course the key player for our purposes is also the only Spirit player in the tournament. As is usually the case, Jill Ellis has called in a roster that is overflowing with attackers while short on central midfielders or defenders. That means Pugh is in for intense competition as several players (Sydney Leroux and Midge Purce, for very different reasons, come to mind) try to get themselves into the US starting lineup.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Pugh will be holding off Megan Rapinoe, who was just named NWSL player of the month and is having an MVP-caliber season (speaking of which, pay close attention to Kerr, who is doing the same for Sky Blue FC). While Pugh’s play in NWSL has been good, Ellis could hardly be blamed for selecting the veteran on the left side and seeing whether she can bring her Seattle Reign form to the national team.
For Pugh, one positive is that the 442 Ellis has played lately favors wide midfielders who are comfortable moving inside to create; it’s almost a 4222 rather than a 442. Rapinoe has done her best work as a wide forward this year, and though she’s scoring a ton of goals, she’s not one to drift inside and get involved in a ton of combination play. That’s one of Pugh’s strengths, and she’s going to have to show it during this tournament.
Location: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, WA)
Kickoff time: 10:00pm Eastern
Ellis is hard to predict, but I do think she’ll remain stubborn about trying to make Lloyd and Morgan work as a starting forward pairing. That leaves Dunn stuck out wide, and Press on the bench (much to my chagrin). I think we’re going to see Ertz given a shot as a defensive midfielder, where she’s been outstanding for the Chicago Red Stars this season.
The back four, aside from Sauerbrunn, is the most uncertain group. O’Hara could be on the left, Short could be the other center back, Krieger could be at right back, or Ertz could be at center back...it’s hard to say what we’ll see. We might see this situation remain fluid throughout this tournament.
Available TV: ESPN, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: WatchESPN, Univision Deportes app
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
we our friends have to say about it?: Over at Stars and Stripes FC, Stephanie Yang has a more thorough analysis of what to expect tonight.
What are you drinking?: I have spent my day doing extremely tedious work changing file permissions on an old hard drive, so I’m leaning towards something fun. Probably a margarita.
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