The United States was supposed to brush New Zealand aside with ease on Friday night. With a major edge in talent, fitness, and experience, plus a game being played at elevation in Colorado, the expectations were that the USWNT would score a few goals and generally go untroubled for 90 minutes. That’s just the way of the world once you dig past WoSo’s top 14-15 teams.
That’s not what happened, though. While the first half played out largely as expected, the Americans seemed prepared to coast in the second half. That’s understandable, perhaps, but dozing off for a quarter of the game and needing an Alex Morgan goal that came out of the blue to protect a tenuous late lead is hardly meeting the standards this program is capable of.
Key player: Lindsey Horan
Horan hasn’t gotten enough attention for a standout season with the Portland Thorns, and her play in the first half against the Football Ferns last was quite solid. Julie Ertz stole the show with 2 goals from defensive midfield, but Horan’s movement (both in possession and making late runs into the box) was a huge factor while the Americans dominated early on.
However, anyone that watched that game knows that the USWNT really let the game slip out of their control for about 20 minutes in the second half, culminating in Hannah Wilkinson’s goal and a brief window in which a tie seemed possible. For the US to leverage their advantages in talent and fitness into the kind of scoreline this fixture should have, they need to control proceedings for 90 minutes. And where do you control games? First and foremost, you do it in the midfield.
Where Horan, Ertz, and Samantha Mewis (who should get the nod over Allie Long in this set-up) need to improve is maintaining their off-the-ball movement throughout the game, with Horan the most important player to keep an eye on. When this trio was dialed in, New Zealand found them very difficult to keep track of. When the American midfield got stagnant after halftime, though, the Ferns were suddenly able to mount some attacks and protect a defense that had been struggling to hang on.
Location: Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati, OH)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
O’Hara was forced off after a collision on Friday, and I suspect she’ll be rested as a result, which means a start for Short. Dunn seems likely to come in for Rapinoe, while Pugh will probably play an hour before making way for Lavelle. Normally I’d expect a start for Lavelle in what is her home city, but the longest stint she’s had in a game since her hamstring injury a while back is 34 minutes for the Boston Breakers a week and a half ago.
Elsewhere, there’s a chance that Press starts over Morgan, and that we see more of Huerta at right back. We could also see Harris get a start in goal after some shaky play from Naeher. The possible return of Tobin Heath - who has not played at all for the Thorns during this NWSL season - is also something to monitor.
Projected New Zealand starting 11: (4321) - Erin Nayler; Ria Percival, Rebekah Stott, Meikayla Moor, Ali Riley; Annalie Longo, Katie Bowen, Kirsty Yallop; Rosie White, Betsy Hassett; Hannah Wilkinson
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 just wants to see something fun tonight.
What are you drinking?: I’m going to miss the 2nd half of the game so we can record Filibuster. Tune in to that to find out what I ended up drinking.
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