For the United States women’s national team, the biggest test left on their schedule before the 2019 World Cup begins is tonight’s friendly against Australia. The USWNT’s results and performances this year haven’t met expectations, and a failure to up the standard against the Matildas could easily result in a loss. After all, the U.S. hasn’t beaten the Australians since 2015, and needed a 90th minute goal in last year’s Tournament of Nations to avoid two straight losses against Sam Kerr and company.
This game could also legitimately be a preview of the World Cup final. These two teams are favorites to win their respective groups, and doing so would put them on opposite sides of the bracket. There are no guarantees — if the tournament goes to plan, the USWNT would face their French hosts, while Australia would have to find a way past Germany, Canada, and/or the Netherlands — but a USA-Australia final is one of a handful of completely plausible pairings to face off at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais on July 7th.
Key player: Julie Ertz
The USWNT midfield hasn’t quite been able to control games to the extent that everyone expects recently. There are multiple reasons for that: experiments designed based on the idea of needing a goal deployed in games where that wasn’t the case (we’ll get into that in a second), and a general lack of real structure that has been in place for years now. Jill Ellis has either chosen a radically fluid midfield philosophy, or hasn’t been able to explain her midfield structure in a way that gives it some semblance of consistent shape on both sides of the ball. It’s probably a little of both.
That puts a ton of pressure on Ertz, who in an ideal world would have free range to rove around as a physical force on both sides of the ball. On a team playing with a true number 10 and someone else in that “physical force on both sides of the ball” role, Ertz’s job changes. That has caused a bit of confusion at times, with Ertz’s midfield partners dropping alongside her at the wrong time or no one adjusting when Ertz pushes forward.
If the USWNT is going to be able to beat the world’s best teams — and Australia qualifies as a member of that group — they’re going to have to figure this out in the very near future. No time like the present, right?
Location: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, CO)
Kickoff time: 9:30pm Eastern (pre-game show starts at 9pm)
Projected USWNT starting 11: (433 ) - Alyssa Naeher; Emily Sonnett, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn; Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle; Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe
Bench: Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Tierna Davidson, Casey Short, Samantha Mewis, McCall Zerboni, Allie Long, Andi Sullivan, Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Jessica McDonald, Mallory Pugh
With the World Cup now just two months away, Jill Ellis is probably not going to be doing as much experimenting as in the past. That means as close to a first-choice lineup as possible, with only the injured Kelley O’Hara missing out. Much has been made of Krieger’s recall, but in the past, Ellis has preferred to recall potential depth players to evaluate them in training rather than giving them starts. That’s why we’ve got Sonnett, who has been a frequent call-up, at right back instead.
During the SheBelieves Cup, the midfield struggled mightily thanks to the strange choice to simply not play a typical number 8, with Ellis instead preferring a dual number 10 set-up that paired Lavelle with a winger (Pugh mostly, but Heath for short spells as well). Horan’s return will remove the temptation to do that again, restoring a natural balance to a team that needs it.
Of the Washington Spirit contingent in this game, we’ll probably see Lavelle start, and Pugh seems like a probable option to come off the bench. Sullivan seems doubtful to get into this one given past substitution patterns, while on the Australia side, Chloe Logarzo is probably a week or so away from being able to play for anyone as she finishes her recovery from an injury suffered during the W-League Grand Final.
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?: Here’s the Stars and Stripes FC preview.
What are you drinking?: I just finished infusing some blanco tequila with fresno chiles and made some cilantro simple syrup, so I’ll probably make a margarita.
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