The United States women’s national team’s first competitive match since winning their fourth World Cup is today, as they start Concacaf Olympic qualifying against Haiti. The USWNT is the Goliath in Group A, which also features Panama and Costa Rica, and the tournament’s structure — the top two teams from both groups advance to a semifinal that doubles as a one-game playoff for an Olympic spot — provides a huge incentive to go all-out today. Winning the group isn’t just about meeting expectations; it’s about making sure to face the runner-up from Group B, rather than falling into 2nd and facing a stronger opponent.
Key players: Rose Lavelle and Andi Sullivan
We’re unabashedly a Washington Spirit site, so we’re all about the Spirit’s representatives in the squad. Let’s start with Lavelle, who we fully expect to start. Her job is pretty simple: keep being the team’s X-factor in the midfield, avoid injury, and she’ll maintain her place as a critical part of how the USWNT plays. There’s no one in the squad with a similar skillset.
For Sullivan, there are probably going to be fewer minutes available. However, with Julie Ertz having battled through numerous injuries in 2019, there’s a real reason to not overuse her this early in the year, and on this 20-player roster, Sullivan is the primary alternative. She may or may not get minutes today, but she’s almost certainly going to see a start or two in this qualifying tournament. Having battled her way to a spot on the roster ahead of established players like Allie Long and Morgan Brian, these opportunities are a vital moment for her to cement herself into the team before they issue tickets to Tokyo.
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, TX)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected USWNT starting 11: (433) - Alyssa Naeher; Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn; Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan; Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe
Bench: Ashlyn Harris, Adrianna Franch, Ali Krieger, Emily Sonnett, Andi Sullivan, Samantha Mewis, Carli Lloyd, Jess McDonald, Lynn Williams
After using the last FIFA window to give a bunch of players time, Vlatko Andonovski’s choices today are going to be interesting. The opening game of a group stage is always critical, so you’d expect what he thinks is his actual best team. The logical rotation pattern to save legs for the must-win semifinal is to play your top 11 today, then rotate a bit against Panama and Costa Rica (who the USWNT, featuring plenty of non-starters, beat 6-0 in their final friendly of 2019), before going back to full strength for February 7th’s win-and-you’re-in match against a team from Group B.
As such, we’re looking at a remarkably Jill Ellis-esque starting eleven. Press, who has been the best forward on the team over the past year, may not end up starting at any of the three front-line spots. Lloyd, who was also very good following the World Cup could easily end up as the 9.
Another player to watch? O’Hara, who needed a long time to recover from ankle surgery and other knocks following the World Cup. If she’s fully fit, she’s a sure starter, but if not, we could see Krieger or Sonnett at right back.
Available TV: Fox Sports 2
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go, TUDNxtra. Note: if your cable package comes with Fox Sports 1, you’ll be able to stream this game via foxsports.com even if you don’t get FS2.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
we our friends have to say about it?: Stars and Stripes FC points out that Haiti recently snagged a 1-1 draw with Canada, and has several players playing in the French top flight. They’re not expected to do much here, but they can’t be overlooked.
What are you drinking?: I probably won’t be able to get beers between now and gametime, so...a margarita?
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.