15 Days ‘Til Canada: Where Does the USWNT Stand?

national anthem

By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

Only 15 days and one international friendly stand between the United States Women’s National Team and the beginning of the World Cup.

The USWNT has come a long way since opening play in 2015, alleviating many of the concerns plaguing the squad, from player injuries to Coach Jill Ellis’ strategic difficulties. They have, in fact, been undefeated since their only loss of the year in February .

This isn’t to say that the side is flawless headed into the World Cup – there are lingering and pressing questions as the US prepares to take on the Republic of Korea in a week.

We’ve broken down the knowns and unknowns surrounding the state of the USWNT headed into their final match before the World Cup.

What We Know After Mexico:

The US defense is rock solid. After some early-2015 turmoil on the back line, the defensive lineup of Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Ali Krieger has solidified. The USWNT defense has allowed only four goals in 2015, and only one since the Algarve Cup in March. Not to be restricted to a defensive role, numerous US defenders have scored goals, including Johnston with three in 2015, Klingenberg with one against New Zealand, and Lori Chalupny as she subbed into the match in the second half against Mexico. They are, without question, one of the US team’s strongest assets headed into the World Cup.

Hope Solo appears transformed both on and off the field – for the better.

solo wambach 2Since Solo returned from her suspension in March, she has been in top form, exhibiting confidence and almost flawless performance on the pitch. Some labelled her a distraction, from her very public controversy at the 2007 Women’s World Cup, criticizing Coach Greg Ryan’s decision to start keeper Brianna Scurry to her 30-day suspension as a result of her husband’s DUI in January 2015. Abby Wambach is one such person who wasn’t sure if Solo should return to the USWNT following the 2007 incident, but today, shares her opinion of Solo’s transformation; “It’s very clear the work she’s done on herself…She has clear eyes and an open heart.”

The return of the incredible keeper on the field, and her apparent personal development off of it, is a tremendous positive for the USWNT.

Speaking of Abby Wambach… she’s back. But probably not how many are used to seeing her. Wambach, training alone after controversially electing to skip the NWSL season, has rounded into form over the past two matches. Her brace in the match against the Republic of Ireland two weeks ago appears to be no fluke; she did it again last weekend against Mexico- even though she only played the second half. It’s unreasonable to infer that she fits in the role of a starter at this juncture – she turns 35 during the World Cup. Instead, look for Ellis to use Wambach in matches as a second half impact sub.  .

What We Still Don’t Know:

Who are the USWNT’s starting strikers?

In the song that seems to never end, there is little certainty as to the team’s front line composition. Ellis favors a 4-4-2 formation, and has rotated Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez, Sydney Leroux, and Christen Press in and out of the top two slots. With Morgan out, Ellis fiddled with contingency plans – Rodriguez and Wambach started together against Ireland, though Rodriguez’s performance was ultimately a disappointment. Subsequently, Leroux occupied the starting slot against Mexico, and scored a brace in addition to numerous dangerous attempts throughout the match. Press notched an unremarkable start alongside Leroux against Mexico, as Wambach replaced her at the beginning of the second half. Even if Leroux maintains the starting slot, the question of who will accompany her is in the air as long as Morgan’s health remains nebulous. Morgan missed the last two friendlies due to a bone bruise on her knee, and Ellis has yet to announce whether she will play in the send-off match against the Republic of Korea. In essence – Morgan’s status is key to locking in the starting pair.

Can the midfield find its groove?

One of Ellis’ top difficulties is finding a midfield that jibes. Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd, usually dependable mainstays, have been quiet. Press didn’t work at striker against Mexico, and will likely move back to midfield. Lloyd is goalless since March 4, attempting many from her usual spot at the top of the box, yet failing to find net each time. Similarly, Megan Rapinoe is still without a goal in 2015, despite numerous on-target attempts since her return. But, at least as important as a lack of goals is the midfield’s noticeable disconnect with each other and the strikers in the final third – an issue that appeared to remedy itself as the match against Mexico progressed. Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Morgan Brian all dished out excellently timed and placed balls ending in goals, with Heath undoubtedly winning the assist style award with her elastico (see video below in case you somehow missed it). This kind of collaboration and performance needs to be the rule, not the exception, for the US to be a complete squad.

The Takeaway

At high risk of sounding like a broken record, the case remains that the USWNT’s future lies in whether the side can synthesize, and do so creatively, in the final third. The May 30 international friendly against the Republic of Korea is the final shot at match readiness before the US plunges into World Cup play in the Group of Death.

The USWNT’s final international friendly before the World Cup is on Saturday, May 30th against the Republic of Korea at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ at 4:30pm EST (ESPN, WatchESPN, Univision Deportes).

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  • John P

    Lori Chalupny also scored vs. New Zealand.

  • Anonymous

    Good Defense are you kidding me this are against tomatocan teams against top team that defense is far from good.

  • Brittany

    The game on Sunday is on Fox Sports not ESPN unfortunately.

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