USWNT Notebook: On to the Algarve Cup, Leroux, Dwyer tie the knot, more

IMAGE, MLSSOCCER.COM

by MC BOUSQUETTE
Staff Writer

The United States Women’s National Team is entering into a critical period as the Women’s World Cup approaches in only three months.  The Algarve Cup will serve to test the side prior to the tournament.

The beginning of 2015 showed an unusually unstable and injury-laden USWNT. The February friendly matches, a loss to France, followed by a weak victory over England were a strange first chapter for the USWNT in the final stretch to the World Cup. The team was missing key veterans defender Christie Rampone and midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach didn’t play the entire first half of the US match vs. France. Forward Sydney Leroux was another notable absence due to injury.

Coach Jill Ellis announced the 25-woman roster for the Algarve Cup, with several key inclusions that will be very important to the performance of the USWNT going forward. The reinstatement of goalkeeper Hope Solo after her 30 day suspension has made waves in the media, and has received publicly positive feedback from the US squad itself. Solo’s reintegration is one to watch, as her attitude and performance have significant potential to influence the team’s cohesion both on and off the pitch.

In a move that perhaps alludes to the Coach’s intensified focus on the keeper position, well-performing Harris remains on the squad, while veteran Nicole Barnhart has been replaced by 26-year old NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, Alyssa Naeher.

In addition to the keeper change, Ellis has named Rampone and Rapinoe to the roster. These two have been sorely missed as Ellis continues to search for an effective lineup. In a game where the United States should have conquered, the United States continued to demonstrate unsure footing. Despite the disproportionate attention given to Solo’s absence, the USWNT was not lacking in the position of keeper. Ashlyn Harris stepped in effectively for both games, and could easily replace Solo if she doesn’t gel during her return to the squad. Instead, the lack of a consistent lineup, as well as the absence of Rampone, Rapinoe, and Leroux, showed as setups and shots were unsuccessful in conversion to goals.

The Algarve Cup, which opens for the United States as the squad faces off against Norway on March 4th, is a huge test for the team. The Algarve Cup includes many of the top teams who will be competing in the Women’s World Cup, including France. The USWNT is in Group B, which includes Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

Four things to watch for in the Algarve Cup:

  1. Alex Morgan’s continued recovery; Morgan is increasingly returning to form, but is still lacking her characteristic precision in converting chances to goals.
  2. The health of Leroux, Rampone and Rapinoe; their return to the squad, should they come back in good form, is key to locking in a lineup with strong, experienced leaders. As Ellis experimented in the matches against England and France, this lack of solidified lineup showed.
  3. Hope Solo: the Olympic gold medalist is no doubt a talented goalkeeper. But, after being the subject of controversy in the national press for so long, will her return be a distraction at a time the USWNT can ill afford one?
  4. Starting XI: Ellis is likely to use the Algarve Cup as the last chance to develop her finalized World Cup lineup, and will be the final test for the players named to the roster. Presuming the United States advances out of the group stage, the lineup in the later rounds should resemble that we’ll see in the subsequent friendlies leading into the World Cup.

In other USWNT news:

Sydney Leroux and Dom Dwyer announced on Valentine’s Day that the two have tied the knot. The USWNT forward and Kansas City Sporting forward have been dating since last year, and truly constitute a soccer power couple. Empire of Soccer congratulates them and wishes this couple all the best.

leroux and dwyer

DAYTONA 500

The US Women’s National Team had a big job to do on Sunday, but it wasn’t on the pitch.

USWNT stars Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, and Abby Wambach were the honorary starters for Sunday’s 57th Daytona 500. With the Women’s World Cup approaching this summer, the athletes’ presence as the starters kicking off both NASCAR’s biggest race and the Sprint Cup Series season was a strong move to bring in more fans. The players joined a line of famous past honorary starters, including former President George HW Bush, Terry Bradshaw, Jane Lynch, John Travolta, and Kate Upton.