Preview: USWNT take on England

by MC BOUSQUETTE
Staff Writer

On Friday, the US Women’s National Team have a chance to right the ship in their friendly match vs. England at the Stadiummk in Milton Keynes (3pm EST, Fox Sports 1).

After a lackluster loss to France last Sunday, the USWNT look to come back against an English side who are less dominant than France, but still ranked 6th in the world.

England lost to Germany 3-0 in a match that saw the English in defensive shambles. Germany broke onto the scoreboard after an English own-goal in only the 6th minute.

With the collapse against Germany fresh in mind, England’s Coach Mark Sampson is pivoting to a stronger defensive approach. Sampon is calling defensive midfielder Katie Chapman back into the squad, as well as proven defenders Casey Stoney and Anita Asante, in a strong signal that his focus is on the United States’ reputation for offensive strength. English leadership also comes from the back, as centerback Steph Houghton serves as the team’s captain.

Despite England’s renewed defensive focus, there exist several offensive threats, from forward Eniola Aluko who is skilled at feeding from the wing to young Washington Spirit striker Jodie Taylor, who shows potential for massive growth. All-time leading goalscorer Kelly Smith has retired, leaving a line of English players in her wake, seeking to fill the void.

This match against the United States will be a tremendous opportunity for these players to prove themselves before the World Cup.

The USWNT, on the other hand, still suffer from the same absences as they did a week ago: forward Sydney Leroux, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and defender Christie Rampone are still recovering from injuries. Goalkeeper Hope Solo is serving her 30 day suspension. These missing players leave noticeable gaps in the lineup – gaps that the team needs Coach Jill Ellis to determine how to fill better than she did in the friendly against France..

From not putting stalwart Abby Wambach in until after the half, to starting midfielder Carli Lloyd out of position on the outside,  Ellis made several confusing decisions in her experimentation with the lineup against France. It remains to be seen just what she has learned from the friendly, and whether she will have a more solidified lineup prepared to take on England. Repositioning Lloyd back to the inside may help Lauren Holiday, who also struggled, solidifying the midfield. Ellis may also take the gamble as to Wambach’s stamina, and start her at midfield to produce opportunities and provide leadership instead of Morgan Brian, who started against France.

The other major possible shift is purely defensive; Lori Chalupny, back from a long absence due to concussions, started against France but appeared to be out of position multiple times. Alternatives exist to Chalupny starting, and starting Ali Krieger, who came in for Chalupny against France, would be a likely choice for Ellis’ attempt to shore up the back line.

Striker Alex Morgan is one of the largest on-pitch concerns. She did not lack in opportunities and attempts against France, but is clearly still shaking off the rust resultant of her several month absence due to injury. Her role as a goalscorer is key to the team’s success; the USWNT has several strong feeders and a rapidly developing forward in Christen Press. However, when it comes to converting chances, Morgan is irreplaceable. The United States need a more precise performance from her against England in order to win.

The goalkeeper question is far less of a concern for the USWNT  after seeing Ashlyn Harris’ strong performance against France. The starting keeper for the match against England has yet to be announced, but it appears likely it will again be Harris. Harris’ development is important, especially as Solo remains questionable, even after her suspension is served. Though France did score two goals, Harris was a success in the last friendly despite the rest of the team’s performance.

Friday may well entail more of the same lineup experimentation. Expect to see Ellis continue to move around her available players in hopes of finding a more effective starting XI as the World Cup approaches. In doing so, victory will be important — friendly or not.  With a handful of matches before the World Cup and a poor showing against France, rebounding is paramount to the team’s preparations.


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