Preview: USWNT Opens Women’s World Cup vs. Australia

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By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

The USWNT plunges headfirst into the Group of Death on Monday, facing Australia in their opening World Cup match.

The Competition: 

Australia, possessing a dangerous combination of youth and experience, will prove a difficult first foe for the United States. Coach Alen Stajcic’s side is punctuated by a strong offense, including impact sub striker Lisa De Vanna and standout forwards Caitlin Foord and Kyah Simon.

The Australian defense may, however, be in trouble. The back line is usually led by captain Clare Polkinghorne, but Polkinghorne sustained a hamstring injury during training in Canada on Friday. That leaves the young, but very talented, Portland Thorns fullback Steph Catley to pick up the slack, which may be difficult against the experienced US side. Regardless of the score, expect to see a characteristically feisty showing from the Matildas.

Projected US Starting Lineup:

Forwards: Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux

Rodriguez and Leroux are the two strikers who have showed the most consistent fitness and skill, and are the younger, healthy choices remaining. Ellis looked at Christen Press up top briefly in the match against Mexico, but Press is decidedly more effective as an outside midfielder.

While Ellis has experimented with starting Abby Wambach, the difference between Wambach and the younger strikers is noticeable in both precision and fitness. Wambach is, however, still a force on the pitch, and will be a valuable impact sub throughout the World Cup. Ellis has made it clear that Alex Morgan will be eased back into matches as she returns to form off a month and a half-long absence, so expect to see her appear in the second half of the match.

Midfielders (left to right): Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Holiday, and Christen Press

If there is one major facet of the lineup that remains foggy, it’s the midfield.

In the US team’s case, Ellis’ favored 4-4-2 formation necessitates a strong holding midfielder. As of yet, Holiday hasn’t managed to fill that role very effectively, unable to defend consistently while attempting to feed the ball forward. As such, and especially after seeing more versatility from Tobin Heath in recent matches, look for Ellis to make the switch at the half, if not start Heath. Morgan Brian has had solid outings at midfield as well, so she is a viable substitute if anything goes wrong with the starting four.

Defense (left to right): Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Ali Krieger

There’s little question as to who will compromise the back line – these four have been consistent starters for months, with reliable subs in Lori Chalupny, Kelley O’Hara, and Christie Rampone. That said, this defense’s biggest challenge since March was the send-off match against Korea, in which they (and Hope Solo) kept Korea off the board. They will be tested heartily by the physical, offensively aggressive Australian side.

Goalkeeper: Hope Solo

Solo is a lock to start at keeper. Since she returned in March, she’s been in top form, and publicly affirms a drastic change in her life. Solo recently shared, “I’m in the best place of my life both on the field and off the field. I have great teammates behind me, great coaching staff, and I’m just honestly really excited for my third World Cup.” It is clear that the US doesn’t need to worry about the woman in goal.

Why Monday Matters:

This is the initial test for the United States, and will answer some of the questions that have permeated most of the squad’s 2015 matches. Australia are by no means an easy competitor, and will force the USWNT to demonstrate their true form. The defense must withstand the Australian offense, and the US absolutely has to convert chances. The US cannot afford to lose to Australia in the group of death –  the battle to get out of the group stage is difficult enough as is.

The USWNT kicks off World Cup play against Australia on Monday, June 8th at 7:30pm EST in Winnipeg (Fox Sports 1).