USWNT, England to kick off SheBelieves Cup

usa she believes

by TOM SLATER

So far, 2016 has been a breeze for the United States Women’s National Team – six victories, 28 goals scored, none given up, an Olympic Qualifying Championship and a berth in the Rio Games this summer.

Now it gets interesting. Or at least more challenging.

The SheBelievesCup features the four of the top five teams in the world – and it begins with the fifth-ranked England tomorrow night in the opening doubleheader of the SheBelievesCup in Tampa (7:30 p.m. EST). Number two Germany and third-ranked France face off in the opening match at 5 p.m.

The United States is, of course, ranked first via their 2015 World Cup victory.

England comes into the tournament on a roll – finishing third in last summer’s Women’s World Cup. That’s the highest England has placed in the women’s event.

They will be paced by Portland Thorns striker Jodi Taylor, who scored England’s first goal against Canada in the World Cup and Fara Williams, a midfielder who had three penalty kicks in the World Cup, including the game-winner against Germany in the third-place match.

Defender Lucy Bronze, goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and captain Steph Houghton are veteran performers for England, who are ranked 5th in the world.

Since the World Cup, England has won three matches, lost one and tied one. England’s loss came against China, 2-1. The draw was a scoreless match with Germany. For political reasons, England is not participating in the Rio Games.

The two countries last met a year ago in England with the Americans taking a 1-0 win by virtue of an Alex Morgan goal. The win sparked 24 straight victories for the United States that included a World Cup championship.

For the United States, the English will present a nice challenge as questions still need to be answered. Such as:

  • Will Mallory Pugh be able to continue her rise. the United States ladder. Pugh got better as the Olympic Qualifying went on and was among the top players on the field. She set up three goals during the tournament and her ability to break down defenses off the dribble rather than playing a long ball gave the Americans a new look. Can she keep it up against better talent?
  • Will Jill Ellis continue to experiment with the rotation? Right now, Ellis is a mad scientists with a loaded chemistry set. She can do things like bench a five-goal scorer in Crystal Dunn and not miss a beat. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in three matches against ranked opponents.
  • What to make of Heather O’Reilly and Whitney Engen? The World Cup veterans were left off the Olympic Qualifying roster but were reinstated for the SheBelievesCup. It’s assumed they will see some time and this becomes their chance to make the roster for the Olympics.

These questions – and possible some answers – will continue to come until Ellis picks her final 18 for Rio. But for now, the competition should make the battle for roster spots interesting.