USWNT primed for second straight World Cup win

Above, the USWNT poses before a friendly match against England in 2015. The team would go on to win the Women’s World Cup that year, defeating Japan in the final. This year, a stacked squad with many of the same faces hopes to repeat as champions. Courtesy of joshjdss via Flickr

On June 7, 2019, the eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) will be underway. In a couple short months, 24 teams from all over the world will duke it out in France for the biggest prize in soccer: a World Cup title. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will be on the hunt for its second consecutive title and its fourth overall. So, does the USWNT have a shot? Absolutely.

Back in December, the USWNT was officially drawn into Group F, along with Thailand, Chile and Sweden. Fortunately for the USWNT, all three of these teams are familiar foes. Most recently, the United States faced Chile, routing them both times with scores of 4-0 and 3-0 in late summer of 2018. The team also saw action against Sweden and Thailand in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Thailand proved to be no match for the United States, but Sweden put up a good fight, as the USWNT eked out a 1-0 win. I would bet that of these three teams, Sweden poses the biggest threat to U.S. aspirations of back-to-back World Cup titles.

Sweden is currently ranked ninth in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings and met the top-ranked United States in the last four WWC group stages. Sweden is one of only seven teams to have appeared in every single WWC, along with the United States, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Nigeria and Norway. Meanwhile, Thailand, ranked 34th, will be competing in the WWC for only the second time, and 39th ranked Chile will be making its WWC debut.

If there’s one thing the USWNT has on its side this World Cup, it’s experience. And while Head Coach Jill Ellis has not yet released the 23-player roster for this summer’s World Cup, I can predict that several veterans will be on the pitch wearing the red, white and blue.

Expect to see the likes of Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd in the front line for the United States. Morgan is coming off of one of the best years of her career, as she averaged a goal per game and reached the 100-goal milestone earlier this month. Heath—recently nicknamed “Tobinho” as an homage to soccer legend Ronaldinho—is one of the best with the ball at her feet. Rapinoe is a consistent, reliable player on both sides of the pitch game after game for the United States, and I have no doubt that she will continue to be a threat to her opponents throughout the World Cup. And Lloyd, who scored the only and fastest hat trick in WWC final history, will likely return as a goal-scoring machine for the Americans.

The middle of the pitch will be dominated by players like Lindsey Horan and Julie Ertz. Horan, the reigning National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Most Valuable Player, had an incredible year. Along with Ertz, Morgan, Heath and Rapinoe, Horan was nominated for 2018 US Soccer Female Player of the Year, and carried her NWSL team to the championship match. Ertz, the US Soccer Female Player of the Year in 2017, played more than 1,000 minutes in the midfield in 2018. Ertz will be a staple in the starting 11 and an impact-player in the midfield during the tournament.

Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn will likely command the back line during the WWC. Sauerbrunn is a level-headed center-back who played every minute of all seven matches in the 2017 WWC and is on track to repeat that feat in 2019. Dahlkemper has recently proved herself as a reliable go-to for the other center-back position, and she and Sauerbrunn will work well together to defend as a unit for the United States. O’Hara and Dunn, two former forwards, have been fixtures in the U.S. backline recently and will likely continue to shine in the fullback positions.

Unfortunately for the United States, there seems to be a big question mark at the goalkeeper position. In the post-Hope Solo era of U.S. soccer, the team has been unable to rely on one keeper consistently. It seems likely Ellis will bring Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris to the tournament, but the starting position is still up for grabs. Regardless of who wins the starting role, both Naeher and Harris will have big gloves to fill, as they will be stepping into a role that was once dominated by one of the best goalkeepers the women’s game has ever seen.

No matter who is on the field or in goal for the United States, I am confident that the 23-player roster will be talented enough to provide depth at every position. And if all goes well, any and all combinations of talent will lead to a WWC title on July 7 for the United States Women’s National Team.

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