Few were surprised that the USWNT won its fourth SheBelieves Cup in six years on Wednesday, but the Stars and Stripes certainly made the march for the title more of a shame than expected.
Your opponents – Canada (missing seven key players), Brazil and Argentina (a late replacement for Japan due to COVID-19 concerns) – were not the quality of the teams from the past SheBelieves Cups so I thought the tournament was going to be pretty one-sided for the US, only it wasn’t. Canada looked pretty good against the US under their new head coach Bev Priestman. Brazil was better organized under former USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage and Argentina. Well, Argentina was what we predicted … not exactly great.
With the Olympics set to start in less than five months, let’s think about what we’ve learned from this SheBelieves Cup:
A healthy memory
It’s always a good thing for the US not to do their best and still win the title. Here’s why: These players are returning to their clubs knowing that their world domination is not yet complete. In Orlando they were sometimes exposed at the back, mistakes that would punish better teams.
The USA weren’t clean in front of goal either – that could be the difference in a close game against better opponents. These players knows all of this and that will gently haunt her. They’ll look back at the games and work to get things right. You will understand that the SheBelieves Cup was a subtle but important reminder for them to keep the fire burning brightly.
When USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski is asked how many places are still open on his 18-player Olympic roster, he says 18. Obviously he has many locked up, but I think due to the limited games and access to players and … Training camps will understandably take longer to decipher this Olympic roster.
Roster Roulette is a fascinating game so let’s give it a try. Based on the last six games (three in the SheBelieves Cup plus Colombia twice and the Netherlands) and assuming Andonovski and his staff take two goalkeepers, six defenders, five midfielders, and five strikers, here are some scenarios (and the player options for that last italic seat):
GK: Alyssa Naeher, Ashlyn Harris / Jane Campbell
DF: Kristall Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelly O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Casey Krueger / Tierna Davidson / Midge Purce / Ali Krieger
MF: Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Catarina Macario / Kristie Mewis
FW: Christen Press, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd / Lynn Williams / Sophia Smith
Questions that still need to be answered
Where is Carli Lloyd in her comeback after missing out on most of 2020 with an injury?
Lloyd scored and assisted against Argentina and looked sharper than in their previous SheBelieves Cup game, but missed some excellent opportunities against Canada. Rapinoe’s comeback, after also missing out on most of 2020, seems clearer. She finished the SheBelieves Cup as the top scorer and leads the team with five goals in five games in 2021. Rapinoe has shown that she can still influence games quickly and consistently. I think Lloyd has to show that in the coming months as well.
How did Alex Morgan recover from missing 2020 due to pregnancy, knee injury, and a COVID-19 diagnosis in 2021?
I thought your performance against Brazil was a plus. Her touch was sharp, her movement was good. She also scored a nice goal against Argentina.
Did Lynn Williams help her case or hurt her by joining the last 18 Olympic squads because of her play in this SheBelieves Cup?
This question is difficult for me to answer because I love what Lynn Williams is doing at her speed so much. She holds great positions and becomes a defender, which makes her a consistent threat to the opposition. She also does a lot of work on the defensive side of the ball. All great traits, yes, but her final pass and finishing are way too inconsistent which affects her chances of becoming a regular starter.
If Williams had ended some of those opportunities against Canada and Brazil, the games would have been less difficult.
How many younger players can Andonovski afford to break in? Will they be ready for the Olympics?
Catarina Macario fought Canada in midfield but was a striker in both games against Colombia. Unfortunately, Macario didn’t have much time in that SheBelieves Cup when she returned to her club early Lyon.
Sophia Smith came into play against Brazil in the 65th minute and while not making a huge impact, she played a nice ball in assisting Alex Morgan’s goal against Argentina. I think this young player may be out and looking in, but it will be fun to see. She runs better on players than most.
Then there is Kristie Mewis. Not a young player – she’s 30 – but she’s new to the mix (or more appropriately, new to the mix) and has looked sharp throughout, with a goal and support against Argentina.
Also to think about:
– Would Andonovski consider using five defenders instead of six as Julie Ertz can also play center-back?
If he did that and took Dunn, Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, O’Hara, and Sonnett, the US would have three natural outside-back options in Dunn, O’Hara, and Sonnett. That seems thin for this position given the tight schedule for the Olympics and the frequency with which O’Hara has been injured. So I think he has six defenders and Ertz in midfield.
Having the Ertz option in the center back, I think the sixth defender has to be a player who can play outside.
– How about the midfield mix?
When Vlatko felt strong both Macario and Kristie Mewis, Macario could act as strikers but that means other strikers (like Lloyd, Williams and Smith) might not make the list. I can not see that. I think Lloyd is leaving. Your work on both sides of the ball is still some of the best on the team. In strong moments, add her strong mentality and finishing ability and even at the Olympics at 39, she can help the team.
USMNT’s Rose Lavelle says white players must “pull their weight” in the fight against racial inequality.
Since the Olympic rhythm is tighter than the World Cup schedule (two days off at the Olympics versus three at a World Cup) and the Olympic roster is five players lighter than a World Cup roster, you can’t afford to bring players , the can Help the team or you are not 100 percent fit. With just 16 outfield players and a limited break, EVERY INDIVIDUAL PLAYER has a role to play, which is why the US are the clear favorites to win the gold medal: Their roster is much deeper than any team out there.
This is their superpower. The US can have two lineups that are very different yet strong and we’ve seen Andonovski do it during his tenure with the national team. Who else in this Olympic pool could do that without losing a lot in this second group? Maybe Great Britain. In the US it’s less about who starts and more about controlling the rhythm of the minutes played per game in such a way that they aggressively set the pace regardless of the combination on the field.
Overall, I think the USA will get a big positive result from this SheBelieves Cup as they remain unbeaten under Andonovski and we must not forget: they have not conceded a goal in this tournament, the first team to ever do so in history of the tournament did. (It just shows the yardstick by which we judge the performance of this team, which in my opinion was still far from their best.)
Andonovski’s last chance to rate players against other international opponents is in the FIFA window in April (the team will be determined by the June window). It’s just the environment that is needed to make those final judgments and then bring the 18-man Olympic team together.
We hope that the Olympic Games will actually take place in July. I am sending my best YES Olympic karma to the world right now. Do the same please!