U.S. WNT coach Jill Ellis today released a 24 player, post Hope Solo suspension roster, for games against France, Feb. 8 in Lorient, and England on Feb. 13, in Milton Keynes.
With Solo absent all eyes will be focused on the U.S. goalkeeper position, and Ellis has called in Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), and Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers).
Solo can apply to be reinstated to the national team once her one month suspension has been served, but a big performance by any one of these three keepers could give Ellis and U.S. Soccer an out, if they decide that they have had enough of the controversies that have long swirled around the talented U.S. number 1.
Naeher filled in for Solo most recently in the team’s 7-0 stroll against Argentina at last month’s Tournament of Brazil, but it remains unclear which, if any of these three keepers can be considered as a potential heir apparent.
And while the goalkeeper situation is a concern for Ellis, it is hardly the only one. That victory over Argentina was the lone win for the U.S. in Brazil, with the Americans drawing with China (0-0) and losing to Brazil (3-2), before topping Argentina, and settling for a 0-0 tie with Brazil in the final.
The results saw the Americans finish the tournament in second place, and contributed to the U.S. slipping from the number one position in the FIFA rankings to second, the first time since 2008 that the Yanks have not topped the rankings.
In addition to Solo, the U.S will be missing mainstays, Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe, both injured, as Ellis tries to find the right mix with the World Cup just around the corner.
World number three France, and sixth ranked England are quality opposition, with each cruising through the World Cup qualifying process with perfect 10-0-0 records. France outscored its opposition by an astounding 54 goals to 3, while England were arguably even more impressive in tallying a 52-1 aggregate advantage.
Since taking charge of the U.S. WNT Ellis has presided over a team that has piled up the wins while failing to impress. Ellis, like predecessor Tom Sermanni, has struggled to find the correct balance between the old guard and the new.
A glut of talented attacking midfielders and forwards has also caused selection problems, problems that Ellis will be looking to these two fixtures to sort out.
The coach sonds anxious to get to it saying,
“These games are exactly what we need. Our goal leading up to the World Cup is to play some of the best teams.” “These,” Ellis continued, “are two opponents that will test us, and certainly two teams we could meet in Canada. Both teams are exceptionally well-organized, have a high level of athleticism and will pose some excellent challenges.”
Unlike previous years when the U.S. entered important competitions boasting a settled lineup, Ellis has decisions to make in every sector of the pitch. With 39 year old captain Christie Rampone sidelined, this two game set will be an opportunity for a new center back pair to step forward and claim starting spots.
Rachel Van Hollebeke, formerly Buehler, partnered Rampone to Olympic gold in 2012, can the Buehledozer reclaim a staters role after time away from the squad spent playing in Japan?
The fullback position are unsettled too, with a clear pairing yet to emerge.
Ellis recently praised defensive midfield duo Morgan Brian and Lauren Holliday, and Carli Lloyd also appears set to start as the sides attacking midfielder.
Abby Wambach recently said that she would play any role for the team, is this the opening Ellis needs to use Wambach as a supersub?
With Alex Morgan reportedly back to full health, a front three of Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and Morgan, could be a handful for any defense, now imagine the impact a fresh Wambach could make as a late sub.
All 24 players on this roster are playing in the NWSL, and all but midfielder Tori Huster were part of the recently completed January camp.
The USA’s group for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup features Australia, Sweden and Nigeria. England and France are in Group F with Colombia and Mexico. The Cup runs from June 6-July 5 at venues throughout Canada.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Nicole Barnhart (FC Kansas City), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers)
DEFENDERS (9): Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Rachel Van Hollebeke (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Tori Huster (Washington Spirit), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5): Sydney Leroux (Seattle Reign FC), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (Western NY Flash)