Decisions, decisions. United States Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis has some big ones to make ahead tonight’s World Cup semifinal showdown with top ranked Germany, so let’s take a quick look at Ellis choices.
Against China Ellis was forced to do without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday and she chose to replace Abby Wambach with Amy Rodriquez in a tactical move.
Although they only beat China 1-0 the Americans played far and away their best match of the tournament leaving Ellis with a bit of a conundrum. Does she stay with the lineup that impressed against China or does she go with her regulars?
Let’s break it down. First off Rapinoe is a lock to return to her left midfield position. The peroxide playmaker has been outstanding in this World Cup and has made herself an automatic.
Holiday would normally fall into that same category, but she and Carli Lloyd have not been a comfortable fit in the center of the American midfield as the two gifted attacking players have struggled to define their roles.
Morgan Brian, herself an offensive midfielder by trade, filled the d-mid role to perfection against China, while Lloyd reveled in her new found freedom.
Ellis’ third big decision for tonight’s game is whether to continue with the active, if misfiring Rodriguez alongside the improving Alex Morgan, or to install Wambach or one of her other strikers to the lineup.
Assuming Rapinoe’s reinstatement, let’s look at the central midfield. Ellis was an assistant coach on this team for years before moving into the big job and has generally been loyal to her veterans.
For that reason it seems unlikely that Holiday will be jettisoned for Brian, the team’s youngest player. One possible wrinkle Ellis could employ would be to play both. Ellis could play the two side by side in a 4-2-3-1, but I don’t see Ellis abandoning the tried and true 4-4-2 at this point.
Ellis could elect to play Holliday as a wide midfielder, leaving Brian to reprise her d-mid role. The versatile Holiday could contribute offensively while helping to curb the dangerous German attack, and Lloyd flopped in the wide role in the World Cup build up.
Ellis surprised most observers when she played Kelley O’Hara in that wide position versus China with Tobin Heath moving to the left side after manning the right flank earlier in the Cup. O’Hara was outstanding before a collision left her with a bloody nose and ended her day.
Against China O’Hara brought to mind DeAndre Yedlin with her searing runs, quality crosses and capable defensive backtracking. And like Yedlin with U.S. MNT, O’Hara might find herself tasked with providing energy off of the bench tonight.
Tobin Heath could simply switch wings again. Heath has been steady since being installed in the starting lineup against Nigeria three games ago. Heath has also provided some moments of quality and some telling passes, especially against China when she, like most of her teammates, gave her best performance.
Ellis could also go with Christen Press as her right midfielder, the coach did turn to the natural striker when O’Hara was bloodied against China.
And finally, Heather O’Reilly is perhaps the lone “pure” winger on the U.S. roster, but when Ellis went with O’Hara versus China the veterans bench role was all but confirmed.
Up top Wambach has looked slow in her appearances, Leroux and Press failed to spark as a duo against Sweden, while Rodriguez’ hard work contrasted with her poor finishing against China.
If Ellis elects to press the German defense, and I think she should, Rodriguez may be her best option. Press and Leroux have the speed to play a similar part and both are better goal scores than ARod, so Ellis could turn to either alongside Morgan.
Then there is Abby Wambach, soccer’s all time leading international goal scoring, man or woman. Given her uneven play in Canada it is hard to see Ellis going with Wambach from the start against Germany. If she does those Wambach is the real coach rumors might break the internet.
So who will Ellis decide on? Here is my best guess at the U.S. WNT starting 11 for tonight’s semifinal showdown with Germany.