Philadelphia, Pa. – Four of the best women’s soccer teams in the world assembled in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, going through their paces one last time before kicking off the second annual SheBelieves Cup this afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium just outside of Philadelphia and GotSoccer had a chance to speak to players and coaches from two of those teams, the U.S. and England.
Three of the national sides, the U.S. Germany, and France, got their work in at the site of Wednesday’s doubleheader while England went its own way, training instead at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and that is where GotSoccer caught up with coach Mark Sampson and his squad.
The early bird catches the worm, or in this case, the last of the good weather for this first leg of the tournament, with England practicing under sunny skies Tuesday afternoon, skies that turned on England’s opponents before the day was out and could threaten Wednesday’s schedule if the stormy forecast holds true.
Weather permitting, England faces old nemesis France in the opening match of SheBelieves 2017, and Les Bleues are certainly a team that can be said to have the Lionesses number. However, Sampson’s squad may be counting on a little extra something extra from Philadelphia’s favorite son to see them past Les Bleues.
“I think we’re going up the (Philadelphia Museum of Art) steps this afternoon,” English captain Steph Houghton said with a laugh when asked about the iconic “Rocky” scene after Tuesday’s practice.
Houghton was joking, of course, but the tale of the ultimate underdog seems to have struck a nerve in the England camp. Sampson was also asked about the famous steps and admitted to that he is “a fan, a huge, huge fan,“ of the Rocky films adding, “to be honest, I couldn’t run all the way up, I ran half the way and walked the rest.”
Joking aside, Sampson called this trip, “a good experience,” as his team prepares for this summer’s Euros in the Netherlands, but the boss concedes that “we need to get over the line.” “We’re knocking the door down but we just can’t get through.”
For the host of the SheBelieves Cup, the days of making breakthroughs are long past, this Cup is more about rebounding after a frankly abysmal 2016 Olympic Games performance. The Americans finished out of the medals in Brazil, the only time the U.S. has missed out on the podium at the Games, raising the stakes for the host nation in this sophomore edition of the SheBelieves Cup.
To that end, U.S. coach Jill Ellis has continued to expand the player pool, notably including 16-year-old Brianna Pinto in her 23 player roster. So, will the precocious midfielder pick up her first senior cap in the coming days?
Jill Ellis made it seem unlikely. “She’s done well, “she’s, of course, young,” the coach said before adding this. “What I’m trying to look at is, ok, where is she now? Where could she be in two years investment with us in here? That’s really where I’m looking at her.” “Will she play in this tournament,” Ellis said wrapping up, “I don’t know, to be determined.”
But while Ellis can afford to wait on Pinto, there is a sense of urgency surrounding the next number one goalkeeper. With Hope Solo gone from the U.S. WNT and unlikely to return, Ellis was asked if Ashlynn Harris had the inside track on claiming the starters gloves over Alyssa Naeher.
“That’s to be determined,” Ellis answered, making it clear that nothing has been decided in the race to replace Solo. “This is the biggest game for Ash and Alyssa,” Ellis said, noting the step up to international play, calling it, “a different level.”
For her part, Harris, Orlando’s 31-year-old starter, wasn’t buying the hype. “You can’t put that kind of pressure on yourself,” Harris answered when asked if she felt this was her chance to claim the starting job.
“For me, every day I show up and I’m the best player and teammate I possibly can be and at the end of the day I can’t focus on things out of my control,” Harris said. Showing a strong sense of perspective, Harris reminded, “we’re two years out of any major tournament, we’re just getting our feet wet.”
Hopefully, not quite as wet as the weather forecasts have been predicting and Harris and her colleagues from the U.S. Germany, France, and England will put on a show for the fans on day one of the SheBelieves Cup, 2017 edition.