For the first time in almost two years, the U.S. WNT will not hold the number one FIFA World Ranking when it steps onto the field to face Russia Thursday night at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
An alarmingly poor performance by the Americans at last month’s SheBelieves Cup cost Jill Ellis’ side the top spot that the Americans had held since July 2015 despite a fourth place finish at the 2016 Olympics.
Ellis used the SheBelieves Cup as a testing ground for the team’s new three at the back formation and after some early positive results, it was a test the Americans proved woefully unprepared for.
A 1-0 win over the now number one Germans was an encouraging start for the new setup but the U.S. goal by Lynn Williams would prove to be the only goal the home team would score in the three-match tournament, shocking given the attacking talent at Ellis disposal and the perceived attacking nature of the new formation.
The formation held up well enough defensively in the added time loss to England in game two but was torn asunder in a 3-0 loss in the finale. Matches one and three featured a back line led by converted midfielder Allie Long, playing between Casey Short and Becky Sauerbrunn.
Ellis shuffled the deck in game two, sending Julie Johnston out flanked by Ali Krieger and Sauerbrunn. With a chance to claim the SheBelieves title Ellis reverted to her game one backline, with disastrous consequences.
The speedy and clever French forwards exposed both Long’s defensive inexperience and Sauerbrunn’s relative lack of pace, a problem exacerbated by Ellis’ lineup which left the back three unprotected by either traditional fullbacks or even slightly more adventurous wingbacks.
The next major tournament on the schedule is the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, so Ellis picked the right time to experiment but it may prove instructive to see how Ellis sends her team out in this two-game set versus Russia.
Most of the SheBelieves roster has returned for the U.S. WNT, although there are a few changes. Megan Rapinoe is back: will the creative and controversial midfielder test U.S. Soccer’s new mandate that all players must stand for the national anthem?
Julie Johnston is unavailable, she’s off getting married. Congratulations. And veterans Meghan Klingenberg and Amy Rodriguez have been recalled after just missing out on making the SheBelieves roster while newcomers Kealia Ohai (three caps) and Boston Breakers defender Megan Oyster (zero caps) also make the squad.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position – Texas Friendlies
GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS (6): Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Megan Oyster (Boston Breakers), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
FORWARDS (7): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/Olympique Lyonnais, FRA), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)
April 6, 2017: 7:30 PM CT
WNT vs Russia @Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas
FS1 (Pre-game show at 7pm CT)
April 9, 2017: 1 PM CT
WNT vs Russia @BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas