Fresh off of a thrilling 4-3 comeback victory over Brazil that saved the U.S WNT from a historic fourth home loss in a single year Jill Ellis’ side take on old rivals Japan tonight in Carson, California with revived hopes a first place finish in the inaugural Tournament of Nations.
The odds are still with the Aussies, who will be crowned as champions of the Tournament of Nations with a win or a draw against Brazil. The Matildas carry a plus three goal differential over the Americans, making the U.S task that much more difficult.
Australia has been the story of the tournament so far, having beaten the Americans for the first time before thumping Japan 4-2 behind a hat trick from the current best player in the women’s game 23-year-old Sam Kerr.
That leaves the Yanks needing a victory over Japan, a Brazil win over Australia, plus the U.S. would have to overturn that three goal differential. No easy task.
With one point each as we head into the third and final round of the tournament neither Brazil or Japan can win the tournament.
Given where the U.S. stood 78’ minutes into its second round match against Brazil, trailing 3-1 and staring at a second consecutive last place finish in a tournament on U.S. soil, Ellis would likely accept a solid performance and a respectable second place finish.
The U.S. coach has consistently maintained that she is building for the 2019 World Cup in France and that results like the dismal last place finish in the SheBelieves Cup in March don’t matter.
That is a brave stance when you are responsible for a team with a record of success like the one enjoyed by the U.S. WNT, Ellis can ask Tom Sermanni if she needs confirmation.
That brings us to tonight’s match and the question, will Ellis continue to indulge her experimental streak? Results and performance indicate that Christen Press deserves to start up front, Julie Ertz has earned a chance to clock 90 minutes in front of the back four and we learned, if we needed confirmation, that Becky Sauerbrunn is a central defender of the highest caliber and should be left to play there.
Elsewhere, Ellis has decisions to make. Starting in goal where Alyssa Naeher had the inside track on replacing she who must not be named – Hope Solo – even before Ashlyn Harris was injured.
But even discounting Naeher’s second-minute gaffe that gifted Brazil an early lead, the Chicago keeper wasn’t great versus Marta and company, so in the spirit of experimentation why not give one her backups, former U.S. youth internationals Jane Campbell or Abby Smith a look?
Further afield, Allie Long has been an automatic for Ellis up until the Brazil match. Ellis has previously shoehorned Long into an ill-fitting role at the heart of a three back set, was the coach persuaded by Ertz’ performance versus Brazil? Or does Long return to the starting 11?
Other fixtures such as Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, and Mallory Pugh have been ineffective in this tournament, how will Ellis handle that? Sydney Leroux brought energy in a late cameo, did the FC Kansas City star do enough to warrant a longer look?
We realize that results in 2017 mean little, it is a problem for the women’s game in North America. Having said that, U.S. Soccer is not accustomed to seeing its flagship product flounder. At some point, there will be a price to pay for too many losses.
A win versus Japan would table any such conversations. A loss? For all the talk of 2019, Ellis could really use a win versus Japan, tonight.