It was fitting, perhaps that the lone goal in the USWNT victory over England, a win that secured the SheBelieves Cup for the Americans, was recorded as an own goal, fitting because the host nation managed to regain the title that it surrendered last season to France, without ever really impressing over three games.
Fitting, too, because despite reversing 2017’s dismal last-place finish, coach Jill Ellis still has questions to answer regarding her best lineup with October’s CONCACAF World Cup Qualification Tournament creeping ever closer.
So, what can we take away from the SheBelieves Cup?
Julie Ertz Needs to Stay Healthy
The wider sports world got to know the USWNT midfielder earlier this year as the soccer playing spouse of Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl hero Zach Ertz but the former Julie Johnston has been known to WoSo fans for years now.
What has become crystal clear regarding JJ – still her nickname despite her new last name- is that the former center back has become an essential starter in the midfield for the national team.
Ellis tried some different combos after Johnston picked up a knock in game one without much success.
Get well, Julie.
Is Naeher Number 1?
It certainly is looking that way. Some, this scribe included, have wanted to see the competition to lock down Hope Solo’s old job more of a, well, competition. For a while, Ellis went back and forth between Naeher and Jill Harris, with Adrianna Franch rarely getting more than a cursory look.
Now, with Ellis moving away from the experimental phase as she searches for her first 11, Naeher has picked up her game at the right time, with an especially convincing effort in game two of the SheBelieves, a 1-0 win over France in New Jersey.
NWSL 2017 Goalkeeper of the Year, Franch, was unavailable through injury for the tourney, and Ellis indicated the Thorns keeper would have made the roster if healthy. Would Franch have gotten a game? We’ll never know now so we will have to keep an eye out during a pair upcoming friendlies versus Mexico.
If Naeher goes 180 minutes we can call declare the “competition” over.
Fullback for Dunn?
Versatility can be both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because playing a variety of positions can help a player get on the field, a curse because it can make it difficult for a player to nail down a full-time job.
But Crystal Dunn is not the stereotypical “Jack of all trades, Master of None.” No, in fact, the case can be made that Dunn has mastered several positions and could make a claim to start at fullback, wingback, winger, or striker.
So where does Ellis see Dunn come France 2019? The coach appeared to have settled on Dunn as a forward but when circumstances forced her hand last Sunday at Red Bull Arena, Ellis threw Dunn in at left fullback.
After the France match, Ellis noted that Dunn had played wingback for Chelsea and then started Dunn at left fullback against England. Ellis has time to sort out the Dunn conundrum but if the coach can work out the defensive cover, Dunn and Kelley O’Hara could be a nightmare attacking opposing defenses from the flanks.
England finished second under new coach Phil Neville, France came third after claiming the SheBelieves crown last year, while Germany finished last.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
ENG 0 0 0
USA – Own goal (Karen Bardsley) 58th minute
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 16-Emily Sonnett, 7-Abby Dahlkemper, 17-Tierna Davidson, 19-Crystal Dunn; 20-Allie Long (14-Sofia Huerta, 74), 9-Lindsey Horan (6-Morgan Brian, 74), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.); 11-Mallory Pugh (12-Lynn Williams, 90+2), 13-Alex Morgan, 15-Megan Rapinoe (21-Savannah McCaskill, 80)
Substitutes: 2-Casey Short, 3-Andi Sullivan, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Ertz, 18-Jane Campbell, 22-Taylor Smith, 23-Christen Press, 24-Ashlyn Harris
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
ENG: 1-Karen Bardsley; 2-Lucy Bronze, 15-Abbie McManus, 6-Millie Bright, 3-Demi Stokes (12-Hannah Blundell, 87); 22-Keira Walsh (8-Jill Scott 86), 16-Izzy Christiansen; 19-Mel Lawley (11-Toni Duggan, 52), 10-Fran Kirby (17-Rachel Daly, 75), 18-Ellen White; 9-Jodie Taylor (7-Nikita Parris, 52)
Substitutes: 4-Fara Williams, 13-Siobhan Chamberlain, 14-Alex Greenwood, 20-Georgia Stanwood, 23-Gabby George
Head Coach: Phil Neville
Stats Summary: USA / ENG
Shots: 8 / 6
Shots on Goal: 2 / 0
Saves: 0 / 2
Corner Kicks: 5 / 4
Fouls: 8 / 13
Offside: 0 / 7