Women’s World Cup 2019 team guide No 22: United States

The holders have a swashbuckling attack-first style and, though a shaky defence may be a concern, theyre still among the favourites

This article is part of the Guardians 2019 Womens World Cup Experts Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who have qualified for France. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 7 June.

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Overview

It has been an occasionally tumultuous four years for the World Cup holders. The afterglow of a cross-country victory tour rapidly gave way to an abrupt quarter-final loss to Sweden at the 2016 Olympics and a controversial split with longtime goalkeeper Hope Solo, followed by an extended period of experimentation which saw Jill Ellis call up 61 different players in two and a half years. The choppiest waters came in 2017, when the team briefly ceded their world No 1 ranking to Germany after suffering three defeats on home soil: to England and Germany during a last-place finish at the SheBelieves Cup and the teams first ever loss to Australia in the Tournament of Nations. (And thats not even including the wage discrimination complaints and contentious collective bargaining agreement negotiations that have often overshadowed the results on the field.)

But Ellis finally settled on a 4-3-3 formation constructed around a number of mainstays: goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (who held off Ashlyn Harris for the starting job), the central defence pairing of Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn, Lindsey Horan and Julie Ertz in the midfield and Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan up front. The result? A 28-game unbeaten run that ended only in January.

A swashbuckling attack-first style marshalled by Rapinoe, Morgan, Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press and old warhorse Carli Lloyd suggests the Americans will have no problem scoring goals in France. Whether they can keep their opponents from returning the favour often enough is the far more pressing issue. They opened the calendar year with a patchy record of two wins, two draws and one loss, including back-to-back games with multiple goals conceded for the first time since 2011. Naeher, always somewhat inconsistent for her country, has been done no favours by a back line thin on depth and experience: starting left-back Kelley OHara has been troubled by injury and right-back Crystal Dunn is playing out of position.

Thats not to say Elliss side doesnt enter the tournament as favourites on merit, but matching the 540 minutes without conceding a goal they managed in the 2015 World Cup feels highly unlikely.

Coach

In the end Jill Elliss roster for France drew overwhelmingly from the core group that emerged during the teams unbeaten 2018. The Portsmouth-born coach has taken a bit of criticism in the final runup to France for tinkering with formations and trying players in new roles when consistency should be the focus, but this is an experienced team more than half of the 2015 squad is back for the title defence that should be ready for what is afoot when the games start in earnest. The biggest tactical question is whether the US will be able to break down inferior teams with the ability to counter: they struggled to crack the code for a long stretch in the friendly win over South Africa, same as against Sweden in the Rio Olympics.

Star player

Take your pick from the United States embarrassment of attacking riches. No fewer than a half-dozen of the forwards in Elliss squad would play a feature role for any team in the tournament, including Morgan, Heath and Pugh. But 33-year-old Megan Rapinoe, whose creative verve at the Rio Olympics was stunted as she recovered from a third ACL injury, remains the straw that stirs the drink for the United States up top.

Megan
Megan Rapinoe remains a creative focal point for the US. Photograph: Cj Gunther/EPA-EFE

Did you know?

Right-back Ali Krieger and back-up keeper Ashlyn Harris, who confirmed in March they are engaged to be married later this year, are thought to be the first publicly out engaged or married couple to play on the same national team for the United States. Married field hockey players Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh represented Great Britain together at the Rio Olympics.

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A brief history of womens football in the United States

The 1972 passage of the federal legislation known as Title IX the law that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in any federally funded activity created opportunities for girls and women to play sports that gave the United States a head start on the international scene.

The US womens national team didnt play their first game until 1985 a 1-0 defeat to Italy in the Mundialito tournament after coming together with less than a weeks notice but a Michelle Akers and Carin Jennings-inspired squad captured their first World Cup in 1991. The second in 1999 famously capped by Brandi Chastains shootout-clinching penalty against China in front of more than 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl was an epochal moment in American sports, driving youth participation in girls soccer to untold heights and inspiring a new generation of athletes that have endowed the United States with one of the worlds deepest talent pools.

The results speak for themselves: the United States have won three World Cups and never finished worse than third in the tournament, adding four Olympic gold medals along the way.

Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup

Rose Lavelle. Hamstring injuries have limited her involvement over the last two years, but Ellis will be counting on the stylish 24-year-old playmaker and World Cup debutant to provide thrust to the midfield and break open opponents back lines with her creativity, vision and technical skill.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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