From March 1-7, U.S. Soccer will host the third annual SheBelieves Cup, with the first games to be played at MAPFRE Stadium.
It feels like just yesterday I was writing about the underwhelming performance of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup. Jill Ellis’ team opened up the tournament with a solid 1-0 win over Germany thanks to a Lynn Williams goal, but fell to England and France in their following games. France went on to win the tournament, with Germany placing second, England third and the USWNT in last place. Yet now, a year later, I remain optimistic that this year’s SheBelieves Cup will go differently for the USWNT.
The U.S. women enter this tournament on March 1 without the dragging weight of the early exit from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Rather, come next month, the USWNT are in a good place after cruising past Denmark 5-1 to open up the year, and the majority of the rostered players are coming off successful seasons in college, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and abroad.
The 2018 SheBelieves Cup kicks off on March 1 and will run through March 7. This is the third iteration of the tournament and it will once again feature four of the top women’s soccer countries. The FIFA rankings currently have the U.S. first, followed by Germany in second (the reigning Olympic champs), England in third and France in sixth.
On Valentine’s Day, Ellis named 26 players to the preliminary roster ahead of the tournament. The squad will eventually be trimmed to 23. So let’s talk about this roster.
The core group is back and reason enough to feel good and secure about the leadership on the squad.
Carli Lloyd holds the cake as the most capped player on the team with 247 games played. Alex Morgan is continuing to climb the ranks as one of the most decorated scorers in U.S. soccer as she currently has 81 in her career. Julie Ertz, who was recently named the 2017 U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year, has 15 goals. It will be interesting to see if Ellis decides to keep Ertz in a midfielder role or if she slides her back to a defensive role without Becky Sauerbrunn healthy for the tournament. Sauerbrunn was left off the roster as she recovers from a foot injury. Also left off the roster was Samantha Mewis with a knee injury and Tobin Heath with an ankle injury.
Mallory Pugh stole the show against Denmark, scoring two goals and displaying just how dangerous on the attack she can be. Her pace was un-trackable, and her ability to read the game looked far from a player who not so long ago was celebrating her 18th birthday. Another youngin’ to be excited about is UCLA’s Hallie Mace who is coming off her junior season, during which she scored 15 goals and dished out three assists. Mace could be another versatile player on the squad; the rising senior has also played defense on the U.S. youth national team so could be an option in the absence of Sauerbrunn.
In terms of what lineup to expect Ellis to go with against Germany … I would bet almost all of my soccer jerseys (which is a lot) that she’ll not go back to the three-in-the-back system. Last year, Ellis was committed to making it work in all three competitions at the SheBelieves Cup. The USWNT were caught time and time again in transition, the shifting was off and the gap between the defense and midfield was far too big.
Germany, England and France were all able to break down the three, so here’s to hoping that won’t be re-visited this year. Although the results weren’t something to boast over, Rose Lavelle’s debut was. The No. 1 pick at the 2016 NWSL College Draft put on two spectacular 90 minute performances at last year’s tournament, and even after the loss to France, Ellis couldn’t praise Lavelle enough. In her rookie season with the Boston Breakers, she scored two goals, but has yet to be healthy since suffering an injury midway through the season. Lavelle was named to the roster and looks to be healthy, so let’s see if she fills in for a hurt Mewis.