Coach: Jill Ellis
FIFA Ranking: Second
Titles: 1991, 1999
2011 World Cup: Runner-Up (Lost on Penalty Kicks to Japan)
Goalkeepers: Hope Solo, Ashlyn Harris, Alyssa Naeher
Defenders: Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Ali Krieger, Lori Chalupny, Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, Kelley O'Hara
Midfielders: Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx, Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday, Heather O'Reilly
Forwards: Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez, Christen Press
Group D Schedule: June 8th vs. Australia (7:30PM EST TV: Fox Sports 1), June 12th - Sweden (8PM EST TV: Fox), June 16th - Nigeria (8PM EST TV: Fox)
Five Important Points/Questions About the USWNT
Who will be the go to striker pairing for Coach Ellis?
The USWNT have a plethora of attacking options but in Jill Ellis' 4-4-2 system, only two strikers can start. Christen Press can play striker but will most likely start on the wings outside where she can cut in from the wings. That leaves Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux to battle for these two spots. Determining the starting strikers is contingent on the health of Alex Morgan. It is no secret that the pair of Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach have great chemistry up top but Morgan's health will leave the striker's positions up for grabs between Leroux, Rodriguez and Wambach.
Jill Ellis saying team will have to build Alex Morgan's minutes through first WWC games.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 30, 2015
Leroux offers a strong physical prescence to muscle defenders off the ball along with her quick pace. Rodriguez, also, offers blistering speed to put up top as well. Wambach's air prowess and ability to head home goals on crosses and set pieces is well-versed. With this set of Forwards, the USWNT should have little problem creating opportunities and actually scoring goals.
Is Abby Wambach still a starter?
Wambach, the leader in international goals scored, did something different to train for this World Cup. Instead of playing for her NWSL team Western New York, she decided to sit out the season which started in March. She trained on her own, as described in her New York Times profile, by "playing pickup games at Nike headquarters, doing interval runs on hills in her neighborhood, [and] playing daily rounds of golf." Wambach's training has been mired in controversy because critics claim she is missing the opportunity to gain minutes on the field against world-class opponents.
Wambach's positives are well known: prolific goal scorer, set piece threat to head home goals as well as her leadership skills that help keep this team focused on winning.
In the send-off games, Wambach managed to score four goals in three games. However, Wambach did look a step slow at times by missing headers that usually would end up in the back of the net. Because of the injury and easing of Alex Morgan back into the lineup, Wambach will most likely be a starter in the beginning of the World Cup. When Morgan becomes close to fully fit, Wambach would be best used as a super sub for around 30 minutes at the end of the game as a closer. As a super sub, Wambach could be able to play less minutes but still have a large impact on the game that she is known to have
The USWNT have a crazy amount of depth, which will be their key advantage.
Every single player on this 23-player roster could easily be a starter at any point in this World Cup. Just because a player is on the bench does not mean that the player is a solely a lower level player. For example, at centerback, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Christie Rampone and Whitney Engen all could start and put in great shifts. All 4 of these centerbacks will see minutes this World Cup, which will allow players to stay fresh by playing less minutes without Coach Ellis compromising the team's overall ability. Due to their depth, Coach Ellis will be able to bring in World Cup veterans like holding midfielder Shannon Boxx, winger Heather O'Reilly and the skilled Tobin Heath to make an instant impact.
Who are the key players to watch?
Every fan knows the stars like Wambach, Lloyd, Morgan and Rapinoe. They each will have to be at their best to help this team lift the cup.
However, the USWNT and their quest to claim a third title will also be dependent upon two key players that may be lesser known: Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg, who should be Coach Ellis' choice to start as right and left wing backs respectively. The USWNT is at their best and most potent offensively when their outside backs are able to play more forward and overlap. Krieger and Klingenberg both play very high up the field but also both cannot forget about their responsibilities on defense. Offensively, the two wingbacks will be responsible for overlapping with the outside wingers to place balls in the penalty area for the forwards and midfielders to put in the back of the net. Klingenberg can also be a clinical goal scorer as she has scored two volley golazos in her USWNT career. Krieger is no stranger to the World Cup as she played valuable minutes in the 2011 World Cup where she famously sent in the winning penalty kick against Brazil in the quarterfinals. Klingenberg will be experiencing her first World Cup, so it will be key to see how she settles in on the world stage.
Lauren Holiday will also be one player to key an eye on. Holiday, the 2014 US Soccer female athlete of the year, will be relied on by Coach Ellis to be a holding, deep-lying playmaker for this USWNT squad. Her playmaking ability allows the USWNT to connect the defense to the offense through her excellent passing skills. Because of her excellent skills as a holding midfielder, this allows Carli Lloyd to be able to press forward more often to buttress an already potent offense.
Christen Press will also be a key cog for the USWNT. The rising star for this team can play forward but has proven she is a very good winger as well, where she most likely see the majority of her minutes this World Cup. She has scored 20 goals in only 45 caps for the USWNT, which is a rediculous pace. Pairing her with the creative Rapinoe and the two wing backs will create havoc for opposing defenses. Her foot skills are impeccable as she is able to weave in and out of defenders with ease and either serve in a cross or cut inside to take a shot on target. However, this is also her first World Cup for the young player. Her ability to adjust to the big stage of the World Cup will be important. This will not be the last time you hear about Press as she will become the face of this team in the very near future.
Who will be the pairings in the middle of the field?
In central midfield, it is less up in the air as Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday will plug up the midfield. Lloyd will be placed in a more advanced role while Holiday will play more holding in the midfield.
In defense, Coach Ellis has decisions to make. Julie Johnston, the young centerback and future face of the team, has meteorically rose onto the scene since the CONCACAF qualifying in October 2014. Not only is she a lockdown defender, Johnston provides a target for set pieces as she has scored three goals this year for the USWNT all off of corner kicks. Becky Sauerbrunn, the 2013 and 2014 NWSL defender of the year, is a stalwart in the back. Sauerbrunn is arugably the best defender for the USWNT as she can cover the field well and is not afraid to step up and stop a growing counter. She provides a calm and assuring presence in the back, which allows the other players on the field to feel confident in the defense. Christie Rampone is an ageless wonder. Rampone, who will turn 40 during the World Cup, is still a player who can start and play at an elite level due to her marking skills and extreme speed to make up for mistakes. However, Rampone has been unable to stay on the field due to injuries. Not only does Rampone have skills to play at an elite level, she is the captain of this team when on the field. She organizes the defense with the help of Hope Solo and gives this team a necessary leaderhip voice in the back.
Rampone, Sauerbrunn and Johnston will be the most likely starters with Engen providing cover as a subsitute. If there is a clear favorite to start, Sauerbrunn is all but guaranteed to be one of the two starters at center back. If Ellis looks at the current level of play, Johnston is the clear favorite to start over Rampone. However, if Ellis feels this team needs leadership from the back, Rampone, if healthy, will start instead of Johnston.
Predictions about the USWNT
The USWNT will most likely come out against Australia with a lineup (L to R): Solo; Klingenberg, Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Krieger; Rapinoe, Lloyd, Holiday, Press; Wambach, Leroux (if Morgan is fit, she will likely start here). Coach Ellis will most likely go to the likes of Morgan Brian, Amy Rodriguez and Kelley O'Hara as the first few players of the bench.
This team is better than the 2011 version of the USWNT in almost all aspects. However, the difference between 2011 and 2015 is that the gap between the USWNT and the other teams is closing rapidly. The USWNT will not have any easy games either in the group stage or in the knockout round. Despite handily beating CONCACAF teams by four or five goals, this will not be the norm for the USWNT when they get to Canada. Sweden, the 5th ranked team in the world, is led by former USWNT Head Coach Pia Sundhage and has always played the USWNT well. In the 2014 Algarve Cup, Sweden beat the US 1-0 and in the 2013 Algarve Cup, tied the USWNT 1-1. Australia and Nigeria will also not be easy games for this US side either.
The USWNT should win this group despite it being the group of death with tough opponents. By winning their group, that would set them up to play the third place winner of Groups B, E or F. The USWNT is extremely talented, deep and should make a deep run to the World Cup finals where they have a good shot to win it all.