On Tuesday night the United States Women's National Team will take on the People's Republic of China after clawing their way to a close 1-0 victory last Thursday. The USA will be looking for a stronger offensive performance after forward Alex Morgan scored the lone goal in the previous match. The United States has six wins and one draw so far in 2018, a major improvement over five wins and three losses to start 2017. China has lost five matches to five different teams already in 2018, suffering defeats against Portugal, Norway, Australia, Japan and the United States. China has already qualified for the 2019 Women's World Cup after finishing third in the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup in April.
Testing the waters for 2019
The United States faced off against China at the memorable 1999 Women's World Cup finals that the United States won in penalty kicks. Since that time, the USWNT has stayed right near the top of the women's game while China has slipped significantly.
The United States is working on finding a lineup that puts the most talent on the field while creating a cohesive squad. Head coach Jill Ellis is trying to tease a lineup out of a group of players that is heavily stacked at certain positions and deficient in others. No player better exemplifies this effort then Crystal Dunn, who has played forward through most of her NWSL career and the early parts of her USWNT appearances but has recently been transitioned to outside back. The end goal, like the failed attempts to implement a three-back system in 2017, is to put as much talent on the field at a time as possible, but when players are played out of their natural positions against the best talent in the world things get hairy. Right now the tactical side of the coaching equation is lacking, but there is still time for the team to find a rhythm with the World Cup a year away.
China is trying to build a system that can shut down the best teams in the world to give them a fighting chance at advancing past the group stage in France next year. China has enough talent to beat weaker teams, but they have struggled lately when faced with top-level competition. Over the last 12 months, China has faced off against teams ranked 15th in the world or better 12 times. They earned one draw and 11 losses in those 12 games. There are clearly some issues with the current Chinese team, but they played much tougher than expected last week. There were even moments during the game where China had the USA back on their heels and had one of the best looks in the first half. The goal was clearly to bunker, force turnovers and counterattack, and this could be a dangerous team if they lock down that vision.
Look for the USA to press high and try to generate long offensive possessions, searching for a defensive mistake from the Chinese and utilizing set pieces and speed to find goals. For China, look for them to keep nine or more players behind the ball, hoping the shut down and frustrate the Americans into making a foolish mistake.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 from FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET, but don't be surprised if it is a few minutes delayed as the lineups are announced.