The United States women's national team is coming off an amazing offensive performance and a terrible defensive performance in their 5-3 win over Australia on Thursday night. On Sunday, the USWNT will host Belgium at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Alex Morgan scored her 100th career goal for the USA to take a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute against Australia, but her achievement was overshadowed by the seven goals that were scored afterward.
What to expect from Belgium
Despite not making the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, Belgium is one of the up and coming teams in Europe. In the European qualifying tournament Belgium earned six wins, one draw, and one loss, but that was only good enough for second in their group with Italy notching seven wins and one loss. The four best second-place finishers go to a play-in tournament where one team is able to win a spot in the final tournament. Belgium was matched up against Switzerland in the first round of the tournament, but they were knocked out due to an away goal tiebreaker.
Ranked 20th in the world, Belgium has been slowly but steadily increasing from their low point at 35th in 2010. The absolute strength of the Belgian side is their forwards. There is no stronger evidence for this than that list of players that Belgium head coach Ives Serneels brought to America. Among those listed, three are goalkeepers, six are defenders, three are midfielders, and eight are forwards. Clearly a few of those players are going to have to play a bit outside of their natural positions.
The stand out player, and the one that the USWNT will have the most difficulty with, is Tessa Wullaert. She played three seasons for Wolfsburg in Germany and made two UEFA Women's Euro finals appearances with the team, but they fell both times to Lyon. This season she is playing for Manchester City in England.
Wullaert has had an extremely productive international career for Belgium. She has scored 37 goals in 65 appearances, which is the most of any player in Belgian women's soccer history. At just 26 years old, Wullaert still has plenty of time to build on that record.
The rising star for Belgium is 19-year-old forward Davinia Vanmechelen who plays for Paris Saint-Germain in France. She has already played in 29 games and scored six goals for her country.
Watching the USA defense
The biggest focus for people watching the USWNT right now is the porous defense, but the criticism doesn't fit entirely with reality. In six games this calendar year the United States has allowed ten goals, but all of those goals have come against teams in the top-seven worldwide. There are certainly issues with the outside backs, but judging pre-season performances of players against in-season top-level opponents can be unnecessarily harsh.
On Thursday against Australia, a team with the best striker in the world and a great compliment of attacking players, the United States defense seemed prone to underestimating the speed of their opponents. Inside the first minute, defender Emily Sonnett, who plays CB for Portland Thorns FC, badly misjudged how fast Australian forward Lisa De Vanna could get to a pass, and her misstep nearly allowed Australia the early lead. De Vanna would later score when Sonnett pinched in centrally to defend a counterattack, defender Abby Dahlkemper's defensive posture pushed the attack towards the space that Sonnett had just vacated, and Australia tied up the game.
Those two sequences largely outline the difficulties that the United States had against Australia on defense. The midfield routinely failed to slow down the counterattack from Australia, and the defense failed to properly assess the speed of their opponents, positioned poorly, and conceded. Those are definitely fixable mistakes. It's no wonder that Sonnett pinched centrally when Dahlkemper pushed forward to challenge the ball, she's naturally a center back and that would be the correct response if the lack of outside defenders on the USA roster didn't force her to play out of position.
How to watch the match
Kickoff is scheduled for 9:00 pm ET on Sunday, April 7th. The game on Thursday was also scheduled for 9pm kickoff, but it didn't actually happen until 9:30, so be prepared for a potentially later time. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. You can also follow the LIVE action here on VAVEL where Bianca Verar will have coverage from the stadium.