The U.S Women's National Team faces off against Romania in the first of two friendlies in California. This marks the first time ever these two sides have squared off. Since the Olympics ended, these next few years are a chance to rebuild and Head Coach Jill Ellis will be looking to see who could feature during the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The tournament is still a couple years away, but after the Switzerland friendlies, Ellis is looking to add to her roster, mixing new players in with the veterans. There are 24 players in this camp, so which of these faces could feature against Romania?
With Hope Solo gone, these games give the backup keepers a chance to show which of them could be the new number one. This camp features three goalkeepers and only two have been consistent in camps over the last few years. The real choice for Ellis is between Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher. Both played solidly for 90 minutes during each of the matches against Switzerland, so the starting spot is likely going to go to one of these two. This reporter thinks the start is going to Naeher for this match. It’s also likely both will trade off starting roles for both matches again, but for this one Naeher is going to be in goal.
In the last match against Switzerland, Ellis used a 3-5-2 formation, so that’s how we’re going to look at this starting XI. There are a lot of good choices to this defender pool. Meghan Klingenberg was taken off the roster for these matches due to injury, so it leaves room for someone else on the outside. Ellis also found a good player in newcomer Casey Short. Short played all 90 minutes for both matches against the Swiss, so it’s likely she’s going to get the start again for Thursday’s match. In the middle will be captain Becky Sauerbrunn. That one was easy to choose. Sauerbrunn has the skill and ability to command the backline and see the openings for play.
The tricky part will be who is going on the other side of Sauerbrunn. Ali Krieger and Julie Johnston are both options for the game and Abby Dahlkemper also had some solid playing time in the Switzerland matches. This reporter thinks Julie Johnston, although normally a center back, will start on the outside in the 3-5-2 formation. Dahlkemper and Krieger are likely to see some playing time as substitutes later in the match.
Now we move on to the five midfielders. On the wings it’s a fairly easy choice. Tobin Heath will take one side and Kelley O’Hara will be on the other. Heath has played a great game throughout 2016 and in years past. She’s one of the most underrated players on the team and has a great eye for the game that there’s almost no chance anyone wouldn’t start her. Although O’Hara is normally a defender, she played outside mid against Switzerland. Normally she’s going up and down the line and creating scoring opportunities as an outside back, so this is not much different from her normal role. Megan Rapinoe is likely to come on for one of them as a substitute.
For the center midfielders, there are some clear choices. Allie Long has shown that she can control the midfield find the passing lanes easily, so she’s an easy choice for a starter. Andi Sullivan showed a lot of potential during the Switzerland games. She has not only had a successful collegiate career at Stanford, but also showed that her skill on the field in college translates well to the national team. For the last center midfielder, Morgan Brian is back for this camp. Brian was left off of the last roster like many other veterans of this team, but was brought back for the games against Romania. Brian has a good dynamic and creates good scoring opportunities. Like Long, she can easily find the passing lanes.
This group of forwards is hard to choose from, but all of them are likely to get some playing time in both of these matches. Lynn Williams made a remarkable first impression with what was the fastest goal in her WNT debut, scoring 49 seconds in. It was broken four days later when Kealia Ohai scored in 48 seconds. Williams will make the start along with Alex Morgan. Morgan is a dominant force up top and an easy target to create goals. She knows how to score and can find the back of the net easily.
This camp, just like the last one, is a good opportunity for the newcomers to show that they should be a part of the USWNT roster. It is still a few years away from the Women’s World Cup, but players will want to show their worth now. Ellis will probably be looking at many new players in the next few camps to see if they fit in her mold for this team.
Thursday’s game starts at 7 pm PT in San Jose, CA on ESPN2.
Naeher; Sauerbrunn, Short, Johnston; Heath, Long, Brian, Sullivan, O’Hara; Morgan, Williams