Rose Lavelle

The USWNT has faced some challenges in its previous two games, but still has talent to potentially make a deep run.

The United States women's national soccer team finished the 2015 World Cup as champions. With the 2019 tournament in full swing, The Breeze Sports debate if the team can win it again this year.

The USWNT is poised for another title in 2019

Catie Harper | The Breeze

It wasn’t until the third and fourth game of the World Cup that the United States women’s national soccer team faced a top opponent. When the U.S. took the field against long-standing rival Sweden and then against Spain, it faced challenges, but still came out on top.

In its first two games of the World Cup, the U.S. wasn’t challenged on offense or defense. There was the 13-0 victory over Thailand where the U.S. controlled the ball 73% of the time and managed a staggering 20 shots on target while Thailand mustered up only two. While the next game didn’t see the U.S. win by quite the same margin — only beating Chile 3-0 — the stars and stripes still dominated its lesser opponent, recording nine shots on frame and possessing the ball for 72% of the game. 

Leading up to the Sweden match, some analysts were curious how the U.S. would match up with a top-10 team. After opening the tournament against the No. 34 and No. 39 team in the world, there hadn’t been much of a challenge to No. 1 United States. 

In the opening half against No. 9 Sweden, the U.S. squad emphasized that its previous wins weren’t just routine and that it could dominate any opponent it faces in this year’s World Cup. Following a slow start to the calendar year, which included an uncharacteristic 3-1 loss to France and low-scoring contests against other top nations, the U.S. has seemingly found its rhythm after a strong win against Sweden. 

The U.S. had control of the ball for 63% of the game during its 2-0 victory over the Swedes with 16 shots and four on target. The strong performance over a high-ranked country only added to the United States’ impressive group stage resume. The USWNT finished group play with a record-setting 18 goals and didn’t forfeit a single goal, only allowing four total shots from its opponents and three corner kicks. 

Handling all of its competition with ease during the group stage exemplifies that this team is built to make another deep run. While early action in the 2019 World Cup has proven the U.S. is still the top team in the world, that hasn’t always been clear this year. There were questions about how this roster would pan out after losing players who played a key role in the 2015 World Cup win, including Christie Rampone, Lauren Holiday and Abby Wambach. 

Easily one of the hardest players the U.S. had to replace for this World Cup was Hope Solo. There have been questions about how reliable successor goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher would be. While she’s been the No. 1 goalie for the U.S. for the past few years, she’s had to live up to Solo’s legacy. Seeing from her first action at the World Cup, Naeher has been shaky at times. She had a costly error against Spain, sending a goal kick short of the middle that led to a goal, but managed to fight back and help the U.S. win

Naeher needs to be a leader if the U.S. wants to hoist the trophy on July 7. She can’t afford to make questionable decisions like she did against Spain. If Naeher can play a simple game and not overthink her decisions, she’ll be just fine moving forward. 

Another big aspect the U.S. needed to figure out for this tournament was its backline. The 2015 U.S. team had one of the best starting backlines, with players like Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz, Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger. Since then, that line has been shuffled after retirements and drops in production. Ertz moved up to midfield, Klingenberg hasn’t played for the national team since 2016 and Krieger barely made it back for this year’s World Cup.

While Ertz has thrived in her defensive center midfield role and Sauerbrunn continues to be one of the United States’ unsung heroes, the positions around Sauerbrunn haven’t been as solid. There have been different players in and out of the lineup, like Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper and Emily Sonnett, as head coach Jill Ellis tries to find the best fit moving forward. 

In the match against Sweden, the U.S. may have found the right combination. With Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper in the middle along with Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara on the wings, the U.S. helped keep Sweden off the board. However, that same line did struggle against No. 13 Spain. Sauerbrunn played a role in Spain’s one goal, as she failed to quickly dish out the goal kick from Naeher.

While the defense needs to strengthen, the offense hasn’t been questionable for the U.S., providing timely goals when needed most. Alex Morgan has done what she’s always done — testing the opponent’s defense with quick runs — and players like Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd and Lindsey Horan have all contributed to the scoring. If this group of veterans and newcomers can just do what they’ve always done, there shouldn’t be a problem for the U.S. when it comes to scoring. 

If the United States wants to find itself once again hoisting the World Cup trophy, Naeher and the backline need to stay consistent. There isn’t room for error at this point in the World Cup. France exposed issues with the U.S. earlier this year, but the team has had time to grow and is still the favorite to win it all. 

All the U.S. needs to do is play its brand of soccer, score often and help Naeher keep the opponents off the scoresheet. Friday’s matchup against host-nation France won’t be easy, but the U.S. is very capable of winning it. This team is strong, talented and exciting, and should win its second-straight World Cup title. 

Contact Catie Harper at breezesports@gmail.com. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

While full of talent, the USWNT will fall short

Jordan Simal | The Breeze

 Any professional athlete would quickly say it isn’t easy to repeat as champions. For the United States women’s national soccer team, 2015 was a fantastic season, as it ended with the Americans on top with their third World Cup trophy. It arguably was the best roster the women’s team has ever had.

Now, the pressure is on to repeat as champions four years later. Unfortunately, a repeat isn’t going to happen. While the U.S. women are considered favorites by numerous experts and writers, there are a few glaring differences between this team and its 2015 counterpart.

The most noticeable difference is that only four of the starting eleven women from the 2015 team have returned as starters for this year’s Cup. Defenders Ali Krieger and Becky Sauerbrunn, as well as forwards Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, are the only physical remnants of the 2015 Champions. Key athletes like goalkeeper Hope Solo and forward Abby Wambach and midfielder Lauren Holiday will be missed by the women, despite their success up to this point.

Owning the title of champions is also going to paint a target on the backs of the team — a target they didn’t have four years ago when the Japanese women’s team held the crown. Trying to maintain a championship is going to add onto the already immense pressure that the USWNT must bear. Japan collapsed in the Final four years ago after losing by three goals to the Americans in the World Cup Final of 2015.

The United States has easily bested its early competition in the group stages for the Cup. Defeating Thailand 13-0, Chile 3-0, Sweden 2-0 and Spain 2-1 is an immensely successful start to the Cup, but it may also slowly lead to fatigue on the part of the team. Scoring 20 goals in four games — more than some teams may score in the entire Cup — may prove in the long run that the overabundant effort may lead to the team physically breaking down on top of the mental pressure of repeating.

Other teams such as France pose a legitimate threat to the U.S. women, having won its group stage games by a combined score of 7-1. France is also hosting the World Cup this season just one year after their men’s team won the 2018 World Cup. Corinne Diacre and the rest of the French team would surely love to win the country’s second World Cup in two years on their home turf.

Japan also is likely out for blood on the Americans, looking to get revenge from their 5-2 loss in the World Cup Final back in 2015. Forwards Mana Iwabuhi and Yuika Sugasawa, along with the rest of their team, would assumedly love to play David to America’s Goliath to get back at the team who knocked them off their throne four years ago. 

The United States boasts an amazing roster, with new starters such as midfielder Julie Ertz and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, but the factors that could lead to the team’s downfall are there and are hovering dangerously over the women. Fatigue from an onslaught of goals scored in early games, potential overconfidence and the threats presented from the competition will challenge the 2019 U.S. Women’s team.

Unfortunately, the physical and mental obstacles the team will face following group stages will be too much for the team. It’ll be another good run, but it won’t be enough to repeat as champs. 

Contact Jordan Simal at simaljg@dukes.jmu.edu. For more soccer coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

Pat Summitt, Erin Andrews and Lindsay Czarniak were three names that inspired me growing up. Here I am now at JMU, Czarniak’s alma mater, taking steps to live out my dream. As Pat would say, “I’m going to keep on keepin’ on, I promise you that.”