Reigning world champions USA face their first major international test in the build-up to the 2020 Olympics: the SheBelieves Cup.
It’s a tournament that Vlatko Andonovski’s side will host in their own backyard, with the opening game taking place at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando. Yet, last year’s relapse to England paired with a dip in domestic form for the US-regulars in the National Women’s Super League hints that not all is well in the American camp.
Take a read of our USA team guide and clue yourself up on the essentials as the host’s kick-off in the post-Jill-Ellis era…
What you need to know
- Coach: Vlatko Andonovski
- Captains: Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd
- Previous results: Last year’s finalist losing to the Lionesses
USA players’ recent form
Life after Ellis has been an increasingly intriguing one for the World Cup champions, who have now dispersed to their various domestic leagues after a summer of celebrations.
Yet, all is not well in the land of the free and home of the brave; NWSL performances for those who clinched gold medals, not six months before have been subpar this season.
Megan Rapinoe may have turned heads on global stages as Ballon d’Or winner but has failed to do so consistently for Reign FC in this latest campaign. Meanwhile, her partner in crime – Alex Morgan – will miss the tournament due to pregnancy.
Under the newly appointed USA coach Andonovski, who replaced Ellis shortly after the World Cup victory tour, there is evidence that youth will be favoured over the so-called legends we’ve grown accustomed to in the last decade or so.
Sure, recent internationals have painted the likes of Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd in an attractive light, with the latter in great goalscoring form. Yet if NWSL performances have taught us anything, defensive issues could come back and haunt the SheBelieves hosts.
Players to watch
This USA side may be without their stalwart manager, but the squad is still littered with domestic champions, World Cup champions, and more importantly – at least in the eyes of Andonovski – rising stars. A few who could light up the tournament with their skill and verve are:
The 24-year-old made her claim to fame in last summer’s World Cup-winning campaign and hasn’t looked back since. As a debutant amidst a crop of stars, plucked from the very best domestic teams, Lavelle wasn’t expected to shine. And yet, with three goals, an array of feints and magical dribbling ensembles, all the evidence suggests she’ll be the protagonist in this March’s Cup story.
With 16 career goals to her name, there are very few who won’t be including Lindsey Horan in their mix of stars to light up the SheBelieves Cup. Not only is the 25-year-old clearly an apt goal scorer but she’s also able to play the role of provider, evident in her double assist against Panama recently – with a hat-trick to pair, of course.
There’s no introduction needed for the woman whose technical skill is by far hailed as the best in the US roster. Yes, it’s Tobin Heath, a 29-year-old striker who continues to entertain on one of the biggest stages in world football. Paired alongside Morgan and Rapinoe, Heath brought up the rear in a trio that terrorized defences across the World Cup last summer. If her dribbling abilities are anywhere close to those performances, expect nothing short of goals galore.
Another product of the Ellis era, the Chicago Red Stars defender is a crucial part of the US counterattack, adding an extra element of pace and width for the likes of Rapinoe and Lloyd to profit off. Indeed, Ertz has racked up 19 international goals in her career, with four assists that have come through corners and free-kicks – a niche that the US will look to exploit in the SheBelieves.
Where will USA finish at the SheBelieves Cup?
It goes without saying that the hosts of the tournament are in a prime position to win – recent international performances prove that.
However, England are faring up to be dangerous competition, given the kind of form their players have been in, especially the Arsenal and Chelsea contingent.
Sure, it would be incredibly fortuitous to see a repeat of last year’s SheBelieves Cup result, with the USWNT losing out to the Lionesses. Yet, if the US stutter like their players have done in the NWSL, the opportunity is there for the taking.
Our prognosis? A narrow defeat to Phil Neville’s reigning champs.
USA SheBelieves predicted starting XI
- Alyssa Naeher
- Emily Sonnett
- Abby Dahlkemper
- Julie Ertz
- Crystal Dunn
- Samantha Mewis
- Lindsey Horan
- Jessica McDonald
- Carli Lloyd
- Tobin Heath
- Christen Press