Five Takeaways From the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup Win

SheBelieves Cup

The United States Women’s National Team owe Karen Bardsley thank you notes.

Bardsley, of the England Women’s National Team, deflected a shot from Megan Rapinoe into her own net, securing the United States’ 1-0 in the final SheBelieves Cup match.

With the own goal the United States won the tournament over England, Germany and France.

The match is a confidence booster early in the year for a program that will have a busy 2018. The ladies are on track to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but have a long stretch ahead of them before they book their flight to France.

In August, the United States will welcome Japan, Brazil, and Australia for the second annual Tournament of Nations. Last year, Australia claimed the tournament victory.

However, this year’s tournament also serves as a big warm up before the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, which will be held in October. The women’s Gold Cup is the qualifying event for female CONCACAF teams.

Back in the 2014 tournament, the United States, along with Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica, qualified for the 2015 World Cup.

USWNT head coach Jill Ellis has plenty of time to solidify a roster for the qualification in the coming months. The SheBelieves Cup and the Tournament of Nations are essentially glorified friendlies.

However, they are against good competition.

This is the time for Ellis to move players around, bring in some new faces or just stick with the same set of players that she’s comfortable with.

Here are five takeaways from the recent SheBelieves Cup tournament.

Five Takeaways From the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup Win

5. Jill Ellis Loves Shaking Her Lineup Strategies Up

Ellis turned heads in the final match against England when she put Crystal Dunn — an attacking forward for Chelsea Ladies (and soon-to-be for the North Carolina Courage) — on defense.

Dunn, who started her first match since July 30, 2017, hasn’t featured as an outside back since the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. She’s an attacking threat, both at the club and national team level.

It was a head-scratching move that Ellis made, especially when capable defenders like Kelley O’Hara, Taylor Smith, and Casey Short were available on the bench.

Either way, a goal didn’t get past Dunn, or her fellow defenders Emily Sonnett, Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper.

However, Ellis had to be holding her breath on the sideline whenever the ball would head toward Dunn’s direction on defense.

4. Sorry Ashlyn Harris. It’s Alyssa Naeher’s Time

Ashlyn Harris better make her seat comfortable on the bench.

After two shutouts against Germany and England, Naeher proved herself capable against strong, talented teams.

The SheBelieves Cup wasn’t an easy task for Naeher, who was up against talents like Amadine Henry, Toni Duggan, and Jodie White. However, Naeher posted six saves throughout the three matches, including two late tie-preserving saves against France.

Naeher has seemingly won over the trust of Ellis, but she still has some warming up to do with national team fans. She hasn’t been the most consistent goalkeeper since replacing Hope Solo.

Starting throughout the SheBelieves Cup — and more than likely the Tournament of Nations — will give Naeher a big confidence boost going into October.

3. Tierna Davidson is good, but she’s no Becky Sauerbrunn

Tierna Davidson is a young, bright talent for the United States.

However, her appearances have been mainly due to the absence of co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

Sauerbrunn is still recovering from a foot injury, keeping her sidelined the entire 2018 calendar year. However, Davidson, who features at the collegiate level for Stanford, has done a solid job in her place.

That doesn’t mean that Davidson will be starting over Sauerbrunn once she returns and is healthy. While Davidson might be younger and more flexible, Sauerbrunn is a seasoned veteran.

Unlike Carli Lloyd, her fellow co-captain, Sauerbrunn isn’t letting her age slow her down. She has been a solid, consistent presence at centerback for the United States.

Davidson will certainly learn from Sauerbrunn and be groomed to take her place once she retires. However, that won’t happen anytime in the near future.

2. Megan Rapinoe Is Really, Really Good

Another player that isn’t letting her age show is Megan Rapinoe.

The longtime USWNT veteran — who made her 133rd appearance against England — scored her 35th career goal against Germany. Rapinoe, who features primarily as a striker, had the shot that was deflected by England for an own-goal.

Rapinoe had a consistent 2017, along with Julie Ertz and Lindsey Horan. At the club level with the Seattle Reign, Rapinoe tallied 12 goals. Internationally, Rapinoe scored three goals against Japan, Brazil, and South Korea.

At the age of 32-years-old, Rapinoe isn’t slowing down. She’s serving as an anchor up front with Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan. Rapinoe also finds herself in the midfield frequently, a spot she starred in at the last World Cup.

Ellis should hang on tight and pray that nothing happens to Rapinoe in the next seven months. She’ll need her against young teams like Costa Rica and Mexico.

1. Carli Lloyd Isn’t the Powerhouse She Used to Be

Carli Lloyd had a rough 2017, both internationally and at the club level.

With the national team, Lloyd only scored two goals, against Russia and Canada. It seems that every time she scores, an announcer will proclaim that “Carli Lloyd is back!”

However, it’s never consistent. Lloyd comes back but then backtracks further until she tries to rebound again.

With the Houston Dash, Lloyd had a dismal season. She only featured in eight matches, scoring two goals. Her season was shortened due to injury.

Lloyd is certainly still a strong presence in the locker room. However, her output on the pitch has been lacking. Thankfully for the United States, Lindsey Horan has stepped to the plate.

Horan secured her 47th appearance against England. Since the beginning of 2017, Horan has scored one goal, against New Zealand, and provided four assists.

Ellis will likely keep the veteran Lloyd around for the 2019 World Cup. It wouldn’t be in Ellis’ character to pull a Jürgen Klinsmann and not bring her longtime player to the World Cup.

Klinsmann famously didn’t bring Landon Donovan to the 2014 World Cup. It’s hard to believe that Ellis would do that to Lloyd.

However, don’t be surprised to see Lloyd take a step back — or a seat on the bench.

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  1. Megan Rapinoe has consistently been the most underrated player on the USWNT, dating back to at least 2011. Everyone remembers Abby Wambach’s 122’d minute goal against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup – but it was Rapinoe who played the ball from the left sideline across the box to the right post, just barely out of the reach of the keeper, so that Wambach had her chance. The phrase “perfectly positioned” was invented to describe that cross. No cross, no goal – simple as that. To continue her “Why does Brazil hate me?” run, consider last year’s game against Brazil in the Tournament of Nations (yes, they’re glorified friendlies – what of it?) when Rapinoe A) played the ball to Christen Press that turned into the first of their three goal comeback (and what a sweet little thread-the-needle ball played on the ground through traffic it was), B) scored the second goal of the three, a shot played between the goalie and the left post that left the Brazilian keeper trying in vain to twist in mid-air to stop the shot, with the result that she deflected the ball into the goal, and C) played the ball forward that O’Hara crossed, which was finally sent home by Ertz. She’s the kind of player that makes good things happen around her – like winning.