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Who should the USWNT start vs. China?


Photo by Erich Schlegel/ USA Today Sports


U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis has some decisions to make ahead of Friday’s Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match.

Following Monday’s victory over Colombia, the USWNT can book a spot in the semifinal with a win over China on Friday night. Entering as favorites, the U.S. boasts plenty of firepower and a stout defensive record, but Ellis faces quite a few issues when it comes to formulating her lineup.

Both Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday will miss out on Friday’s match due to yellow card accumulation, opening two major holes in the U.S. lineup. With plenty of options on the bench, Ellis has a variety of ways she could replace her missing midfielders.

Who will Ellis turn to for the clash with China? Here is the lineup we could see on Friday:

Projected USWNT XI vs. China

Heading into the matchup against China, Ellis is guaranteed to have to make at least two changes to her Starting XI.

Gone are Rapinoe and Holiday with both set to sit out due to yellow card accumulation after being booked in the Round of 16 victory over Colombia.

For Holiday, the replacement is pretty straight-forward. Ellis is almost certain to use Morgan Brian in her place after the 22-year-old slotted in seamlessly during the second half of the Colombia win. The transition to Brian makes all too much sense, as partnering her with her Houston Dash midfield partner in Carli Lloyd gives guaranteed chemistry in the center of the park.

The replacing of Rapinoe ends up being a bit more tricky given the USWNT’s wealth of options on the bench.

Losing Rapinoe’s creative presence is a difficult loss to overcome, sure, but it does open the door for the U.S. to implement a bit of a new gameplan that is much less reliant on the playmaker’s ability to distribute.

While Heather O’Reilly or Lori Chalupny could potentially slot out in Rapinoe’s place, the more likely move would be to add Christen Press. Despite not being a natural wide midfielder, Press’ pace and ability on the ball will likely see Ellis opt to include the 26-year-old out wide.

Rapinoe’s playmaking ability is certainly unmatched by Press, or anyone else on the U.S. for that matter, but Press does provide plenty of ability on the ball. For a team that has become too reliant on giving Rapinoe the ball and praying for the best, a game without the midfielder could be a bit of a blessing as the team relearns how to play a more balanced team game.

Behind the reshuffled midfield, things are much more straightforward, as any changes to the back four would come as a bit of a shock. Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn have been among the best defenders in the tournament thus far, while Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Kreiger have done spectacularly at both getting forward and recovering in their defensive duties.

Changes are also unlikely to come at the forward position, especially given Alex Morgan’s continued fitness improvements. Morgan was at her most dangerous on Monday night, providing the game’s opener while putting in her most lively performance of the tournament.

Partnering Morgan will likely be Abby Wambach, who has served as the USWNT’s best chance creator despite her frustrations against Colombia. As things stand, the U.S. is too reliant on Wambach’s abilities to take her out of the lineup and can certainly deal with some of her limitations. Far from the paciest striker, Wambach and Morgan provide a bit of thunder and lightning up top, giving the U.S. two different looks to break down the China defense.

If Ellis opts to move Wambach into a super-sub role, there will be options aplenty when it comes to replacing the legendary striker. Press could be moved up top to a more natural position, while Amy Rodriguez hops in on the wing, or Ellis could opt to restore Sydney Leroux’s spot up top to create a dynamic front two with Morgan.

However, those moves would probably be too bold for Ellis, who is more likely to stick with what works as the U.S. looks to earn a spot in the World Cup semifinals.

What do you think of the projected lineup? Who would you slot in for Rapinoe and Holiday? Think Ellis will pull off a surprise?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly need to be on the wings, tired of seeing Heath (who I love) slowly trudging down the flank. We need speed and stop playing long kick ball to AWs head, play her to feet, she will settle and let the wings and Morgan make runs down the flanks on grounded through balls (it is turf, the ball will roll!!

  2. Shortly after helping hold off Australia, Boxx tweaked a quad. Doubt we’d see her again, but if so, it’d only be late, due to her reduced stamina/speed now.

    Brian fits with Lloyd due to chemistry from their pro club teams. So this is a good way to start.

    Leroux does not matchup that well compared to Press v China, but I’d start Heather O’Reilly’s speed and scoring entity in place of Tobin Heath, subbing in Heath later if necessary.

    We’d better score early though, as Abby’s going to be gassed at the 60..

  3. This is Wambauch’s last World Cup and this game was built for her. If she starts she will score game winner…guaranteed!

  4. Jill…
    What did I ever do to you? Give me a shot out there. Only backup goalies and defenders haven’t played this WC. And we’ve only given up 1 goal, so that’s not surprise. We aren’t scoring. Give me a shot!

    • ^can’t argue with that but it isn’t entirely an apples to apples comparison. I would start with Leroux and Morgan at forward. Let them score some goals, tire the Chinese out and then bring on Wambach. And don’t just play balls to Abby’s head; it needs to be a mix when she is in. She is pretty clever with one touch layoffs to teammates and good at holding up the ball for numbers to get forward which is all the US will really need to win.

    • This is absolutely arguable. Leroux has done jack s**t in years. 2014, she had 20+ appearances in the womens league with only 5 goals, her production is no where near what is was 2-3 years ago. The fact that people are still crying for Leroux proves without a doubt they have no clue what theyre talking about. Leroux has played in 3 games this world cup, and provided ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

  5. Lloyd isn’t a dmid she’s all attack you can’t move off the ball if you don’t trust the person next to you and that’s why the midfield has lost cohesion without Boxx to be the destroyer you are relying on Lloyd and Holiday to double team because neither are strong defensively. The easiest solution is to bring on boxx free up Lloyd so she can press higher up the field.

    • Hear you, but I worry about 2 things with Boxx: (1) that she’s more of a sub now, and can’t last the at least 60 minutes you need from a starter, and (2) seems like the speed of play slows with her in there. We need faster speed of play in order to contend with the upper seeds in this tournament, and I fear Boxx would slow things down.

    • Not on board with Boxx starting (I had read somewhere that she is injured anyway??). Despite that, I think you make an excellent point on why the CM partnership is not working. I think Lloyd is more of an 8 . . . closer to a 10 than a 6 though. Holiday is way more of a 10 than a 6. Yet both are being asked by Ellis to play the 6 role – either all the time or at least in covering for the other advancing CM. Lloyd can play this role in a pinch, but it is asking a lot of Holiday to do this as she is just not a good defender. For the entire first half of the Colombia match, Lloyd was invisible on the offensive side, but she did a decent job on the defensive end. Coincidentally, I think this was Holiday’s best half of the tournament (don’t get me wrong – it was still not up to par). In the second half, things changed a bit. Of course Colombia was down a woman; however, Brian came in for Holiday. I actually think that partnership may help Lloyd out a bit as Brian (from a handful of matches that I have seen) is a better defender than Holiday. Brain is no 6, but I think she can help a bit more in defense and perhaps free up Lloyd some on the offensive end.

    • We have nothing great to choose from in that position on this roster. And on the podcast Ives was suggesting bringing JJ up to midfield and putting Rampone in defense, which I don’t think is the best idea either. I know she has played there before and she has been great defensively but I have seen some poor passing from her out of the back. She might be able to grow into that role on the national team but I just don’t see it yet.

  6. Lloyd has the worst off ball movement I’ve ever observed in a CM. She’s almost singlehandedly killng US possession. It’s too bad they never attempted to develop some true CMs to take over her role because she’s just awful at moving and distributing the ball. It may be Ellis’ tactics more than Lloyd, but whatever it is, it’s absurd. 5 times versus Colombia, I saw Lloyd standing unmarked in the middle of the pitch while 2 teammates were pinned on the sideline trying to combine. She was only a 5-10 yard run away from creating a perfect triangle for possession but instead just stood there and watched every single time. I have never, ever seen such poor tactical awareness from any CM I’ve ever watched. I’m shocked that she gets away with it. I don’t get it at all. It’s criminal. I can’t imagine what Jill Ellis could possibly be thinking.

    • Completely agree! When people are moving off the ball, there are more passing options and the speed of play naturally steps up, as it’s easier to play one-touch soccer. Yep, takes more energy, and you will make a lot of runs that don’t result in anything–but that one run you make where someone sees you and plays you through could make the difference in the game. Make the runs, expend the energy, leave it all on the field–and when you’re wiped out, we’ll get in a sub for you. This is absolutely the right time to do this, to get our fluidity sharpened up in the China game so we have a decent chance against the France/Germany winner.

      • Good movement does not take more energy, because you keep the possession and make the other team chase the ball. However, if you don’t have intelligent movement offensively, you give up the ball and have to chase the ball on defense, which will get you more tired.

    • I agree and her passing has been horrible all tournament long. Lloyd starting and going a full 90 every match is beyond reason. She has been breaking up passes but once she gets the ball she seems to turn it over more often than not.

    • To be fair, she playing out of position…forced to be a DMF when she’s much better as a more advanced midfielder.

  7. The Uswnt will win or lose with Wambach on the field. Ellis is too risk averse to even consider anything else in the knockout stage. I’ve never understood the rationale behind keeping Wambach as the focal point of the uswnt attack. She’s been in a steady decline at least since the last WC. She’s never going to get better, but we’ve fumbled the development of new talent who languish on the bench.

  8. AS much as i’m not an Abby fan right now, go with the line up in the article, but set i up so that Lloyd plays a dedicated Dmid.

    And good things happen when Klinger and Kreiger get forward. Both have the talent to push. Lloyd generally stays back for cover. wingers pinch in a bit to create space for wing backs.

    Or sit Abby and put Sydney and Alex up top.

  9. The XI I want to see, but will never happen

    ———–Leroux —- Morgan —– Press ———
    ———– Brian —— Lloyd —— Heath ———-
    Klingenberg – Johnston – Sauerbrunn – Krieger
    ————————— Solo —————————–

    Depending on game situation, bring in Wambach in 60′ for Leroux… move Morgan outside or fall back to a 2-4-4 with press coming back to midfield.

    • I agree. Let’s press high, no pun intended. If we aren’t as technical let’s get our most athletic and fast lineup out there.

      • Agreed. I hate to see our forwards and mids retreat and give Colombia 10-15 yards of space. We yield way too much field to the opponent. Pressure much higher on the field (definitely in their end), try to intercept a pass or two, and when you do, you’re only 10 yards away from a real goal-scoring opportunity. I’ve seen exactly this multiple times with Germany. This is best accomplished by forwards with a high work rate and lots of stamina, and Abby should yield in favor of a Leroux, A Rod or Press to partner with Morgan; after we have a lead, we could always bring Abby and/or others on to kill the game off.

    • With a vertically challenged team like China, having Wambach up top might actually work in this game…and then to the bench for the rest.

      • Yeah. Plus Morgan has the speed to cover if China’s right or left backs overlap up…not that they will. I’d also bring in either Rodriguez or Press for Wambach at about 65…albeit on the wing, and push either Leroux or Morgan over to center striker.


        I think we’d be fine. Is there another mid with more lead in her butt than Morgan Brian?

      • in that case the US needs speedster on the wings to cross the ball… we need HAO on the right flank.

        You need speedy players for the rest of the WC. Krieger is not a good defender, she will be exposed soon, one mistake leading to a goal will send the US home packing. I think one goal wins every game from now on.

        Move Kling to RB and play Ohara at LB and we have an upgrade.

    • -Arod ————— Press ————-– Morgan ——
      ———-—-Lloyd ———— Leroux ———————
      ———-——————Brian ——————————
      Klingenberg – Johnston – Sauerbrunn – Krieger
      ————————— Solo —————————–

    • I would like to see Press sit right under whoever is up top. She’s one of the few on this team I’ve seen trying to link up with others using shorter passes. Unfortunately she hasn’t been utilized well and wasn’t as involved considering our poor midfield play.


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