The U.S. Women’s National Team will look to its second game against China on Tuesday at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium as an attempt to fix some of the problems from the team’s last meeting just five days earlier.
Though the team recorded a 1-0 victory, Thursday’s match was a disappointing one from the reigning world champions. Used to high-scoring and one-sided affairs, they scored only once against the Chinese. Much of it can be explained by the opposition’s defensive block, but the U.S. performance lacked energy and creativity. Much of that was down to the midfield.
That is not a first for the USWNT this year. As head coach Jill Ellis has been tinkering with her midfield trio, the results have varied. Thursday’s combination of Julie Ertz, McCall Zerboni, and Lindsey Horan proved to be ineffective from the start, finding it difficult to create attacks while occasionally allowing China to get into dangerous positions. The attack did not fare much better after Samantha Mewis and Allie Long came on in the second half.
On Tuesday, Ellis will look to fix those issues, though how she might do so is up in the air. At one point or another over the last year, most of the midfielders currently in camp have gotten a few games in midfield, though very few roles have been established. More likely than not, Ertz will serve as the team’s first choice in front of the backline and Mewis will likely partner her, while co-captain Carli Lloyd will be one of the team’s first options off the bench. Other than that, spots are still up for grabs, and they likely will be after Tuesday’s match if only to account for those who are currently nursing injuries.
Similarly, Ellis has yet to figure out who her preferred right back is, which has led to her experimenting with most of her backline. She did so on Thursday, playing Crystal Dunn at left back in the absence of Kelley O’Hara, pairing Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson at center back, and starting co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn at right back. It was an experiment that lasted little over half an hour, as Sauerbrunn and Dunn swapped sides, and substitutions were made to accommodate them later in the match.
It is likely that someone else will start at right back on Tuesday, another position where Ellis has experimented with varying levels of success. In the absence of others, Sofia Huerta will likely get the nod, though whether or not she remains there is yet to be seen. Huerta brings the attacking presence Ellis likes out of her fullbacks, but being somewhat new to the position, her defensive side could use some work.
Additionally, Merritt Mathias of the NC Courage could get some minutes there, recording her first cap in the process. That accomplishment, though, may come as a substitute.
However Ellis chooses to line up, it will reveal much about her feelings about her squad, four months away from World Cup qualifying and with only a year to go until the World Cup.