For quite some time, it seemed as if a core group of U.S. Women’s National team players was set. Rosters featured very little turnover, as did starting lineups, which saw certain starters locked in. For a pair of friendlies this month against China, though, Jill Ellis has decided to change course.
Her roster of 24 players, including the late addition of Rose Lavelle, sees ten players join camp that did not participate in the April friendlies against Mexico, and is without 11 players that were part of that camp. As has been the case all year long for the U.S., several of those inclusions and exclusions are the result of injuries.
Many of the inclusions, though, have been in an attempt to increase the player pool. Notably, Jane Campbell will not participate in this month’s camp after a poor showing against Mexico in April, allowing the Utah Royals’ Abby Smith and Montpellier’s Casey Murphy to serve as backups while adding depth to the position in the process. Similarly, Ellis has invited Merritt Mathias of the NC Courage as another option at fullback and McCall Zerboni gets her second call to the national team, expanding the pool in midfield.
Yet, with all of those relatively new faces, Ellis may revisit her selections of old this month. The return of Julie Ertz and Samantha Mewis might see the head coach once again pair them in midfield for the first time in several months, while Tobin Heath may begin an opportunity to claim a starting spot while making her return to the national team after an eight month absence Additionally, Amy Rodriguez also may once again become part of the national team conversation for the first time since the 2015 World Cup, going on maternity leave and recovering from an ACL injury in between then and now.
With a lot of change comes plenty of uncertainty as to what the lineups will look like against the opposition. China is one of the few teams to have booked their ticket to France, having done so by reaching the Asian Cup semifinals in April. The 1999 World Cup runners-up have been on a steady incline since missing the 2011 edition of the tournament. This pair of matches brings a bit of uncertainty for the visitors also, as they will be the first for the team under Jia Xiuquan, who was announced as the new coach in May.
China will provide a test that the U.S. would likely have in the earlier stages of a major tournament, be it World Cup qualifying or the World Cup itself, something the team will likely succeed in.
More than anything, though, China will test how well individuals on the bubble can do on the international stage. Several of the players at Ellis’s disposal are still unproven in that regard, and the others need to prove that they can gel with the rest of a system and players Ellis has relied on for almost a year. As the U.S. begins running out of games before World Cup qualifying begins, each game will have make-or-break moments for all involved.