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Who should the USWNT start vs. Portugal?

The U.S. Women’s National Team is set to close out a successful 2018 with a pair of friendlies in Europe, the first of which comes against Portugal in Estoril on Thursday.

Plenty of USWNT mainstays made the trip and will likely get some minutes, but injuries and absences for personal reasons might open the door to some others to earn significant playing time this month. Head coach Jill Ellis opted to bring along the likes of defender Merritt Mathias, midfielders Danielle Colaprico and Andi Sullivan, and forward Jessica McDonald as the race for the final World Cup roster spots gets underway. Any one of these players, plus the team’s regulars that get less minutes, could be part of Thursday’s lineup, as Ellis might elect to rest her usual starters.

There will be openings of note across the backline, as right back Kelley O’Hara and center back Tierna Davidson recover from ankle injuries, and at right forward with Tobin Heath missing out for personal reasons. That said, the team could be more experimental than seen in some time, with now being as good a time as any to try things out.

Here’s what the lineup against Portugal might look like:

—————————Alyssa Naeher—————————

———Becky Sauerbrunn———Abby Dahlkemper———

Emily Sonnett—————————————Crystal Dunn

——————————Julie Ertz——————————

————Rose Lavelle————Samantha Mewis————

——Mallory Pugh——Alex Morgan——Megan Rapinoe——

Ellis might stick to her usuals, for the most part, against Portugal. Alyssa Naeher will likely get another match before year’s end, while Ellis might want to strengthen the relationship between center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper in Davidson’s absence. Crystal Dunn will likely keep her spot at left back, while Emily Sonnett will add to her minutes at right back with O’Hara out.

The midfield may not change much, either, particularly at defensive midfield. Julie Ertz is not the only holding midfielder on the roster with Colaprico around, but Ellis may save rotation and fringe players for substitute appearances. Rose Lavelle will likely play the attacking midfielder role again, but Ellis might give Samantha Mewis the start and rest her usual choice, Lindsey Horan.

Further up the field, Mallory Pugh will likely start on the right side in Heath’s absence, but the rest will likely stay the same. Christen Press will also miss these friendlies for personal reasons, leaving fewer options in the center and on the left. Alex Morgan will likely play again, with either McDonald or Carli Lloyd picking up minutes as a substitute.

While Heath is out, Megan Rapinoe might have all of the minutes at left forward to herself. Dunn could get a chance with Casey Short around to pick up minutes at left back, but it’s possible that Ellis would want her to continue getting used to the left back role she currently owns.

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