The U.S. Women’s National Team could not possibly be in a better place right now, at least on the soccer pitch. It swept its way to winning the SheBelieves Cup over England, Spain, and Japan, three of the more powerful nations in Women’s Soccer. It hasn’t lost in 31 matches, dating back to January 2019. New head coach Vlatko Andonovski has seamlessly taken over for the legendary Jill Ellis. It cruised through Concacaf Olympic Qualifying without conceding a goal in January and February.
The USWNT is clearly the best team in the world and it isn’t showing signs of slowing down. However, if it only had some matches to play to keep this run of form going. The COVID-19 pandemic has put its summer plans of Olympic gold on hold, but the results so far in 2020 have shown that the team hasn’t missed a beat.
Christen Press looks like she’s going to be the next over-30 breakout player for the USWNT, following the career path laid before her by Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe. She’s taken advantage of Alex Morgan leaving the team because of pregnancy and become the team’s go-to striker. She scored five times during the Olympic Qualifying run and twice more in the SheBelieves Cup, earning her place as the team’s main goal scorer.
“Kristen has done an amazing job,” Andonovski said before the USWNT played Japan in the SheBelieves Cup finale. “And I think that she took the opportunity, and she’s making the most out of it. I think she’s impacted every game that she has been. She’s been in different ways, whether it whether it was play assist or a goal. And I you know, I’m just happy with her performance, and I’m sure she is as well.”
Press can serve as both a lead striker, as she did against Japan or as a winger capable of scoring from the outside and setting up her teammates in the middle. She works well opposite Tobin Heath on the wing, or in the middle with Heath and Rapinoe setting her up.
Julie Ertz has also emerged as one of the most important players on the team. She scored the winner in the SheBelieves Cup match against Spain, but she isn’t the type of player to get on the scoresheet all that often. She has, however, made a successful transition from struggling central defender to stand out holding midfielder. Ertz has contributed a lot as a shield for the back four as well as a deep lying playmaker that jump starts attacks.
“She has a major role on the team and I’ve said this after, or before, one of the games, I think that she is the glue to the team,” Andonovski said. “You know, she helps us when we’re in possession and makes things happen for us but at the same time, she’s always there in defense. So, either way, whether in or out of position, she always plays a major role in the team.”
Ertz is just one member of a pretty deep midfield. She plays the holding role that can allow Rose Lavelle to display her playmaking talents higher up the pitch. Sam Mewis and/or Lindsey Horan can serve as box-to-box players capable of executing the transition from back to front.
However, even with all the talent and winning on the field, without any matches to play thanks to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, it’s hard to talk about the USWNT without mentioning the ongoing equal pay lawsuit against U.S. Soccer.
A round of filings from U.S. Soccer on March 4 claimed that the women “perform such different jobs” from their male counterparts, drawing heavy criticism from players, fans, and sponsors alike. A pregame protest from the team and threats from sponsors led to the resignation of Carlos Cordeiro as president of the federation.
Interim president and former USWNT player Cindy Parlow Cone has made settling the suit a top priority and the federation later issued a statement walking back those comments and instead cited the current Collective Bargaining Agreement as their main defense.
“I think that’s one of our top priorities right now,” Parlow Cone said in a conference call on Tuesday. “I don’t think the trial is good for either party or for soccer, both in this country or internationally. Obviously our women’s team is the best team in the world and I’m hopeful that we can find a resolution before this goes to trial.”
No formal discussions are currently scheduled between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer, but, unless some form of settlement is reached, the two sides are set to go to trial on May 5. Much like the action on the field, that date is even subject to change thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the two sides may yet have more opportunities to hash out a settlement.