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USWNT looking to use blend of veterans, newcomers at 2021 SheBelieves Cup


The U.S. Women’s National Team has an obligation to win every time it steps on the field. Such is the program’s reputation.

If the Americans are to do that in the coming weeks, however, they will have to do so while adopting a slightly different approach.

The 2021 SheBelieves Cup is set to begin on Thursday night, and for the USWNT that means not only a chance to defend its tournament title from a year ago but also fine-tune things for the upcoming Olympics. Veterans like Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe are back and sure to see time in the competition in Orlando, Florida, but head coach Vlatko Andonovski is also planning to use the upcoming games to test some new faces and try different things.

“In terms of how we’re going to approach the tournament it will be a mixed approach,” Andonovski told reporters on Wednesday. “We will try to figure out consistency in a certain group of players, but also we are going to use this as an opportunity to evaluate players individually in connection with other players on the field, or a couple of players in different spots.”

The first glimpse at just what Andonovski is talking about will come on Thursday at Exploria Stadium when the Americans take on northern rival Canada. The familiar foe is missing a few key players — as is Andonovski’s group — but Canada should still provide a decent test for a USWNT side that is trying to figure out exactly which 18 players should go to this summer’s Olympics in Japan.

With so precious few spots available for that quadrennial competition, and with the SheBelieves Cup serving as one of the final opportunities to impress, there is a premium on performing well against Canada, Argentina, and Pia Sundhage’s Brazil this month. Not that the proven veterans and promising youngsters on this USWNT squad need to be reminded of that.

“I think what makes this team so unique and beautiful is that every day, every training every even moment outside of training you have to be on,” said attacker Lynn Williams. “You have to be consistent.”

Williams could be one of the players that Andovoski uses in different spots in the coming matches. She has seen time both up front as a striker and out wide as a winger, and that versatility could help her make the Olympics squad.

So long as she impresses, regardless of where she is deployed.

“I love playing both. I love just being on the field, so whatever Vlatko wants me to do I will do,” Williams said about the possibility of shifting between wide and central positions. “In the (No.) 9 position I think it is more getting on the end of crosses, but also being a connector, posting up a bit more, and connecting with a midfield.

“Whereas out wide, I feel like it is more 1-on-1 dribbling, crossing the ball in, taking on players, and more space in behind the backline, which I think fits my style a little bit more. At the same time, I am a big body so I can definitely hold up the ball if I need to be in the 9.”

Other players who could be called on to play key roles include Kristie Mewis and Catarina Macario. Mewis is coming off a big 2020 for club and country, propelling herself back into the USWNT picture. Macario is a dynamic young prospect who has the look of being the team’s next big star. With Sam Mewis and Tobin Heath missing the SheBelieves Cup, and Alex Morgan’s availability in question after recovering from COVID-19, Mewis and Macario join Williams on the list of players who stand to gain the most from the upcoming tournament.

This month’s SheBelieves Cup will provide the USWNT with plenty to think about as it looks to further evaluate the enviably deep talent pool. Yes, winning will be important — it always is for these Americans — but so too will be getting some more answers ahead of the summer games.

“We are going to test how they are going to react in a particular time because it resembles the group stage in the Olympics,” Andonovski said. “With some players we are going to use it as an evaluation platform so we can make a decision going forward.”

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