The first three games of the CONCACAF Women's Championship were ultimately an extended dress rehearsal for Friday's semifinal against a two be determined opponent. While Trinidad and Tobago managed to give them quite a scare, the United States still have never failed to win a group stage game in any iteration of World Cup qualifying or their continental championship.
That dress rehearsal concluded on Monday with an impressive 6-0 win over Haiti, in what was by far their best performance from their three group stage matches. The USWNT weren't good in either half of their game against T&T or the first half against Guatemala, but their victory over Haiti was comfortable and dominant.
It came with another seriously rotated squad, as Ellis took the chance to evaluate new players in new positions. Christen Press even played multiple roles in the game, while Morgan Brian and Heather O'Reilly got their first action of the tournament and Kelley O'Hara got her first match at right back. And after this game, Ellis should have all the information she needs to pick her first team for the only game in this tournament that really matters -- the semifinal, the winner of which qualifies for the World Cup.
Abby Wambach's role and performance on Monday was probably the biggest surprise. Ellis opted to go to Press when Morgan went down against Guatemala and hasn't seemed to love the idea of playing with a target forward, but Wambach was excellent against Haiti. Her two goals were poacher's efforts made easier by her physicality, and she had a hand in all of the goals she was on the pitch for, even if she didn't assist them.
For the first time in the tournament, Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd looked comfortable in their roles in the team, and it'll probably keep them in those roles going forward. Neither has played as a defensive midfielder much in their careers at all, but they look like they're getting much more comfortable. Holiday had fewer turnovers from difficult passes than the last two matches, while Lloyd was a bit more defensively responsible and even cut down on her bad shots from outside the box.
Ellis' most difficult team selections will probably come at central defense and right wing, where none of her options have set themselves apart from the others. Press was probably the United States' best player during the time she spent on the right wing against Haiti, but O'Reilly was excellent in the second half. And since she's the United States' most pure winger and best crosser of the ball on the right flank, it makes sense to put her in the starting XI if Wambach has won her place back at center forward.
At central defense, no one's been able to separate themselves, simply because of the low level of competition that the Americans have played so far. But of the three that have been given a chance to play -- Christie Rampone, Whitney Engen and Becky Sauerbrunn -- Rampone is the only one that's played anything resembling a bad game. She got burned a couple of times against Trinidad and Tobago, even if the U.S. wasn't made to pay for it. Ellis faces a tough decision at the position, especially since the only recent evidence she has suggests that her captain is not one of her two best defenders.
No matter what personnel decisions Ellis makes on Friday, the Haiti match should have been the end of the experiments. Her first choice XI, the players who would play a top opponent if the World Cup was this week, are the players who need to see the pitch in Philadelphia. That will be the point at which we can start evaluating the team and Ellis seriously, and marks the real beginning of World Cup preparation. The team that plays in that match will tell us a lot about what Ellis made of the information she got over the last three games.