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USA vs Romania: what will Jill Ellis do next?

Jill Ellis said she would experiment and she is. Boy howdy, she is.

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-Switzerland at USA Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The United States will play Romania twice in November as part of Jill Ellis’ seeming plan to really take a look at the players she didn’t or felt she couldn’t call up over the past couple of years, years that saw big tournaments that perhaps contributed to a feeling of having to stick with familiar rosters.

But now the tournaments are over and there’s nothing that crucial on the horizon until 2019 World Cup qualifying and Jill Ellis is going for broke. In the last two friendlies the WNT played, both against Switzerland, Ellis employed a 3-5-2 and asked midfielder Allie Long to slot in as her middle center back. She played Crystal Dunn as a 10. She capped six new players. Now what?

Now the WNT plays two friendlies against Romania to end 2016. #36-ranked Romania is a first-time opponent for the United States, but they shouldn’t pose much of a problem no matter what formation Ellis uses. So on one hand Ellis should absolutely feel free to experiment; she could toss a 2-4-4 out there and see what happens and it would probably be fine. But on the other, that also means any lessons learned will come with a giant caveat that they’ll need to be tested again in “real world” conditions.

Still, the very fact that Ellis is actually using these friendlies to do something different as perhaps a stepping stone towards changing things up when results matter is a good sign. She may be able to make even more changes based on whatever new CBA gets put into place starting in 2017. Currently, Ellis seems to be calling in the maximum of eight “floaters” at a time, or players who aren’t under contract and get paid by the week, with more payment if they get rostered for a game. If there are any big structural changes in the new CBA, perhaps Ellis will be able to go whole hog and call in not just more new players, but more players period, expanding the player pool to at least 35-40 players, as opposed to the 25-30 it sits at right now.

In the meantime, Romania should provide a pair of fun games with plenty of scoring opportunities and will definitely see goalkeepers Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris have their time split again. Adrianna Franch was originally called into camp, but per U.S. Soccer, “was unable to join the team due to a family commitment.” Additionally, Emily Menges and Jess McDonald were called in to replace Jaelene Hinkle and Meghan Klingenberg, both of the latter out with injuries. Mallory Pugh would’ve been a lock for this roster, but she’s currently with the U-20s for their World Cup in Papua New Guinea, starting November 14. And perennial midfielder Carli Lloyd is out to get married.

Players to watch include Andi Sullivan and Lynn Williams. Sullivan looked composed and linked in with her teammates against Switzerland, which has probably earned her some more starts. Williams bagged her first WNT goal in her first cap and will probably get paired up with WNY Flash teammate Jess McDonald at some point. If Ellis doesn’t play the two of them together for at least a half, it would be a tremendous waste of having them in camp at the same time.

There’s also Emily Menges to consider. It doesn’t look great that she was only called in as a replacement after other defenders, but she could also be competing to join the ranks of the center backs after the departure of Whitney Engen. We’ll see; this camp has Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Abby Dahlkemper all likely to see field time, with the addition of Allie Long if they continue the three-back. That doesn’t leave a ton of room for Menges, but the team also needs the depth to be able to rotate centers in a back four if need be. Maybe Menges will have to wait until 2017 to get her shot.

USA vs Romania

Game 1: Thursday, November 10, 10 PM ET
Avaya Stadium, San Jose, California
Broadcast live on ESPN2, Univision Deportes

Game 2: Sunday, November 13, 9:30 PM ET
StubHub Center, Carson, California
Broadcast live on FS1