In what probably would have been the kickoff to the USWNT’s post-Olympic Victory Tour had they medalled, the United States will face Thailand for the first time.
Notes on the opponent
Thailand is relatively new on the women’s soccer scene at the top level; they played in their first World Cup last summer and came third in group, getting handled twice by Norway and Germany, but managing a nice 3-2 win over Ivory Coast. They also found the backing of an interested sponsor with deep pockets, Muang Thai Life Insurance CEO Nualphan Lamsam, which has helped propel their development somewhat. They have a couple of fast attackers who, with just the right bounce, could potentially get in behind the back line, but if the United States is performing competently they should mostly be keeping Thailand pressed into their own half.
Farewell for HAO
But this would otherwise be a fairly routine friendly for the United States but for the retirement of longtime WNT player Heather O’Reilly. O’Reilly has currently racked up 230 caps, 46 goals, and 54 assists since her debut for the team in 2002 at the age of 17. This game against Thailand will be her last in a national team jersey.
Head coach Jill Ellis only called up Olympic rostered players and alternates for this game and the next one but both Mallory Pugh and Morgan Brian will be out for Thailand. Pugh has an ankle injury sustained during the Olympics and is staying with the U20s to prepare for their World Cup. Brian took a knock to the head this past Sunday during the Houston Dash vs Boston Breakers game.
With Brian unavailable to help anchor the midfield, we’ll see if Ellis decides to just move the team into a more attacking formation without too much concern for shielding the back line, especially against an opponent that may not require as much defense or midfield control. That could mean letting either Allie Long or Lindsey Horan push much higher than usual, or letting Olympic alternate Samantha Mewis have some time. We’ll also see if Megan Rapinoe gets much time; she’s recently played 74 minutes for the Reign and could be good to play more than 15 minutes with the WNT.
One decision that will almost certainly come under fan scrutiny is Ellis’ choice of starting goalkeeper. With Hope Solo out, it comes down to Ashlyn Harris or Alyssa Naeher, with Naeher recently gaining an edge over Harris due to a confluence of events, among them Harris carrying some nagging injuries. But whoever Ellis picks, it probably won’t actually signal too much for the future. It’s entirely likely she’ll split time between her keepers for two random friendlies; regardless, don’t read too much into her GK picks right now.
USA vs Thailand kicks off at 8 PM ET on Thursday, September 15 and will air live on ESPN2.