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USA vs Russia preview: looking for consistency

Ellis is moving players around freely, but maybe she shouldn’t.

Soccer: Women's National Team Friendly-Russia vs USA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The United States just beat Russia 4-0 in their last matchup. They could have scored a couple more but for some bad offensive timing and a little bit too much ball-hogging around the box.

So will they continue in a 4-4-2, which they showed was more than capable of grabbing six or seven goals against Russia? Probably. It could be interesting for Ellis to have them shift into a 3-4-1-2 later in the game just to practice at it but especially with Megan Oyster in camp and Ellis looking like she wants to give Oyster minutes, it makes sense for Ellis to stick with four in the back.

What would be nice is if Ellis started that four with her final configuration from the last game: Casey Short - Megan Oyster- Becky Sauerbrunn - Ali Krieger. That’s a very nice four back with two good centers and two good fullbacks and it would be nice for left back Short to not be forced to shift inside, as Ellis had her do for a full half. It’s good to know where players can fill in in a pinch, but it’s even better to develop players at their natural position; see above re: Oyster.

Some other question marks for the game: will Ellis give time to either Jaelin Howell or Sophia Smith? Yes, they’re young at 17 and 16 respectively, but Mal Pugh is 18 and doing fine. Plenty of national teams have started integrating teenagers into their squads. It depends probably on just how serious Ellis is about getting youth players started with the senior WNT beyond having them in camp to get them acclimated to the way the senior team does things. True, not everyone is Mallory Pugh, and it’s not fair to toss kids into the lineup if they’re not truly ready. We’ll see.

Also, will Amy Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe get more than 10-minute runouts? Rodriguez was starting to adjust to the flow of the game by the time the whistle blew. Yes, the forward pool is quite deep, with several much younger players like Lynn Williams coming along nicely. But Rodriguez deserves a chance to show if she’s still up to snuff. Same for Rapinoe, who managed to get into the rhythm a bit faster than Rodriguez.

And last of all, the forwards. Ellis mixed and matched Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn, then Dunn and Alex Morgan, then Morgan and Christen Press. As adaptable as the players are, letting two of them really get comfortable with each other might yield more goals. Morgan particularly has been demonstrating some verve and passion with Olympique Lyonnais, some of which came through in her second half performance, and should start in this game.

USA vs Russia kicks off at 2 PM ET on Sunday, April 9. It will air live on ESPN.