After a kind of confusing 2017, the US women’s national team seemed to regroup and put together what was, all in all, quite a nice 2018. That’s perhaps a very lowkey thing to say about an incredibly crucial year that included World Cup qualifying - sure, we always knew the USWNT would dominate the sauce out of Concacaf quals, but since when has sports anxiety every been reasonable, particularly in the wake of the MNT not doing the thing - but honestly, it really was just a nice year for the WNT.
Let’s look at the bold predictions I made for 2018:
- The USWNT will win SheBelieves
- Morgan Brian and Rose Lavelle will get completely healthy
- Neither Alyssa Naeher nor Ashlyn Harris will be the #1 WNT keeper for Concacaf qualifiers
- Hope Solo will become USSF president
How sad is it that predicting the USWNT would win SheBelieves was, at one time, a bold prediction? But it was bold after a tough, disjointed 2017 tournament that saw losses to France and England. 2018 was still a tough go of it, as it should have been with England, France, and Germany on deck, but the USWNT beat Germany and England and got the draw against France. They weren’t absolutely definitive wins, but they did get some younger players big game experience.
As for Brian and Lavelle - at least half of that prediction came true. Lavelle returned to the field and got 13 caps in 2018. There weren’t a ton of full 90s in there, but she saw consistent and predictable minutes as she transitioned from sub to starter, a reassuring development after her hamstring recovery had its share of ups and downs. Brian was a different story, starting the year off looking like she might be working her way back into a starting role, but then in the back half of 2018 she was in and out of the lineup, sometimes starting, sometimes getting five minutes, never playing two games in a row.
On the Naeher and Harris front, that might have been the boldest prediction of all (yes, even bolder than Solo winning the USSF presidential election), since they both seem locked into the rather rigid goalkeeper pool that Jill Ellis prefers. Adrianna Franch chipped away at their positions, but was basically the equivalent of someone knocking on a locked door and asking “Hello?” to ascertain if anyone was home.
So what’s in store for the USWNT in 2019? It is, after all, a World Cup year. The boldest prediction of all is one I hardly dare give voice to, lest it jinx them from earning a fourth star over their crest. But I think it has to be done. Here’s some bold 2019 USWNT predictions.
The USWNT will win the World Cup
The whole kit and kaboodle! The entire shebang! Confetti! Hosts of angelic voices descending from on high!
No but seriously, the United States are definitely top contenders to win, but as we all know, anything can happen in this dumb, glorious game. The US has a fairly forgiving route to knockouts, but they could end up meeting tournament hosts France as soon as quarterfinals. Then there’s a rather nerve-wracking series of 10 whole ass friendlies leading up to the main event, aka 10 opportunities for someone to get injured. It’s a delicate balance, having the team play opponents to get sharp and work out any last kinks before the tournament but making sure everyone stays healthy. Let’s just go all out and say everyone will sail through these games just fine and the US will enter the tournament at just the right time in terms of fitness and it will be an exciting and tremendous run to the final, where they’ll defeat [a country good at women’s soccer] and return home triumphant. After the dumpster fire that was 2018 in general, surely we deserve that.
Alex Morgan will get Golden Boot at the tournament
Alex Morgan is 29, slipping over into 30 by the end of the World Cup. Who can say what kind of player she’ll be at 34 (probably a very good one still) but this would be a good year for her to blow the roof off of stadiums across France. She’s still physically dominant, has built upon years of savvy in multiple tournaments, and has quite a supporting cast of players who can all put her in position to gather up bunches of goals. Her 18 goals in 19 games for 2018 kind of felt like a warmup, a prelude to a much bigger show.
The USWNT will deliver with their fluid style of play
This was probably the greatest gift the USWNT gave us in 2018 - the culmination of years of experimenting with odd formations and players in odd positions. We saw some swagger come out as the team played beautiful, dynamic soccer during Concacaf quals. A talented, quicksilver midfield made the team look not just dominant, but fun to watch. In 2019, the US will deploy this fluidity to full effect against tougher and tougher opponents.
USWNT players will be available for NWSL playoff games
Let’s be real. National team players won’t be around much for the clubs in 2019, and depending on how they place in the World Cup, they’ll probably be pretty busy in the months after the tournament as well. If they win (and they will because we believe in them with our whole hearts!) that’s pretty much a lock on a 10-game victory tour through the rest of July, then August and September, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for NWSL, even with the league taking a break mid-season for the tournament. But that break could give the league enough breathing room that crucial national team players will be available to the four teams that make the playoffs. 2018 playoff games were mid-September; if they get pushed back a couple of weeks to the end of the month, hopefully by then everything WNT will be settled enough that rosters will be back at full strength. That’s having your cake and eating it too, and quite frankly, we all deserve more cake.
Those are our bold predictions for the USWNT in 2019. What are yours? Will it be a bonanza year, or will things go weirdly, unpredictably sideways? Let us know in the comments!