The US and England both sit on four points after two games, with England leading thanks to their superior goal difference. That advantage means that the US will need to win if they want to take first place. This is ‘just’ a friendly tournament, and who takes home the title isn’t of world shaking importance. Still, both of these teams will be very motivated. For England, a victory here would go a long way to shoring up doubts after a rocky period that saw conflict in the ranks, the firing of Mark Sampson, and the controversial appointment of Phil Neville. For the US, failure here would mark three consecutive tournaments on home soil that the US failed to win. That wouldn’t be a crisis exactly, but it would be worrisome.
- The central midfield. The US has persisted with their now-standard 4-3-3, but found very little joy in the middle of the pitch so far in the tournament, getting overwhelmed by superior numbers from the opposition. Will Ellis respond to those difficulties with a formation tweak? Will they adjust by moving more quickly up and down the wings? If England mirrors the US setup, we may be in for a fast and loose game filled with direct balls, crunching challenges, and a lot of running.
- The American backline. The US has only conceded one goal in two games so far, but has yet to look particularly sharp in the center of defense. Tierna Davidson has been solid, but Abby Dahlkemper has been shaky, and both have had some difficulties choosing when to come out and when to hang back. England has scored six goals in two games, many of them coming on lethal direct play. If the US tries to press high, they could end up very exposed to the likes of Ellen White, Jodie Taylor, and Toni Duggan.
- The fullbacks. Against Germany, England stayed very compact, conceding the wide spaces and counting on their banks of four to lock down the center of the pitch. That mostly worked, but partly because Germany doesn’t have any great crossers, and also lacks truly lethal fullbacks that could overload the wings and make them pay. If England sets up similarly against the US, expect the US fullbacks to push very high, and look for crosses to rain down from players like Rapinoe and O’Hara. If England instead defends wider, the US will need to adjust and use their fullbacks to drag play wide, creating space for the wide attackers to drift inward into the opened pockets of space.
The US made just two changes from the first to second match. Will we see a third run-out of this same basic XI? Or will Ellis bring in some new faces? Either is possible, but continuity is probably the safer bet. It will be interesting to see whether Ellis gives Taylor Smith another chance after bringing her off in an early tactical substitution against France. Will we see a third straight match with Dahlkemper and Davidson together, or will Sonnett get a start? It will also be worth paying attention to the front three. Will players like Christen Press, Lynn Williams, and Crystal Dunn get a look, or is Ellis firmly committed to the trio of Rapinoe, Morgan, and Pugh? In the midfield, options are somewhat limited. Morgan Brian is still in recovery, and seems likely to return to the bench after a full 90 against France. Is Julie Ertz’s minor injury minor enough to let her return? Will Allie Long get another look?
Time, TV info, and livestream:
Wednesday, March 7 – 7 PM ET
Live on ESPNews
Streaming on WatchESPN
Will the US edge England and win the tournament? Who will be the difference makers?