EDIT: This article has been updated to reflect that Mal Pugh was not rostered due to injury.
The United States women’s national team has two friendlies against China PR in this FIFA window. These are probably their last chance at relatively lowkey games because starting with the July/August Tournament of Nations, everything is going to be building towards World Cup qualifying in October. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to learn here - a less-intense game is probably a good time for Jill Ellis to try out any players or tactics that are still on her mind before leaving behind experimentation and solidifying a quals roster.
First, of note: Rose Lavelle has joined the roster and Midge Purce has left camp with an ankle injury. Purce’s departure impacts the already limited group of fullback options. We’ll see if Ellis tries a back three again, shifts a center back out, starts Huerta and Mathias, or shifts someone like Dunn into defensive duties.
In terms of China as an opponent, these should honestly not be difficult games for the United States. China recently qualified for the World Cup at the AFC Asian Cup in April, where, after handily beating minnows like Thailand, Philippines, and Jordan, they got knocked out in semifinals 3-1 by Japan. Their one goal against Japan was a penalty.
China has also gone through a handful of head coaches as it seeks to recapture dominance in its own confederation, let alone on the world stage. Current head coach Jia Xiuquan took over for Iceland’s Sigurdur Ragnar Eyjolfsson in May, while Eyjolfsson took over for France’s Bruno Bini last November.
The last time the United States and China met was a December 15, 2015 friendly at the Superdome in New Orleans. Fans may remember this as Abby Wambach’s farewell game, making it rather bittersweet that China beat the United States 1-0. Wambach herself noted the unexpected symbolism of the team focusing on trying to get her one last goal resulting in a loss.
There won’t be any of that this time around; every player on this roster is probably aware that doing well here could help make up Ellis’ mind about the WC qualifying roster, which is in turn a springboard towards the real thing next summer. NWSL performance does seem to count for something, but nothing beats in-camp evaluation and face time with the coach.
PROJECTED STARTING XI
Ellis has found success with the front three of Rapinoe - Morgan - Pugh, but with Pugh out after an injury with the Washington Spirit, Ellis has a couple of options if she still wants a front three. Midfield and fullback positions are the biggest question marks. Ertz is back, but has had a mixed return at NWSL level. It’s possible Lloyd won’t get the start here and Ellis will want to capitalize on the Zerboni - Mewis connection to dominate the midfield. Lloyd has been taking more and more of a back seat in terms of being a starter vs a sub and that could play out in Thursday’s XI.
As noted above, Purce is out. Tobin Heath has also returned and Ellis is undoubtedly wanting to see how she fits back into the lineup. That could make a for a 4-4-2 instead, with Heath on the left, and Morgan and Dunn (or Amy Rodriguez) in a front two. Between Crystal Dunn and Savannah McCaskill, Ellis also has options for right midfield. Both of them can pull the attack wide and serve the cross or cut in, and both of them can switch sides of the field as necessary.
At fullback, in the listed defenders, the only non-central players listed are Huerta and Mathias. Does that mean Davidson - Sauerbrunn - Dahlkemper while relying on something like Rapinoe and Dunn to sweep up and down as necessary? Defensive responsibilities may not be the biggest factor here, as opposed to when the US faces Japan, Brazil, and Australia.
DEFENDERS (6): 7- Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 18/0), 2- Tierna Davidson (Stanford; 6/0), 14-Sofia Huerta (Chicago Red Stars; 5/0), 27- Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign FC; 0/0), 22- Margaret Purce (Portland Thorns FC; 0/0), 4- Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC; 137/0)
MIDFIELDERS (8): 6- Morgan Brian (Olympique Lyon, FRA; 74/6), 8- Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 59/15); 9- Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 49/5), 16- Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit; 7/2), 10-Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 252/100); 3- Samantha Mewis (NC Courage; 34/7); 20- Allie Long (Seattle Reign; 37/6), 25- McCall Zerboni (NC Courage; 1/0)
FORWARDS (7): 19- Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 62/23), 17- Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns; 132/18), 26- Savannah McCaskill (Sky Blue FC; 5/0), 13- Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 140/85), 23-Christen Press (Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC, SWE; 98/44), 15- Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign; 135/36), 12- Amy Rodriguez (Utah Royals FC; 130/30)
GOALKEEPERS (3): 12-Peng Shimeng (Jiangsu FC), 24-Yang Yan (Henan FC), 31-Zhou Li (Shandong FC)
DEFENDERS (8): 2-Liu Shanshan (Beijing FC), 4-Li Danyang (Dalian FC), 5-Wu Haiyan (Wuhan FC), 6-Lin Yuping (Wuhan FC), 8-Ma Jun (Jiangsu FC), 26-Wang Yan (Dalian FC), 27-Yao Wei (Wuhan FC), 29-Li Tingting (Shandong FC
MIDFIELDERS (6): 13-Lyu Yueyun (Wuhan FC), 14-Xu Yanlu (Jiangsu FC), 16-Yan Jinjin (Shanghai FC), 19-Tan Ruyin (Guangdong FC), 20-Zhang Rui (Changchun FC), 23-Ren Guixin (Changchun FC)
FORWARDS (9): 7-Wang Shuang (Wuhan FC), 9-Tang Jiali (Jiangsu FC), 10-Li Ying (Shandong FC), 11-Wang Shanshan (Dalian FC), 18-Han Peng (Changchun FC), 21-Xiao Yuyi (Shanghai FC), 25-Lou Jiahui (Henan FC), 28-Miao Siwen (Shanghai FC), 30-Yang Li (Jiangsu FC)
TV SCHEDULE AND LIVESTREAM
Thursday, June 7
9 PM ET / 7 PM MT
Live on FS1 and UDN
Streaming on Fox Soccer Match Pass