The United States looked a fighter against Australia this past Thursday - the kind of fighter who wins by being able to take more punishment than the other person and still dish it out. That 5-3 scoreline was the US taking a couple of really solid body shots and maybe a straight jab to the face, shaking it off, then crowding in and throwing combinations until Australia wilted. We, the fans and press, were the concerned partner character watching from the crowd and shouting for the US to get up, keep its hands up, stop letting Australia hit you.
And you know, it worked, although if that had been an actual World Cup game probably several of us would have passed out right around when the scoreline was 2-2 and missed the additional four goals that accumulated throughout the night.
Things probably won’t be that hectic against Belgium. They didn’t qualify for the World Cup, getting knocked out during UEFA qualifying by Switzerland. This will be the first time that we play each other, and it should be a fine time for the US in Los Angeles. Ellis will start a strong XI for the first half, and then in the second half will fuss and fidget with her subs and her formation until no one is really sure what’s happening. It would be wild to think that Ellis is doing that just to do it though (Extremely Rick James voice: Come on, I got a little more sense than that.), and so perhaps it behooves us all to pay a little more attention to those formational shifts and how the players perform in them, even though it can be hard to make an evaluation when they get maybe 10 minutes in their 5-3-2 or 4-1-4-1. All of that shifting around to confuse and frustrate opponents while maintaining their own positional discipline is certainly a tool for the future, although the question remains whether it’s harming the players more than helping the team. Asking everyone to be able to do everything well instead of doing a few things perfectly could end up stabbing themselves in the foot come June.
Projected starting XI
It might be nice to think that there will be some rotation here - maybe Press as a starter wide, maybe (sotto voce) Ali Krieger, or possibly Mal Pugh after her brace in Colorado. Sam Mewis would also be a welcome face. But Jill Ellis likes her starting XI, with few variations, and at the very least that sense of continuity may provide some of the stability we’ve been fretting over with her tactical shifts.
Time and TV schedule
USA vs Belgium
Sunday, April 7
9 PM ET / 6 PM PT
Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
ESPN2 and streaming on WatchESPN