The World Cup has been going on for four days already, but the United States Women’s National Team have still yet to actually play a game. That changes tomorrow, when they finally kick off their tournament in Reims against Thailand. On paper, this looks like one of the biggest mismatches of the whole tournament. But out on the field...well, it’s probably going to be one of the biggest mismatches there, too.
But we’re all going to tune in anyway. So what should we be watching for when we do?
First, the scoreline. To be brutally honest, the biggest question mark in this group is whether the USWNT will run up the score against Thailand and Chile enough to ensure that a draw is sufficient to top the group when they play Sweden on June 20th. Beyond that, the squad will obviously want to start things off strong. A resounding 4-0 or 5-0 would go a long way toward settling everyone’s nerves.
Second, the starting XI. This is hardly a must-win game, but Jill Ellis is also not going to rotate right out of the blocks. Whoever starts this match is the XI that she wants to start in the final as well. Given that Ellis is also not really one for rotation at any other times, we basically know for certain who this will be. Naeher in goal, a backline of O’Hara, Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, and Dunn. A midfield of Ertz, Horan, and Lavelle. A front three of Rapinoe, Morgan, and Heath. But there’s a difference between ‘knowing’ something and actually seeing it play out.
Third, who are the substitutes, and how do they play? Obviously, given the depth of the US roster, they have a lot of high-impact subs available. Will Jill Ellis look to swap out the attackers to keep everyone fresh? Will she try to get players who have never attended a major tournament (Samantha Mewis comes to mind) some minutes to get first-game jitters out of the way? Will the game be close enough to force a tactical substitution? There won’t be much to learn here, but even scraps could be interesting.
Fourth, how does Thailand play? They have very little history against world superpowers, but they managed to frustrate France for about an hour in a pre-tournament warmup, and took Australia to penalties back in World Cup qualifying. So they clearly have enough to at least pose a challenge. Will they look to play soccer at all, or will they set up in a deep block? Will they be able to spring Suchawadee Nildhamrong (Miranda Nild), their pacey striker who might have just enough acceleration to catch out the US backline? Any sort of result would be magical for them, but even a narrow loss would spell positive things for their chances against weaker opposition.
What are your thoughts on the match? Will Thailand pose more of a challenge than people expect? Share your comments below!