The SheBelieves tournament comes to an end as the United States plays Japan - a team that was never exactly a rival, but has always been eagerly anticipated by fans. There is, generally, far too much respect for the Nadeshiko among both the players and the fans to really invoke the antagonism that tends to come with rivalry. Beating the team at the 2015 World Cup, returning the favor for their 2011 win, certainly helped. They meet again now, Japan’s team in the middle of being re-worked, while the United States searches for consistency and starters.
In their first two games of SheBelieves, the US has swung between a half-step off their game and physically dominant. England couldn’t hang with them after one half, and to a certain extent neither could Spain. Spain, at least, got the US on their back foot. Vlatko Andonovski said plainly after that game that the US sitting back in a mid-block instead of going for their usual very high line of confrontation with the forwards was because Spain’s buildout, starting with their goalkeeper, was confusing their timing. Once Tobin Heath and Christen Press came on, with Lynn Williams switching into the center forward role as Carli Lloyd came off, the US press (not to be confused with the US Press, heh) was able to engage more with that high line.
So will Japan give the US the same problem as Spain? Possibly not - in their game against England, which took place right before the US-Spain game, their back line seemed slow, which is catnip for the likes of Williams, Press, and Lloyd. But if Japan can play their game out in the middle of the field, where they often kept great control against England, we could have a real cat-and-mouse situation on our hands.
The big questions will probably play out in the mid and forward lines then, as they have been for a while. Among them: will Mal Pugh finally get some time, likely as a sub? Can you afford to leave Julie Ertz off the field at all? It might be nice to see Williams start centrally instead of moving inside as well, starting that Press - Williams - Heath combo if you want to shock a slow back line right away.
Potential starting XI
Time, TV, and streaming info
USA vs Japan
Wednesday, March 11
8 PM ET / 5 PM PT
ESPNews, TUDN Xtra1, Fubo (free trial)
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