With preparation for next summer’s Women’s World Cup on the docket, the United States Women’s National Team is hitting the road for a pair of friendlies in Europe. The champions of CONCACAF are facing off against England, the current UEFA title-holders following a stunning performance at last July’s Euro 2022 competition. Befitting the draw of the match, the sides are set to compete at London’s Wembley Stadium.
This is the 19th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USWNT holding a 12-4-2 advantage. England is currently ranked fourth in the world by FIFA and coasted to World Cup qualification by finishing atop UEFA’s six-team Group D with a 10-0-0 record and an almost implausible +80 goal differential with zero surrendered. The Lionesses enjoyed a similar unbeaten run at the Euro, defeating Austria (1-0), Norway (8-0), Northern Ireland (5-0), Spain (2-1), and Sweden (4-0) before triumphing over Germany in the thrilling final by a 2-1 margin in extra time.
England is led by Sarina Wiegman, a former Netherlands international who was appointed to the role in August of 2020 after leading her home nation to the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship and a runner-up finish at the 2019 World Cup. The shrewd tactician has compiled an undefeated 22-0-2 record, validating the Football Association’s confidence in the “number-one choice” during the hiring process. Recent success has given the program renewed confidence and should make for a challenging opponent.
“I think the development of our team over the year and in the Euros, the experiences we got I think we showed courage and we really played with courage to win and not to prevent mistakes and that’s what we want to do all the time,” said the manager. “That’s what we tell the players too and that’s how we will approach the USA game too… We just approach it the same we do, playing to win, accepting mistakes and hopefully we can bring our style of play on the pitch.”
Wiegman initially named a 24-player roster for the pair of friendlies. However, Lucy Parker, Alessia Russo, and, most notably, captain Leah Williamson withdrew due to injuries. Lotte Wubben-Moy and Nikita Parris were named as replacements. Four of the call-ups compete abroad, while the rest are in the domestic Women’s Soccer League, mainly at Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Mary Earps (Manchester United), Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City), Sandy MacIver (Manchester City)
DEFENDERS (8): Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), Demi Stokes (Manchester City), Millie Bright (Chelsea), Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal), Esme Morgan (Manchester City)
FORWARDS (6): Nikita Parris (Manchester United), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Lauren Hemp (Manchester City), Chloe Kelly (Manchester City), Lauren James (Chelsea), Ebony Salmon (Houston Dash)
Wiegman typically deploys a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, with in-cutting wingers making room for overlapping fullbacks. While rarely making changes to the lineup, injuries will force the manager to use inexperienced players. The active Lionesses front line plays a high press that forces turnovers and has led to quite a few goals, while also employing a gradual possession strategy with the intention of drawing out the defense to play a long ball. With the two central midfielders pushing deep into the attack, opponents have been able to create opportunities on the counter-attack through the center of the field.
The presumed starter is Mary Earps, who played every minute at the Euro competition and was named to the Team of the Tournament, despite considering leaving the sport in 2021. The 29-year-old competes with Manchester United and excels at close-range saves, quickly stretching her body into full extensions. She holds a key role in England’s possession-based system and is a highly-accurate passer. Ellie Roebuck is her capable back-up from the other side of Manchester, a more aggressive goalkeeper with a penchant for leaving the box to engage attackers.
Millie Bright of Chelsea is an experienced and decorated center back, twice being named to the FIFPRO World 11. She’s a complete defender, dominant aerial presence, and technical, leading to a curious deployment at striker against Germany during last February’s Arnold Clark Cup. Validating the manager’s decision, the 29-year-old was the top scorer at the competition. With Williamson out, the likely replacement is the versatile Alex Greenwood who recently switched from fullback. Known for her marauding runs into the final third, the Manchester City stalwart has converted those attacking instincts into expert passing during possession.
What a peach that is from Rachel Daly— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) September 18, 2022
Talk about instant impact for the new signing! pic.twitter.com/hFF3RPtYY0
At left back is Rachel Daly, who recently ended a prolific tenure as a forward with the Houston Dash to join Aston Villa. The 30-year-old Harrogate native is described as a “natural footballer” with speed, crossing ability, and tricky footwork. On the other side of the formation is Lucy Bronze of Barcelona, who is closing in on 100 caps for England. She is a two-way player, capable of physically forcing opponents off the ball, sprinting down the sideline, dribbling past opponents, and hitting inch-perfect long balls.
Keira Walsh occupies the six role and recently moved to Barcelona after nine seasons with Manchester City. According to Analytics FC, she is “among the most accurate passers in world football” and thrives when cycling possession. Bayern Munich’s Georgia Stanway can line up at multiple positions, serving the most benefit as a shuttler who has the vision to find the wingers in advantageous spots. The 23-year-old will also drop back deeper into the formation when required, providing essential defensive effort. The advanced midfielder is Fran Kirby of Chelsea, whose goal-scoring prowess has marked her as one of the top attackers in the Women’s Soccer League. Her chance creation will be essential against the USWNT, as the match could turn into a back-and-forth battle. For an alternate look, sharp-shooting Ella Toone could be placed at the top of the triangle and bring a change of pace.
The left winger role is occupied by Lauren Hemp, a driving runner with the ability to drill shots from distance. When not going at goal, she looks to reach to the endline and hit a perfect centering pass. Beth Mead emerged as the biggest star at the Euro, claiming Player of the Tournament, the Golden Boot, and Team of the Tournament honors. The 27-year-old Arsenal attacker provides a strong influence from the wing, looking to cut inside and serve as an additional striker, capable of slicing past defenders and claiming headers.
With Russo out with an injury and Ellen White having retired after the Euro triumph, there is a hole at the striker position, and Ebony Salmon could be given her shot to lead the formation. The 21-year-old is enjoying a breakout season with the Houston Dash, scoring nine goals in seventeen appearances. She makes intelligent runs and has the necessary composure to finish when facing the combined pressure of defenders and an on-rushing goalkeeper.
The USWNT should face a stern challenge from England, a program at the zenith of a golden generation with multiple players at the peak of their respective careers. Unfortunately for the Lionesses, the roster is missing key players at the center back and striker positions, which tend to hold the most weight in the international game. There should be enough firepower for a competitive match while providing a potential glimpse into the semifinal or final at next summer’s World Cup.
The match is scheduled for Friday, October 7th at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 12:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX and FUBO TV (free trial).