US women are favorites to win

World Cup preview

World Cup preview

Photo: Jamie Smed / Wikimedia Commons
American striker Alex Morgan (left) and Mexico’s Cristina Ferral (right) wait for the ball to arrive in a match between the United States and Mexico at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship on Oct. 4, 2018. Morgan has 101 career international goals, the seventh American to crack the century mark, and will be one of the key players for the top-ranked U.S. team in the Women’s World Cup in France June 7-July 7.

Michael Kleiner
The Norwegian American

The Americans are coming to France and there’s reason for the other 23 countries to be worried.

• 26-0. That’s how much the U.S. team outscored its five opponents in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament.

• The United States, Nigeria, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Norway, and Sweden are the only countries to appear in all seven World Cups since 1991, with the Americans reaching at least the semifinals each time, winning it all in 1991, 1999, and 2015.

• The team has scored the most goals all-time (112). Germany is second (111), Norway third (86).

• The average number of CAPS (international games played) on the 23-woman roster, as of May 12, is 80.8, with six playing 148 or more, led by 36-year-old forward-midfielder Carli Lloyd with 272. They’re loaded with experience.

• They’re ranked first in the world.

• They got the luck of the draw with their Group F including ninth-ranked Sweden, 34th-ranked Thailand, making its second appearance, and 39th-ranked Chile, making its debut. The United States should advance to the knockout round.

Coach Jill Ellis is cautious about anointing her team a sure thing. “My mantra is iron sharpens iron, so any time you are challenged, I think that’s a good thing, because it forces you to continue to push,” she said in an interview on the FIFA website. “People forget that in 1991 and 1999, those games, and in many of our Olympic finals, the difference was one goal. For a long, long time at that top level, the margin has been small.

“Where the USA has shone has been the consistency at which they get into those games and deal with those moments. The harder things are, the more value there is in doing them. We’re embracing the fact that everybody else is very good.”

The U.S. team will bring a lot of firepower. Lloyd has 108 career international goals—fourth on the national team’s all-time scoring list. She had one of the most memorable games in history in the 2015 final against Japan. The Americans scored four goals in the first 16 minutes, three by Lloyd—the last an amazing shot from midfield—as the 5-2 victory avenged the shootout loss to Japan in the 2011 final. She scored six goals in the knockout round. Lloyd has lost none of her ability or desire, scoring two goals and an assist against Belgium on April 8, and a goal through three defenders in a 3-0 win over South Africa on May 12 in the first of three Send-Off games.

Yet, she may not be the most dangerous scorer. Alex Morgan has 101 goals in 161 games, the seventh American to reach the century mark. Veteran Megan Rapinoe has contributed her fair share of goals—44/151 caps—and assists, with Christen Press contributing 47 goals/113 games, Tobin Heath 28 goals/148 caps, Mallory Pugh 15/51 games.

Julie Ertz (80 caps) anchors the midfield with her leadership, physical play, vision, and ability to score, despite being more of a defensive midfielder. Samantha Mewis (11G, 48C), who scored twice against South Africa, Rose Lavelle (25C), and Allie Long (43C) are relative newcomers.

Kelley O’Hara (116C), Becky Sauerbrunn (156C), and Crystal Dunn (83C) provide experience in the back, with Ali Krieger (99C) providing depth. Keeper Alyssa Naeher has 23 shutouts in 44 games.

The Americans open against Thailand on June 11 in Reims (9 p.m. Central European Summer time), then take on Chile on June 16 in Paris (6 p.m.), and conclude the group stage against the Swedes, June 20, in Le Havre (9 p.m.).

The Thai team made its World Cup debut in 2015 and returns after finishing fourth in the AFC Asian World Cup qualifying, its best showing in 32 years. The team is led by speedy striker Kanjana Sungngoen and California-born striker Suchawadee Nildhamrong, who just finished her senior year at the University of California. During qualifying, Nildhamrong scored a goal against Vietnam, and two in a 6-1 victory over Jordan.

Chile finished second to Brazil, the only team it lost to, in the Copa America Feminina. The team is led by captain/keeper Christiane Endler, who plays for French power Paris St.-Germain.

No two teams have faced each other more in World Cup play than the United States and Sweden—five times. In the 2016 Olympics, Sweden eliminated the Americans in the quarterfinals. The Swedes qualified by winning European Zone Group 4. Captain/midfielder Caroline Seger will be playing in her fourth World Cup and says expectations are high for Sweden.

Among the other teams, second-ranked Germany and third-ranked England can’t be overlooked, or the boost the fourth-ranked hosts may get. If Norway gets on a roll…

“This will be the hardest World Cup to win because of the number of quality teams that are growing the game and the personalities of the players,” said Ellis. “I think it’s going to be an amazingly competitive World Cup with a lot of memorable moments. France is one of the countries that has an established women’s league, so you can tell they support the sport. It’s very much a soccer culture. Regardless, if it’s male or female, people want to see a global competition on their shores. The support and knowledge of the fans will make this an exciting World Cup.”

Visit the official website for the 2019 Women’s Soccer World Cup at www.fifa.com/womensworldcup.

See also www.norwegianamerican.com/sports/norway-womens-soccer-world-cup.

This article originally appeared in the May 31, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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