2018 has been good to the U.S. women’s soccer team.
The Americans haven’t lost a game and have won two tournament titles: first was the SheBelieves Cup in March, then Thursday night they wrapped up the Tournament of Nations title with a clinching 4-1 win over Brazil. Team USA improved to 9-0-2 in 2018 and 16-0-3 in its last 19 matches.
But the U.S. won’t have much time to rest on its laurels. In just a few weeks, the team’s unbeaten streak will be on the line again with a pair of friendlies against Chile. Then in October, the U.S. will take the field in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, serving as the regional qualifier for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Here’s a look at what’s up next for Team USA:
Making An Eighth Consecutive Women’s World Cup
The U.S. women have rarely been challenged in Women’s World Cup qualifying — they didn’t even surrender a goal in the last cycle — but that doesn’t mean it’s a formality. The CONCACAF Women’s Championship is both the regional championship tournament and also the regional qualifier for the Women’s World Cup.
The U.S. will host the eight-team tournament with games in North Carolina and Texas, with the top three finishers going to France directly and the fourth-place team advancing to a playoff game against a team from South America. The U.S. has won seven of the eight CONCACAF championships it has participated in, the lone exception being a third-place finish in 2010. That put the Americans into a playoff with Italy, in which they prevailed 2-0 on aggregate.
With the top three teams now directly qualifying, third place would be good enough this time around. However, the U.S. will no doubt be aiming higher.
Evaluating Core Players
The U.S. has remained one of the top teams in the world thanks to a strong core of players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. While Morgan and Rapinoe continue to play major roles for the U.S. — both have started every game in 2018 and Morgan led the Tournament of Nations in scoring — Lloyd has seen her usage drop.
The 36-year-old has made just three starts in 2018, and she only came on as a late substitute in three Tournament of Nations games. The U.S. instead has employed a midfield rotation featuring players like Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle. All three of those players got on the score sheet against Brazil, with Ertz’s sliding effort proving to be the game-winner.
Lloyd is certainly a useful piece off the bench given her experience, physicality and 100 career international goals. The New Jersey native scored the gold-medal-winning goals at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. And who could forget her stunning hat trick against Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final? But coach Jill Ellis will have to decide if there’s a better way to utilize Lloyd than as just a spare piece.
Evaluating New Players
Since a disappointing result at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 that saw Team USA out in the quarterfinals, Ellis has sought to evaluate dozens of new players. The focus of those efforts has been to find a reliable back line, something that has eluded the U.S. in recent years after a dominating performance in 2015. While Becky Sauerbrunn remains rock solid at 33, the search for her defensive partners has continued.
Center back Tierna Davidson has looked capable despite making her senior team debut earlier this year, but her poor clearance against Brazil led to an own goal. She is only 19, though, and has time yet to jell with Sauerbrunn.
At fullback, conversions have been the name of the game. Emily Sonnett is a center back by trade who has been tried outside, while Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara are converted forwards. Casey Short has looked reliable in her opportunities but came on as a sub in midfield against Brazil for Tobin Heath.
One position Ellis won’t have to worry about much in the near term is forward, with world-class Morgan and Christen Press up top.
Climbing The Leaderboards
Morgan scored her 90th international goal against Brazil, leaving her 10 back of the century mark, which represents fifth place on the all-time U.S. list. Rapinoe picked up her 53rd assist and is now two back of fifth place. With 140 caps to her name, Rapinoe is on pace to catch Kristine Lilly (106 assists in 354 caps) for second place if she plays long enough, but maybe not Mia Hamm, who racked up an astonishing 145 assists in her career.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.