Alex Morgan dribbles the ball at the CONCACAF Women's Championship final match on Oct. 17, 2018 in Frisco, Texas.
The World Cup preparations take another important step for the U.S. women’s soccer team as the SheBelieves Cup kicks off Wednesday near Philadelphia.
Coming off their first loss in more than a year last month in France, the top-ranked U.S. team enters the tournament having won its most recent game and with lots of momentum heading into the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup that begins in June in France.
The defending World Cup champion, Team USA will have a major test on home soil as it plays host to three top national team counterparts — all of whom are ranked among the world’s top 10 — in a round-robin tournament that spans nine days and three venues.
First up for the Americans is eighth-ranked Japan on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is located 18 miles southwest of Philly.
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Here are seven things to know going into the SheBelieves Cup:
What Is The SheBelieves Movement?
The SheBelieves movement began as a Twitter hashtag conceived by players on the U.S. women’s national team to help encourage young girls and women and provide them an inspiration as they chased after their goals and dreams. The movement was launched prior to the 2015 World Cup and has evolved to develop a strong bond between the national team and its fans.
The inaugural SheBelieves Cup was held in 2016, and the U.S. has won in 2016 and 2018 while finishing fourth in 2017.
This Could Be A World Cup Preview
The tournament matches up four of the top 10 teams in the world, including the top-ranked U.S. England is ranked fourth in the world, Japan is No. 8 and Brazil is No. 10.
All four teams are preparing for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be held in France. When the U.S. faces England on March 2 in Nashville, Tennessee, it’ll be the first meeting between the teams since last year’s SheBelieves Cup, when the U.S. won 1-0.
The month-long World Cup begins June 7, with the U.S. opening its Group F schedule on June 11 against Thailand. And mark your calendar for July 7. That’s the date of the championship game in Paris.
Coming In Hot
Though the U.S. team had a 28-game unbeaten streak snapped with a 3-1 loss at third-ranked France on Jan. 19, the Americans have already started another with a 1-0 victory at No. 12 Spain on Jan. 22. Prior to the loss at France, the U.S. had not lost since July 27, 2017, when it fell 1-0 to Australia in the SheBelievesCup.
Alex Morgan Goes For 100
Two-time Olympian Alex Morgan is closing in on her 100th career goal. A member of the 2015 World Cup championship team, Morgan has scored 98 goals in 155 international caps, including 18 last year when she was named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. With 25 goals in her last 28 games, chances are good she might reach the century mark in the tournament.
U.S. Roster Features Star Power
Morgan is joined on the U.S. roster by fellow veterans Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn, each of whom have more than 100 caps.
Lloyd, a two-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year who scored a hat trick in the 2015 World Cup final, has been transitioning into a more supporting role at age 36, with 14 of her 19 appearances in 2018 coming as a substitute. Rapinoe scored seven goals with 12 assists in 16 games last year.
Meanwhile, other core players such as Abby Dahlkemper, Julie Ertz and Mallory Pugh are gearing up to make a big impact this summer in France. Midfielder Lindsey Horan, who had three goals and eight assists last year, is out with an injury.
The U.S. Will Have Plenty Of Competition
Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, and striker partner Cristiane lead Brazil. Forward Toni Duggan, midfielder Jill Scott and team leader Steph Houghton lead England. Japan, the 2011 World Cup champ and 2015 runner-up, is led by veteran players Rumi Utsugi of Seattle Reign FC and Saki Kumagai of European powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais.
The six SheBelieves Cup games will be played at three different venues on three different days. England and Brazil kick things off at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday in Chester, with the U.S. and Japan taking the field at 7 p.m.
Nissan Stadium in Nashville hosts the next round on Saturday. The U.S. faces England in a powerful one-versus-four matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET (3:30, Nashville time), preceded by Brazil against Japan at 2 p.m. ET. The U.S. faces Brazil at 8 p.m. ET March 5 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Japan plays England at 5:15 p.m. ET.
Watch Out For The SheBelieves Hero
The SheBelieves movement isn’t just about soccer games. The SheBelieves Hero contest began in 2017 to honor women who were influencing the world around them in a positive manner. The 2018 SheBelieves Hero was Hollis Belger, who founded Juggling for Jude when she was just 9 years old and has raised more than $200,000 to fight childhood cancer. The 2019 SheBelieves Hero will be honored at Saturday’s game in Nashville.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.