If USWNT doesn’t win SheBelieves Cup, panic for World Cup will set in

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is five months away, and if it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now: the time has come.

February is a busy month internationally, given that it’s FIFA’s penultimate window before the World Cup. For the US women’s team, that means all that’s left before head coach Vlatko Andonovski names his World Cup roster is games against Canada, Brazil and Japan this week in the SheBelieves Cup and a couple of friendlies in April.

As such, the 2023 SheBelieves Cup has a special meaning. This is the USWNT’s last opportunity to simulate three games a week, as is the World Cup requirement, and it’s also the best remaining test for the Americans to prove they’re legitimate contenders after three recent straight losses against England, Spain and Germany.

“Even though this is a friendly tournament, it’s really important for us to want to win this tournament and keep proving to ourselves why we belong to the top and why we really have that mentality,” American striker Alex Morgan said last week. .

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In the past, Morgan’s statement has seemed more like a refutation of narratives that the rest of the world has been catching up with, but a lot has changed even after she and the US won a second straight World Cup in 2019. caught up with. Combine the changing global landscape with a generational shift in an American program – one that would allow a team to aim for a third consecutive world title without most of the group having won the previous two titles – and there are legitimate doubts heading into the future. summer.

Recent results exacerbate these concerns. USWNT lost 2–1 to England at Wembley on 7 October. In particular, the European champions exposed the weaknesses of the US preferred starting midfield of Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Andy Sullivan, playing around them and stifling most of the Americans’ future creativity.

Four days later, the Americans sounded an even louder alarm when Spain’s second team seized on defensive errors both on set pieces and during the game to defeat the US 2–0 in Pamplona. This was followed by a 2–1 loss to Germany in November in Florida, marking the USWNT’s first three-game losing streak in three decades. A 2–1 comeback victory over Germany three days later prevented the first four-game drift in program history.

Now comes another trio of the top 11 adversaries in the world, each with a distinct style that will definitely challenge the Americans.

Canada is the USWNT’s most common adversary, whose physicality, indelible athleticism, and favored 4-3-3 formation mostly reflect the style of the Americans. A 1-0 victory over Canada in the July World Championship and Olympic qualifier, the CONCACAF W Championship, remains one of the most convincing US performances from this relatively new and inexperienced team. It was the first meeting between the teams since Canada defeated the US in the Olympic semi-finals en route to a gold medal in 2021 with the US settling for bronze.

Canada’s participation in the SheBelieves Cup began to be questioned when the players went on strike over budget cuts and pay disparities. But the protest was canceled the next day after federation Canada threatened legal action if the players did not compete. While members of the USWNT expressed support For Canadian players, going up against a tough, destructive top-ranked team would be a test that the Americans couldn’t afford to miss in preparation for the World Cup.

Japan will bring a familiar, organized and disciplined tactical approach, complemented by good technical ability. Earlier this month, Andonowski said he expected to face a “slightly more aggressive back five” from Japan.

Brazil offers a combination of both styles and the most intriguing challenge for the USWNT. Now, with Debigny in his prime, Brazil still has all the classic Beautiful game individual flair, now with a level of defensive responsibility and tactical sophistication (perhaps still in the form of a classic 4-4-2 variation) under head coach Pia Sundhaij. To be precise, this is former USWNT head coach Pia Sandhage. She is a tactician and motivator, and is also knowledgeable about US styles and tactics even to this day, having been the FIFA Mentor Coach of US Under-20 Head Coach Tracy Kevins.

“I love that we play three very different teams,” Morgan said. “These are teams that we don’t see very often, especially Japan and Brazil. It is important that teams play in different styles.

“Canada is super structured and organized. Brazil, you know they will be good in the transition period. Japan, they are so clean on the ball and they will break you if you make a mistake on defense.” They all bring different things, so it’s important to fine-tune now to do small things right in games.”

The USWNT kicked off 2023 with a pair of comfortable road wins over New Zealand at Eden Park and Sky Stadium, the two venues that will host the USWNT World Cup group games this summer. The value of these games and this trip was rather to simulate the experience of hosting the World Cup in the cities where the US team would play group stage matches off the field. On the pitch, given New Zealand’s lower level of quality as an opponent, it was about playing patterns.

The football ferns didn’t offer any real defensive challenges, especially without a few top players, because the games were outside FIFA’s windows. New Zealand had one shot on goal in a 4–0 loss and failed to score in a 5–0 loss three days later. Call it a “soft start” for a challenging year ahead for the United States.

Now the SheBelieves Cup offers what is likely the last test of significant difficulty to gauge what will or won’t work in the World Cup. Of course, the results will be important, but not as important as how well the US adapts to each adversary and responds to potential adversity. These games are designed to emulate potential World Cup opponents and improve the game to be ready for the real action this summer.

At the very least, during this SheBelieves Cup, the Americans should look like part of a team that can compete in the World Cup.

“All three [opponents] They are different in terms of playing style or even philosophy,” Andonowski said. – That’s why they are in this tournament, because we needed something different – there were different things that we had to face before we got to the World Cup. We wanted to create all kinds of challenges that we could so that we had enough time to solve them before the World Cup.”


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