On Sunday, June 5, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) will once again take on Japan's Women’s National Team in the second in a pair of international friendlies.
This friendly may have more weight to the future of the USWNT than many fans realize. Sunday’s match will most likely be the last match before head coach Jill Ellis announces the official roster for this summer’s Olympics in Rio.
Although Ellis claims National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) play is also a factor in her roster decisions, Sunday’s match will be the last opportunity with the national team that "bubble" players have a chance to earn a ticket to Rio. With the USWNT’s poor showing against Japan Thursday night, those players have their work cut out for them.
During the first friendly played Thursday night in Colorado, Japan struck early as Mana Iwabuchi scored in the 14th minute, followed shortly thereafter by a 22nd-minute goal by Yuki Ogimi. Alex Morgan next scored a brace for the U.S., scoring goals in both the 27th and 64th minutes to even up the score. Lindsey Horan subbed into the game in the 60th minute and gave the USWNT a short-lived lead when she headed the ball into the back of the net in the 89th minute. A U.S. victory seemed all but certain as the game went into stoppage time, but Kumi Yokoyama scored with less than a minute to spare to end the game with a 3-3 tie.
Thursday night’s game marked only the second time in 2016 that the USWNT has fallen behind in a game, and Japan’s three goals were the most allowed by any U.S. keeper for the year. The game also highlighted a number of problems that will need to be fixed as the USWNT continues its Road to Rio preparations for the Summer Games.
For Sunday’s friendly, Ellis will most likely rotate in some different players to the starting lineup to give the bubble players a last chance to prove themselves. Those players seem to be Whitney Engen, Jaelene Hinkle, Allie Long, Samantha Mewis, Heather O’Reilly and Emily Sonnett.
O’Reilly is a 14-year veteran for the team, but after being left off of this year’s 18-player Olympic qualifying roster and not dressing for Thursday night’s match, it seems that Ellis prefers younger midfielders to O’Reilly’s veteran presence for Rio.
Engen is the only bubble player other than O’Reilly to previously be rostered for a major tournament, but she was the only field player to not see any playing time in last summer’s Women’s World Cup. Like O’Reilly, Engen was also left off the 2016 qualifying tournament roster and has seen limited minutes in her time with the team this year.
In comparison, each of the newcomers has seen substantial playing time since their call-ups to the national team. Each will most likely see some playing time on Sunday as Ellis continues to evaluate players and make her final roster decisions.
It seems pretty clear who the two goalkeepers for Rio will be since Alyssa Naeher has been the only goalkeeper other than Hope Solo to see any time in goal for the U.S. since September 2015, and Ashlyn Harris has not even dressed for the last several matches.
Ideally, Naeher would get some time between the posts on Sunday to give her more experience against a high-ranking opponent in preparation for the Summer Games, but it is anyone’s guess who will actually be in goal for the USWNT. U.S. Soccer is eagerly anticipating Solo’s 100th career shutout (she is currently at 98), and their love for milestone accomplishments may see Solo get the start over Naeher. Ellis may also want to see how the defenders on the bubble play with the starting goalkeeper behind them, so Solo may get the start because of that.
Japan will bring their same roster to Sunday's match, but they will be without their captain Yuki Ogimi. Ogimi received a red card in Thursday night’s friendly and is, therefore, suspended for Sunday’s match.
The USWNT takes on Japan on Sunday, June 5 at 12 p.m. EST at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 and streamed on espn.go.com or the WatchESPN app.
U.S. Women’s National Team Roster by Position:
DEFENDERS (9): Whitney Engen (Boston Breakers), Jaelene Hinkle (Western New York Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Gina Lewandowski (FC Bayern Munich), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Wisconsin), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado)
HEAD COACH: Jill Ellis
NOTE: Although 24 players were called into camp in preparation for the friendlies against Japan, only 18 will dress for the match.