It all comes down to this. We'll have a winner in the SheBelieves Cup on Tuesday night, but three of the four teams still have a pathway to win. Germany doesn't have any way to top the tournament, having only managed to earn one point by holding a full-strength France team to a draw on Saturday.
Though England and the USA appear to have the same record in the above table, if both teams have identical results on Tuesday, England would place ahead of the USA due to their head-to-head win. Because the Germany v England match precedes the USA v France match, the American women will know exactly what will be required of them to take home their second consecutive SheBelieves Cup Trophy. A loss or draw to France won't get it done. But if England defeats Germany by several goals, the USA would need to exceed the goal differential in their win over France so that the head-to-head defeat to England wouldn't be the deciding tie-breaker.
In my #SheBelieves Cup Preview last week, I poked a bit of fun at the curiously and somewhat controversially shaped trophy from 2016. With little fanfare, the trophy has been replaced. This year's award is more conventional in shape, and incorporates an actual cup into the design. It's a welcome upgrade.
Saturday Was COLD
France 0-0 Germany
If you were watching on TV, you might have been able to discern that the early March weather in New Jersey was a tad on the chilly side. It was freezing, with a side of brutal wind-chill. The area around the stadium is bereft of any wind-breaking buildings, ensuring every attendee would be pre-chilled to the bone before sitting still for a few hours and allowing the deep abiding cold to set in. On the team benches, support staff passed out heavy parkas, thick pants, hats and hand warmers. Through two days of training and matches, there were several players who were only able to be identified by process of elimination, so fully were they wrapped in Nike team fleece.
The field was in beautiful condition, partially due to the four teams having each been limited to 45 minutes of training on the grass. The equipment for the match was another story. If you've ever played football/soccer/futbol at any level, you may be familiar with what happens to freezing cold soccer balls: they turn into rocks. Big, heavy-feeling, leg-stinging rocks that release with a deep, dead thud when struck. Now imagine bringing a long pass down off your chest. Thud, again.
Similarly, if you've ever sat in a freezer for 90 minutes and then had to get up and run around, you'll understand why most of the substitutions made by all the teams were mostly ineffective. Leg muscles take some time to warm up, and must be fully warmed up to provide the types of explosive bursts not seen in the final half hour. Both teams had to play in these conditions, so neither side benefited more from facing a frozen opponent. Still, both matches were well played, and were enjoyable contests despite only delivering one goal all day.
France's mercurial GK Sarah Bouhaddi is known as a woman who rarely stays on her line. In the 23rd minute, she found herself collecting a yellow card and facing a penalty kick after she upended an attacking German. Mandy Islacker lined up her PK, but Bouhaddi parried it well to end the threat. Germany threatened late, and substitute Anja Mittag had one wide open chance that, to her demonstrative dismay, she sliced wide, but Bouhaddi's PK save preserved the draw and kept France atop the tournament table.
USA 0-1 England
The setting sun ushered in even colder conditions for the second match. In warmups, NWSL #1 overall draft choice of the Boston Breakers Rose Lavelle was the only American who elected not to wear extra layers. After the match, she told me that she thought her time at Wisconsin had prepared her well for this game. She was a bright spot throughout, and nearly scored a goal in her first senior cap. Jill Ellis singled her out for praise in her post-game press conference.
Despite good chances for Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Crystal Dunn and Lavelle, England's Siobhan Chamberlain took command of her area and made several clutch saves. England had three shots on goal of which Ashlyn Harris saved two, including one free kick that erupted surprisingly off of a late bounce in front of her. Ultimately, England's Ellen White would be the difference, blasting the ball into the top of the net from a few feet out after a corner in the 90th minute. With the win, the senior side joined their U-23 and U-19 women in victory over the weekend.
Germany v England
Germany will be desperate to redeem themselves after two fairly soft performances against the USA and France. England, however, has a path to win the tournament if they can get three points and score a few goals. From what I've seen so far, England has the talent to get the job done.
Bold (bad) Prediction:
I think England puts together their best performance to date, while Germany continues to try to find a healthy XI capable of playing like the world knows Germany can play. Unfortunately, it may not come together until the UEFA EURO. Ellen White and Jordan Nobbs lead the Lionesses to victory.
Germany 1-2 England
USA v France
The USA needs a win to overtake France on points, and they'll need to win by more goals than England if England defeats Germany earlier in the afternoon. But they'll need to find a way past a very good France team before getting too caught up in the details of winning the tournament. And that might be a bigger challenge than anyone expects.
This France team is very good. Amandine Henry has been the boss of every midfield battle she's faced. When she's not intercepting passes, controlling play and generally making a nuisance of herself for women wearing a different shirt, she's moving around off the ball to provide outlets for her own side, or charging forward in possession, or some combination of the above.
Here are two consecutive shots I took of France's #6 during Saturday's match. It takes some serious skill to get from the first shot to the second, but this sort of play is typical of Henry's game. Like Tom Cruise's Maverick from Top Gun, she hits the brakes and everyone flies right by her, instantly reversing the attacking advantage. She'll be fun to watch against the American women.
For the Americans, this match must provide the results in the final third that have been lacking so far. Bouhaddi can be drawn out of goal, but the forwards haven't yet been able to coordinate the incisive pass and strike to earn goals. Ellis will have to consider selecting her quickest-passing forwards to elude lanky French CB Wendie Renard.
Bold (bad) Prediction and Probably Not the Lineup:
I'd expect Jill Ellis to play what #SheBelieves is her best XI in the final match. She's been without Kelley O'Hara, who has been unavailable while nursing a minor groin injury, but has to like what she's seen from Casey Short and Ali Krieger. Horan and Mewis looked (to my eye) better composed than did Brian and Mewis against Germany, so I'd like to see that partnership continue to develop. Up top, Press and Pugh should be squirrelly enough to sneak around Renard, especially with Dunn, Lloyd and Heath lurking nearby for layoffs or combination passes.
Assuming Ellis keeps the same 3-5-2 base formation, here's how I'd line up to face France.
If France's Le Sommer, Abily and Henry are well-rested, they'll give the USA plenty of problems. Le Sommer has looked extremely dangerous and she'll want to improve upon her performance in the draw v Germany as a springboard to build momentum into the UEFA Euro tournament this summer. A win against the USA, or a draw following a German win over England will secure the SheBelieves Cup trophy for France.
But not so fast. I think the USA finds their stride and is able to deliver their best product on what may be a rainy night in the District of Colombia.
USA 3-1 France
If my BOLD (bad) Predictions come true (they won't), the USA would win the Cup by accumulating a greater goal differential than England. If they tie on Goal difference, the next tie-breaker is goals scored, then head-to-head results. The final tournament tie-breaker is FIFA ranking, but there aren't any scenarios remaining that would call that into play, fortunately.