Russia has been in the news a lot lately, but not because of women's soccer. Indeed, if you've heard mention of Russian sports in the media recently, it's probably in reference to the "sorry/not sorry" doping scandal for the Olympics. Or perhaps you're a fan of Russian first daughter Katerina (Putin) Tikhonova and have been following her Acrobatic Rock'n'Roll career? What? You're unfamiliar with this sport? Please enjoy, and know this cannot be un-seen:
A New Collective Bargaining Agreement
The USWNT Players Association finally found sufficient common ground with US Soccer this week to come to terms on a new CBA that will guide the relationship between players and federation until the end of 2021. The agreement paved the way for the new federation allocated player list just today. There are some new faces, and one familiar face with a new name on the list. More on that below.
Who will play?
After finishing last in the SheBelieves Cup and watching their FIFA World Ranking drop to number two from the top spot, one would expect to see some changes in strategy and personnel from the US Squad. But injuries to key contributors may do more to force a change in shape than have the recent tournament results.
Regulars Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath are all nursing injuries and won't play. That leaves the midfield options a tad thin, with Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long holding all the experience. Promising newcomer and Boston Breakers first round draft choice Rose Lavelle looked very good at the SheBelieves Cup, so she'll see quite a bit of time too. U-17 midfielder Jaelin Howell is also available, and may get her first senior cap. That's it for midfielders. If Coach Jill Ellis plays a version of her 3-5-2 and pulls Long in as the single center back as she seems fond of doing, she'll quickly run out of midfielders.
That said, there are several very versatile players on this roster. Kelley O'Hara, for example, who is listed as a defender, can play well almost anywhere. But it would be a shame to only have two forwards in the attack due to the exceptional talent ready to perform.
Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Kealia Ohai, Christen Press, Lynn Williams Mallory Pugh, and a returning Amy Rodriguez will have to wait for a chance to get on the field more than two at a time unless Ellis changes shape. Sophia Smith will also be on the bench, hoping for her first cap.
In goal, expect Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher to split the matches, leaving Jane Campbell a spectator again. Depending on Ellis's shape, as few as two of the six defenders on the roster might get playing time. If Becky Sauerbrunn gets one of the two remaining spots with Long at single center back, will it be Casey Short, Megan Oyster, Ali Krieger, Kelley O'Hara or Meghan Klingenberg sitting in as the third defender? Normally, you'd expect to see Julie Johnston on this list, but she got married a week ago and you'll need to get used to seeing the name ERTZ on the back of her shirt. She'll always be JJ to us. See also Cheney, Lauren.
In any case, few will be dismayed to see a 4-back, but I wouldn't necessarily hold my breath based on the most recent rumblings from camp.
Russia sits at #25 on the most recent FIFA World Rankings, their lowest position since 2003. It's a fairly typical team to invite to a friendly for the USA: one that will predictably surrender goals and not provide much of a scoring threat. To be perfectly honest, I don't know very much about this Russia squad, so I'll leave that to others to discuss. 37-year old manager Elena Fomina has selected a squad comprised of women playing club football in Russia, with the exception of Persephone Goronchevski, who plays in Japan.
BOLD (BAD) Prediction:
Blood Bath. USA 6-1 RUS.
I believe that we will win.
No matter what shape Ellis deploys in this match, it's going to work against a vastly weaker side. If the match is in hand early, I'd expect to see the new kids get some minutes to introduce them to the world.
The pregame should be a celebration of the new CBA. It doesn't sound as though it delivers full equality with the men's team, and it doesn't demand grass surfaces at all times, but the women seem pleased with the deal and that's what should matter the most.