USWNT in Europe

Your CONCACAF Champions, fully qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, are in Europe this November, facing Portugal and Scotland for their final two matches of 2018. Neither of their hosts are pushovers—both have shown growth recently and can provide a good test for what may be an experimental USA squad. Ellis’ roster for the trip hints at some tinkering and testing that could deliver a slightly less dominant USWNT as a few unfamiliar faces try out some new roles on the world’s best team.

With a chance (let’s face it, a pretty good chance) to grab the USWNT’s 500th all-time win, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the squad.

Aren’t roster announcements great? You’ll always know just who you’ll get to watch when the games get under way. Except when you won’t. As it turns out, Tobin Heath and Christen Press aren’t really going to be a part of this trip after all due to prior commitments, despite their inclusion on the list.

Kelley O’Hara had surgery on her ankle following the CONCACAF tournament, so she’s on the shelf, replaced by UNC’s Emily Fox (who will earn her first cap for country if she plays). Chicago Red Star Danielle Colaprico is on the trip as an option in the midfield, leaving Chicago Red Star Morgan Brian out. Andi Sullivan and Jessica McDonald are both back after being left out for a few rounds of call-ups. In goal, AD Franch waits for her chance behind Naeher and Harris, per usual.

Portugal vs USA

Thursday Nov. 8 at 1PM Eastern on ESPN2

How would you judge a team that has earned a draw and a win their last two competitive matches against the 6th place squad in the FIFA rankings? What if that team they drew and defeated was Australia? Sounds like a good opponent, right?

Maybe. Though Portugal has shown some signs of improvement, they sit in 33rd place in the FIFA ranks and did not qualify for next summer’s World Cup, so they’ll have to settle for taking their chances to make a statement against better teams like the USA when they get the chance. A result against the best team in the world won’t get them to the World Cup, but it would surely provide a bit of solace.

Still, even without O’Hara, Heath and Press, the USWNT shouldn’t be troubled much by Portugal. Jessica McDonald knows how to score goals, and she’s been doing it for a long time without the acclaim that some lesser goal-scorers receive. Her dominant NWSL Championship performance destroyed the Portland Thorns and earned MVP honors for the Courage forward in addition to reminding Ellis of her quality.

I’d expect Ellis to give the newly included players some time against Portugal as she tries to narrow down her choices for next summer. Many of the spots are pretty secure, but you just know that at least one of the superstars will be injured and Ellis will need a backup to be ready for the most unforgiving spotlight come June. As the younger players continue to develop, the pool of selectable options grows a bit wider, which is the only way to make sure something like the Great Brazil Olympics Face-Plant of 2016 doesn’t happen again. In retrospect, 2016 was the worst.

I’ll give Portugal the benefit of the doubt that they’ll avoid embarrassment. But they’re not likely to score, and they’re less likely to win. The USA grabs win #500 in Europe.

Portugal 0-2 USA

UPDATE: Portugal 0-1 USA

The USWNT grabbed their only goal late in the first half when Jessica McDonald redirected her own blocked shot back into the goal. Crystal Dunn had sent in a quality cross to reach McDonald, whose first time strike was blocked. The forward stayed with the play and got her leg on the rebound to knock it home.

It was a fairly uninspiring match for the USA, who had difficulty breaking down a bunkered-in Portugal. Still, a win is a win, and they’ll go again on Tuesday in Glasgow.

Scotland vs USA

Tuesday Nov. 13 at 2PM Eastern on FS1

The UEFA Group 2 qualifying tournament offered one ticket to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Scotland wanted it the most. Switzerland was left facing a home and away playoff with the 2017 Women’s Euro Champs Netherlands as their only path to the World Cup, and Poland, Albania and Belarus sent home with broken dreams.

Interestingly, if the World Cup draw goes right, the world could be treated to matches next summer starring Samantha Kerr the Scottish midfielder facing up with Samantha Kerr the Australian forward. Both women are in, and it’s up to the soccer gods to grant us the opportunity to see such wonderfulness happen. The very entertaining Kim Little is also in, which the Australian Sam Kerr seemed pretty stoked about back in September. We can assume Little’s teammate is similarly enthused.

Scotland in the World Cup also gives yours truly the opportunity to recycle an outdated Tommy Boy reference from Little’s NWSL tenure. You’ve been warned.

But don’t spend too much time getting excited about Kim Little this month, as she won’t feature on Tuesday vs the USA (nor, in all likelihood, will Samantha Kerr). Not that it would matter. Scotland may be the 19th-best team in the world, but that’s at full strength. Yes, they bested 18th-ranked Switzerland to earn their World Cup spot, but the other squads in their group ranked 35th, 53rd and 76th. That’s not exactly a field of dreams for top-class football, but they did what they needed to do to get to France.

Provided there were no surprises on Thursday, I’d expect Ellis to rotate the squad and give the rested players a chance to start. They should enjoy their reception in Glasgow on the way to a fairly easy victory. But I’ll give Scotland a goal just to keep it interesting. (Note: Lindsey Horan, who played all 90 minutes on Thursday and was bloodied for her effort, won’t be available due to a personal commitment. She’s a big part of the midfield equation, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments Ellis makes in her absence.)

Scotland 1-3 USA