A new U.S. Women’s National Team era begins today in Jacksonville, but the cast may largely be the same. Hope Solo is nursing a calf injury while Megan Rapinoe and Rachel Buehler were late into camp, but enough holdovers from London were picked to Tom Sermanni’s first playing squad that we could see a very familiar starting XI tonight against Scotland.
Of course, any lineup prediction for debuting coaching is foolish. Even if the XI shown to the right are chosen to start Saturday against Scotland, that doesn’t change the current landscape. As of now, over eight hours before the match, it’s all a very thin, educated guess. And most of the information guiding that guess may be outdated.
Consider this guest just the set of incumbents, with three possible exceptions: (a) Heather O’Reilly, the likely starter at right midfield, has usually been a substitute since Tobin Heath and Rapinoe became first choice wide midfielders; (b) Ali Krieger returns to the squad after a January 2012 knee injury, though she was the first choice right back when she went down; (c) Becky Sauerbrunn will likely take Buehler’s place next to captain Christie Rampone.
But before going through the positions, the it bares reminding: This is Sermanni’s first game in charge. We don’t know what preferences he’s developed during the team’s time in Jacksonville. We don’t even know what formation he’ll use, let alone the roles he’ll define within that setup.
All we have to go on is the past, and as you can see from our prediction, we’ve defaulted to a “don’t rock the boat” approach:
GOALKEEPER: No doubt, Solo’s the number one, but with the world’s best keeper out for today’s match, we get a good idea of how the depth chart is sorted behind her. Ashlyn Harris, also in camp, looks like she’s fourth choice (high school prospect Jane Campbell was also called in). Nicole Barnhart and Jill Loyden were selected for today’s game. If Loyden got the start over Barnhart, Solo’s usual backup, it would be a talking point.
DEFENDERS: Sermanni only picked five defenders, with Santa Clara’s Julie Johnston the only one not in our projected XI. If Sermanni doesn’t default to incumbents — if he takes this opportunity to get a good, live view of new blood — it would be nice to see the 20-year-old start. Otherwise, it will be the more-veteran options: converted attacker Kelley O’Hara at left back; the returning Ali Krieger on the right; Becky Sauerbrunn in the middle along side Christie Rampone.
Players in camp not selected to the game day squad: North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn, UNC alum and Liverpool Ladies center half Whitney Engen, and veteran right back Heather Mitts. And Buehler, of course.
MIDFIELDERS: Lauren Cheney, not in our projected XI, could start anywhere in midfield. With 82 caps, she would certainly qualify under our incumbency theory. Sermanni’s other choices, Yael Averbuch and Kristie Mewis, would be big surprises. We’re more likely to see Tobin Heath in on the left, Heather O’Reilly crossing from the right, while Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx resume their partnership in the middle.
In camp but not in the 16: Rapinoe, Lori Lindsay, and Keelin Winters.
FORWARDS: Though Sydney Leroux and Christen Press are quality options, it would be a major talking point with Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, for whatever reason, didn’t start up top. The choice would either send a message about the fickle nature of sacred cows or signal a change in how Sermanni intends to run things. In the last years of Pia Sundhage’s reign, not even friendlies would provide opportunities for new players to work their way into the squad. Only injuries forced Sundhage’s hand. If somebody like Press got the call against Scotland, that would signal a huge change.
The only forward who won’t dress is NWSL No. 1 pick Zakiya Bywaters.