The U.S. women’s national team are certified ballers and they dominated the 2019 World Cup in France from start to finish.
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From their incredible focus on the pitch to their stand for changes in how women’s sport is treated off the pitch, this is without doubt a truly special squad of players.
What did we learn about Jill Ellis’ squad this summer following their back-to-back World Cup victories?
USWNT played not to lose, and within themselves. Well done, Jill Ellis
When the exciting thing to do is play five forwards and go all-out for the win, people get upset when you don’t do that. Even though it isn’t the correct thing to do. USWNT head coach Jill Ellis (who is the first-ever coach in the women’s game to win consecutive world titles) has constantly had doubters due to the way she sets up the U.S. to play. Purists out there want the USWNT to play like Barcelona in their prime while pummelling teams. Ellis stood her ground and stuck with her philosophy, and her players carried out her instructions to a tee.
The U.S. never trailed in the entire competition and the main takeaway is that they never looked like beating themselves. There were no silly errors. No rash decisions to cost them goals. Nobody really looked out of their comfort zone. Ellis made big calls by moving players in and out of the lineup and got them all spot on. The USWNT may have played not to lose, but they weren’t scared of losing. They knew what they were good at — getting the ball out wide quickly, dominating in the air, turning opposition defenses — and played to their strengths. That is the sign of a perfectly well-oiled machine.
They had the best and second-best team at the World Cup. Now they must be rewarded
“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” Ali Krieger said before the USWNT beat Sweden to cap off their perfect group stage performance. Was it arrogant? Maybe a little. Was it correct? Yup. Ellis could rotate the likes of Christen Press, Lindsey Horan and Carli Lloyd into this lineup with ease and the second XI would have surely reached at least the quarterfinals in this competition.
The strength in-depth of this team was ridiculous and the rests Ellis was able to give Morgana and Rapinoe paid dividends for the semifinal and final. 1 to 23 this was a heck of a squad and plenty of players can feel aggrieved that they didn’t play more minutes.
With this USWNT standing as one to fight for equal pay with the USMNT, it is clear what needs to happen now. The U.S. Soccer Federation needs to make it happen, as the U.S. women’s national team is a juggernaut and one which deserves to be rewarded financially in alignment with how they are recognized internationally as one of the best-ever teams.
Ertz, Lavelle, Mewis a perfectly balanced midfield trio
This midfield trio was a perfectly blend for how Ellis wanted the USWNT to play. Rose Lavelle ran at the heart of opposition defenses whenever she could. Sam Mewis too got forward but also won her aerial duels and harassed opposition midfielders. Julie Ertz was outstanding throughout and moving her from central defense to holding midfield was a masterstroke.
These three were perfectly balanced and although many hated the way the USWNT sat back late in games to protect their leads, having Ertz able to drop into the defensive line and clear and head balls away made perfect sense. Horan was often the odd one out, but it’s hard to argue with the midfield trio as World Cup debutants Mewis and Lavelle will be around for many years to come.
Rapinoe, Morgan steal the headlines, but for how long?
We know that Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are USWNT legends (not just for their goal celebrations) and both scored big goals at big moments during the World Cup glory. But can we ignore the fact that they both struggled at points during this tournament? Rapinoe is now 34 years old and although she won the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot at the tournament, the USWNT often looked more dangerous with Press and Tobin Heath out wide.
Rapinoe is a wonderful ambassador for the USWNT and will go down as one of the greatest sportswomen in history for the way she has stood up for what she believes in off the pitch, then backed it up with pivotal displays on it. But now may be a good time for her to pass the baton on to the next wave of USWNT stars. As for Morgan, her five goals in the opener against Thailand padded her stats as she only scored one more goal in the tournament. She won a key penalty in the final and put her body on the line as defenders clattered her time and time again, but you got the sense she was frustrated throughout much of the tournament. Morgan, 30, will still be around for a few more years but Mallory Pugh may well push her all the way for minutes between now and the 2023 World Cup.
The initial buzz is incredible, but now comes the hard part
From the celebrations in France throughout the summer with a huge U.S. fanbase, and neutrals, on their side, to the welcome home in the first 24-48 hours, it is clear the USWNT have stirred the emotions of so many people in the USA and further afield. Now comes the hard bit. The U.S. players were celebrating as they arrived at Newark Airport on the tarmac, with plenty of drinks flowing on the charter flight back from France. But there was no real time for them to chill out. The players then embarked on visiting pretty much every single TV network that is based in New York City to appear on morning shows to talk about their journey. And that journey, in many ways, has only just begun after becoming just the second team in history to win back-to-back World Cups.
What needs to happen now is crucial to not only the USWNT’s success in four years time, but how successfully the sport can grow in the USA. Having a strong, deep NWSL still remains a problem and investment is needed to grow the game across the U.S. at the professional level. France, England, Germany and even Spain are putting plenty of resources into domestic leagues and the U.S. needs to follow, and better that, if the national team will prosper. We already saw at this tournament that Europe has caught up with the U.S. plenty, if not enough, and in another four years time you can expect their squad to be even better. The NWSL needs to be the top women’s soccer league on the planet and the lasting legacy from this World Cup win should be that this group of players, and their federation, made that happen.