SheBelievesCup Preview: Olympic hopefuls look to make impact

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New U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski would no doubt like to win the SheBelievesCup, getting the title back after losing it to England last year.

But more importantly is getting to test his players in a competitive tournament, just a few months before he has to select his best 18 for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The U.S. kicks off the SheBelievesCup on Thursday with a match against England at Emporia Stadium in Orlando. The U.S. next faces Spain on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. before finishing against Japan on March 11 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

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Versatility is the name of the game, with five fewer players available for the Olympics than at the World Cup, so some of the fringe USWNT players will be looking to use this tournament to show that they’re more than just a left back, for example.

Tierna Davidson, an up and coming outside back for the USWNT and the Chicago Red Stars – and the youngest player in the squad – is looking to prove she can play all across the backline. Mal Pugh, a striker who’s rise to fame coincided with her starting at the last Olympics, has seen her star fall far from the sky. Now back in contention, can she push her way into the 18 to Tokyo?

On the other end, Andonovski has some huge decisions to make this summer about his veterans. Carli Lloyd is 37 and slowing down, though still scoring goals like she’s 10 years younger. In all, 10 players in Andonovski’s 23-player squad for the SheBelievesCup are 30-years old or older, including captain Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, and starting goalkeeper Ashlynn Harris.

For those three, their sports – presuming they’re fit – are probably safe for the Olympics. But we’ll have to see what Jessica McDonald, Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Ali Krieger all do this tournament and into the summer to cement their places in the 18-player squad. It’s also important for players who aren’t here, like Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan. Morgan is due to give birth this month, but plans on being back on the field by the start of the Olympic tournament.

This U.S. team will face good tests in England and Japan, as well as the up and coming Spain. England is without some of its World Cup stars from last year, including Lucy Bronze, but there’s plenty of talent on the field. Phil Neville will get to use Georgia Stanway, Ellen White, and Nikita Parris, among many others.

For Japan, it’s a veteran squad sprinkled in with some youngsters. 14 of the 23-player squad have at least 15 caps or more, and Japan captain Saki Kumagai of Lyon will look to anchor the backline. Spain’s star striker, Jenni Hermoso, is a former club teammate of Krieger, Harris and Press, so each side will have a decent idea of what the other brings.

So on top of the overall results, there’s plenty to watch for at the 2020 SheBelievesCup. How this USWNT squad plays, if it can carry over the momentum from the fall victory tour into now, and who makes a name for themselves are just a few topics to keep an eye on.