Allie Long is the best story of the year for the USWNT. Long was an afterthought as recently as April, but after a few strong seasons in the NWSL she finally got an opportunity, and she made the most of it. Long gives Jill Ellis the flexibility she has been seeking since Lauren Holiday’s retirement allowing Morgan Brian to play either the 8 or 6 role. She wasn’t at her best against Columbia, but really she just had the unenviable task of subbing in for Morgan Brian, who was at her best. Long has become an important piece for this team, regardless of what her role is.
Mallory Pugh Pugh fluctuates between exciting and a little frantic. She got herself into trouble a few times against Columbia but her purpose on this team isn’t to play great defense. It’s to generate points. Something she has done 10 times already in her first season (7 assists/3 goals.) As she comes into her own expect Pugh-Morgan to be the next great scoring tandem for the USWNT.
Lindsey Horan Horan looks like the heir apparent to Carli Lloyd, although she is being asked to play a different role. Horan is best on the attack and her deficiencies in passing tend to show up when she is playing in a crowd. It’s telling that Allie Long replaced her as the starter next to Brian, but Horan’s best days are ahead of her, and include lots of scoring off set pieces.
Megan Rapinoe Megan Rapinoe is back! Her debut was inauspicious but important. Having Rapinoe gives the US the best right and left wingers in the game, and two very exciting players backing them both up. Last December no one would have predicted that, upon returning from her injury, Rapinoe would be in a battle for playing time moving forward, yet she is. And that’s a great thing for this team.
Carli Lloyd Lloyd still finishes like no one else since Michelle Akers. Unlike Akers Lloyd’s game has some more obvious deficiencies at times. Against Columbia she was asked to stay back more than she prefers and she looked a little off. When Lloyd is allowed to attack the goal great things happen. When she isn’t she’s a very good, but not great, player
Hope Solo This tournament was the best of times and the worst of times for Solo. She was a rock against France and a sieve against Columbia. Truthfully that lapse in her game couldn’t have come at a better time and Solo, the best goalkeeper in the history of the sport, is unlikely to make a mistake anywhere close to the ones she made on Tuesday for another few months.
Morgan Brian Brian is the most underrated player on this team. Like Julie Foudy, Shannon Boxx, and Lauren Holiday before her this team looks better when she is on form. Imagine a few years from now when she’s the seasoned veteran of this team.
Alex Morgan Morgan is still the most dangerous player in women’s soccer. In Group play whe was hampered by her teammates several times not being in position for her to take advantage of long passes upfield. If you watch the games so much of what the US does well offensively happens because of the attention paid to Morgan by every opponent, opening up opportunities for her teammates to score.
Tobin Heath Heath has been the best soccer player in the US, if not the world, for all of 2016. Her ball skills have been legendary for some time but Heath has really learned to control the game. She has 2 assists so far in this tournament, and leads the NWSL with 5. The writing is on the wall and Tobin Heath is about to be the playmaker for the US. And now she’s well rested. #prayforSweden
Kelley O’Hara O’Hara played three positions in one game, moving around as Ellis subbed in other players. Although she gave up the foul that led to the tying goal against Columbia she’s equally effective on the offensive and defensive side. It’s good that she’s found a home as a starter on this team, although she might be among the best forwards or wingers had she been given that opportunity.
Knockout Draw The US has a pretty friendly draw. 6th ranked Sweden in round 1 and either 5th or 8th ranked Australia or Brazil behind them. The veterans on the USWNT will relish the opportunity to defeat their old coach, who gave them their only blemish at the 2015 World Cup (a draw in Group Play.) This is a completely different team than what she saw last year and it’s hard to imagine the US women won’t overwhelm Sweden out of sheer will power. The winner of Brazil and Australia could be a tougher match. The Matilda’s are playing as well as anyone and Brazil, of course, will have the home crowd. Either game will be difficult but the US will be favored in both contests. If the US make it to the finals I’d expect them to play the winner of France and Canada. Again the US will be favored but both teams are dangerous and will have a strong motivation to upset the US women.