The United States has seen dominating athletes and great personalities and Miracles on Ice. For my money, the U.S. women’s national soccer team provides the best year-in, year-out return on your fan investment of any collection of athletes in the United States. And right now, this week, is the perfect time to get on the bandwagon.
If you love cheering for a winner, you’re in luck. The USWNT is the defending World Cup champions and went all of 2018 — 20 games — without a loss. That wasn’t just from playing against minor outlying islands. It defeated five teams in the top 10 of the world rankings and tied two others.
Maybe you love cheering for the underdog, though, and I’m happy to report that — against logic — you can make that work, too. It’s hard to underestimate the low regard in which American soccer and American soccer fans are held, generally, across the globe. If you want to be patronized, ask someone from England or Germany or France about soccer, and hear about how Americans just don’t get soccer.
Then, on behalf of your nation, point to that World Cup trophy and mouth the word “scoreboard.” The women’s national team has earned that right to gloat.
The buildup stars this weekend to the World Cup, which isn’t until June. The U.S. visits World Cup host France on Saturday in Le Havre (1:30 p.m., FS1), then plays up-and-coming Spain on Tuesday. These will be perhaps the team’s two most difficult matches before the World Cup’s knockout rounds.
Many of the stars from 2015 are still in the fold. Forward Alex Morgan is still spearheading the attack, and the United States has two of the most dangerous wingers in the world in Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath. Carli Lloyd, who put together arguably the best World Cup performance of all time in 2015, male or female, is still in the squad, though she might have more of a super-sub role this year.
Defense, however, might be where the United States has the most questions. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has not been the equal of dominant force Hope Solo.
Barring injury or a sudden aging curve, Becky Sauerbrunn will retain her spot at one of the center back positions. The other is to be determined. One possibility is Abby Dahlkemper, who has been solid for the North Carolina Courage, the top NWSL team for several years. Another is Tierna Davidson, who has been playing for the national team despite still playing in college for Stanford. Between now and June, it will be interesting to see which way coach Jill Ellis is leaning.
The other player to watch is midfielder Lindsey Horan, last year’s NWSL MVP for Portland. Horan has the unenviable task of trying to manage the U.S. midfield and play quarterback for all that offensive talent.
If she can do that, the United States will have a chance to repeat as champions this summer. It all begins this week, against France and Spain. Now’s the time to get on board with this team, and see if it can conquer the soccer world yet again.