With the calendar turning to 2019 and the World Cup just five months away, the countdown to France has officially begun.
Since the end of the last Olympics, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis and her staff have spent the better part of two and half years evaluating players, and the 27 that traveled to Portugal for the “pre-season” training camp represent those who have shown the talent and mental fortitude to be a part of the squad during this crucial time.
As the team comes together on the pitch for the final push to the World Cup, they are also coming together off the field.
“The players have done a lot of work on the field, but you can see naturally in the group that there’s an energy and there’s a cohesion and that’s the it factor that you need to have in a team to be ready to step onto the world stage,” U.S. WNT head coach Ellis said. “They enjoy being around each other and they have a lot fun. Part of coming away [to Europe for January training camp] was having them spend time with each other and invest in each other and you can definitely see that.”
But of course, it’s the games that are the proving grounds for players and the USA has a great one to start the year.
Following the training period of just over a week in the Algarve region of Portugal , the USA traveled to Normandy in northern France and will kick off its schedule against the 2019 World Cup hosts in Le Havre on January 19 (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1 & UDN). The match is a sell-out with 23,000 fans expected, very few of whom will be rooting for the USA, creating exactly the kind of atmosphere the U.S. needs to prepare for this summer.
France, ranked No. 3 in the world, is stocked with world-class players all over the field and are a strong favorite to win the tournament this summer. With a deep array of talent on its roster, Les Bleues have not lost in France since the beginning of 2016, compiling a record of 21-0-3 at home over that time. They ended 2018 on a seven-game win streak in which they outscored their opponents, 27-1. In 2018, France saw 15 players get on the scoresheet, led by star forward Eugénie Le Sommer’s nine goals.
Le Sommer continues to be one of the world's greatest goal scorers.
The USA is 17-2-3 all-time against France, but the last eight games between the two have produced a 4-2-2 record for the USA as France has risen into the world’s elite. This makes the game on Jan. 19 an important test for both squads on their journeys to the world’s premier women’s sporting event, and even more so for France, who as hosts of the tournament earned an automatic berth and thus played no qualifying matches.
“It was critical to have [the team] play in France before the World Cup and this was the window of opportunity,” Ellis said. “It’s in our building period and during our preseason journey, but it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. France is going to be tremendous opponent to start 2019. They’re a great team and one of the favorites to win the World Cup. It’s going to be really good to see where we’re at during this early phase. When we planned this trip, we didn’t know our World Cup draw, but now we’ll have the benefit of playing in one of the cities where we will play in June, so it’s a win-win to get the lay of the land.”