Since September 2016, the U.S. Women’s National Team has played 10 different opponents -- nine teams from Europe plus Thailand.
The USA’s list of European opponents since last fall includes the Netherlands, two sets of matches each against Switzerland and Romania, tough tests against England, France and Germany at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup and another double-dip against Russia in April. Most recently of course, there were the two big wins against Sweden in Gothenburg on June 8, and against Norway in Sandefjord on June 11.
So, besides belonging to the same Confederation, what do eight of these nine European countries have in common? They make up half of the field for the 2017 UEFA Women’s EURO tournament taking place this July in the Netherlands. Romania nearly made it into the last 16 as well but fell to Portugal in the playoff for the final spot.
WNT vs. Netherlands, this year's EURO hosts.
The UEFA Women’s EURO is the most prestigious competition for women’s international soccer in Europe and, after the Women’s World Cup and the Olympic Games, the biggest and most competitive women’s international tournament in the world.
And facing the best is precisely what U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis committed to do coming out of the recent Olympic cycle.
“I said it last year, we want our schedule to be aggressive,” Ellis told ussoccer.com. “We’re always trying to play top-10 teams and elite teams. It’s a priority and our Federation knows it’s a priority for our team because it’s in those games where we will see growth. The games against European teams are critical.”
With the next Women’s World Cup in France, surely the European nations – especially France and Germany – will be favorites to lift the trophy in Lyon. By then, the USA clearly will have cut its teeth on European competition.
Including the games against Sweden and Norway, the U.S. has now played exactly half of the EURO field in less than a year, a rarity for most countries both in terms of the high level of opposition and the short amount of time in which the games have taken place.Read more
The U.S. Women’s National Team did not ease into its 2017 schedule, taking on No. 2-ranked and Olympic champion Germany at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn. on Wednesday, March 1, during the first night of the SheBelieves Cup.
Alyssa Naeher started in goal for the USA and made her 11th appearance and eighth start. With her 10 previous caps coming against Argentina, China PR, Colombia, Costa Rica, Haiti, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico, the game against Germany was first time Naeher was facing a team ranked in the top-10 in the world.
In front of Naeher was the three-player back line of Becky Sauerbrunn, Allie Long and Casey Short. Those three were playing in their fifth game together in a formation that head coach Jill Ellis first rolled out on Oct. 19, 2016 against Switzerland, and one that she wanted and needed to see in a highly competitive environment against a team like Germany. The four previous occasions in which the three-back was deployed had been in friendly matches.
The trio of Long, who played in the middle of Sauerbrunn on the right and the left-footed Short on the left, were organized, composed and aggressive over the entire 90 minutes, as was the entire U.S. defense, which put pressure on the Germans from the forwards all the way to the back. The USA did the work to win numerous balls in the midfield and earned a shutout against a supremely talented German side.
“I think this was obviously our biggest test playing in that three-back and there was a lot of energy on the field,” Naeher said after the match. “I thought we had a lot of good communication and a lot of good moving parts and I’m very happy about how it worked out against a top team.”
As Ellis resumes her evaluation of the goalkeepers, Naeher’s performance was a solid line on her resume as she continues to compete with Ashlyn Harris, as well as a slew of younger goalkeepers – led by Jane Campbell – for playing time in the U.S. net.
While the USA kept Germany out of dangerous areas for most of the game, Naeher needed to come up big in the 12th minute when she was tested on a rocket from one of Germany’s youngest and most promising stars in Sara Däbrmtz.
“From looking at Germany, we knew they like to hit shots from distance and we put focus into that this week in training,” Naeher said. “So, any time they were anywhere in their shooting range I just tried to keep my feet balanced and ready to react to a shot, which helped me get a good read and my feet underneath me enough to get a good push on the ball.”
Däbritz received a pass from the left side and had time to turn towards goal before ripping a shot from about 18 yards that seemed headed into the upper right corner. Naeher was well-positioned and flew to her left to push the ball out for a Germany corner. Josephine Henning's cross was then easily controlled by Naeher to maintain the scoreless draw.
The diving save was timely, sharp and it allowed the USA to maintain the 0-0 score line early in a hotly contested match. The U.S. went on get a game-winner in the 56th minute from Lynn Williams to win the opening match of the SheBelieves Cup. With three points in hand, the USA heads to New Jersey next to face England on March 4 (5 p.m.; FOX) at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.Read more
Photos from the U.S. Women's National Team's opening match of the 2017 SheBelieves Cup in Chester, Pa. The WNT defeated Germany 1-0 with a goal from forward Lynn Williams in the 56th minute. The team will now travel to Harrison, N.J. to take on England on March 4 in the second fixture of the tournament.Read more