When the Americans face off against the Oranje Wednesday night, they’ll be battling for control of Group E and an easier path forward in their bracket. But those are just the on-paper consequences. What’s really at stake is a bit more abstract – a clearer sense of whether the USWNT can actually achieve the impossible or if the dreams of a three-peat are just too optimistic given the injuries and chemistry questions that plague the squad.
Coming off a decisive – though less-than-impressive – win in their first game against Vietnam, Vlatko Andonovski has plenty of depth to pull from when it comes to his starting lineup. Julie Ertz, recently back from maternity leave, commanded the back line in her old post as center back while Sophia Smith ran defenders ragged to score a brace in her World Cup debut. Rose Lavelle got some much-needed minutes — as did promising young forward Alyssa Thompson – while co-captains Lindsey Horan and Alex Morgan pulled focus and netted goals to help their team advance with three points and a comfortable goal differential. The Netherlands aren’t Vietnam – they’re more organized, more physical, and deadly in the air – but there’s reason to hope, and even feel confident about, the US’ chances when the match kicks off on Fox Sports at 9 p.m. ET.
Here’s what the USWNT starting lineup could look like come game time – and what they need to do better in order to silence the threat from their orange-colored opponents.
Sophia Smith appears to be the answered prayer for the team’s scoring deficit after an in-top-form Mallory Swanson suffered a knee injury earlier this year but she’ll need help to break down the Netherlands’ experienced defense. Trinity Rodman eventually found her footing in the Vietnam match, but Lynn Williams might be the better starting choice for this game given her speed and her unmatched ability to switch to a defensive position when needed. She’s been on a goal-scoring streak with her club, Gotham FC, so she brings a sense of confidence up front that the US desperately needs. If they can let Alex Morgan draw the attention of defensive backs like Stefanie van der Gragt while Smith and Williams pummel the flanks, the US will find the space they need to create more chances at net.
Giving Rose Lavelle A Start
Midfielder Rose Lavelle played just 27 minutes in the match against Vietnam, coming in off the bench during the second half to create a bit of magic the team was lacking up to that point. She’s been battling an injury since April and her fitness level has been in question since before the tournament began, but that early look felt promising for fans missing the fluidity and fierce left foot she can bring. Whether Coach Vlatko simply wanted to conserve her energy for the game against the Netherlands, or she’s just not fit enough to last a full 90 minutes, we’d love to see Lavelle get a start against the Oranje tonight. She’s a game-changer, poised and patient on the ball, and able to see lines of attack in a way few of her teammates can. Amidst questions of chemistry in the final third, Lavelle offers a solution – a bridge from the midfield that shrinks the gap between Horan and Andi Sullivan’s possession-minded play and the speed of a Smith or Williams. Let her start and impact the match early and the US will get off on the right foot.
Making Space For Julie Ertz
Julie Ertz has proven she can play anywhere and make a difference so her spot in the starting lineup is just a question of where the team needs her most. Against Vietnam, she dominated defensively while also pushing play forward, connecting passes from the halfway mark and exploiting lanes in the middle. But the Netherlands won’t play a man-to-man defense like Vietnam did and they’ll attack centrally in a way that might challenge Ertz if her fitness isn’t 100%. The answer then could be to start Alana Cook as central back with the ever-capable Naomi Girma and move Ertz to a defensive mid position, freeing up Horan to play more offensively and giving Ertz some defensive breathing room.
Unless Megan Rapinoe is behind the ball, the US seems incapable of producing anything off a set piece. That hasn’t miraculously changed during this tournament, but as they continue to face off against tougher opponents like the Netherlands, they’re going to need to get creative and clinical with their free kicks and corners. But the real danger when it comes to set pieces in this match lies with the Oranje’s ability to defy gravity. They’ve got a presence in the air that might knock our defense off balance if they’re not prepared for it. They scored their lone goal against Portugal from a set piece. And, because they’re missing prolific strikers like Vivianne Miedema and Lineth Beerensteyn, they might pour even more energy and effort into converting those opportunities.