Tournament of Nations: Much to Ponder for Jill Ellis as USWNT Brings Mix of Young, Veteran Squad

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The U.S. women’s national team begins its three-game Tournament of Nations on Thursday night against Japan. Here are three questions for head coach Jill Ellis as her squad heads into a set of important matches, ultimately preparing them for World Cup qualifiers in October.   

The U.S. women’s national team begins its three-game Tournament of Nations on Thursday against Japan (7 p.m. ET, FS1) and continues with games against Australia (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, FS1) and Brazil (August 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1).
Here are three questions for the U.S. heading into the tournament with the women’s World Cup qualifying tournament coming in October:

How will coach Jill Ellis mix younger players and veterans as the World Cup gets closer?

In a recent interview in Moscow, where she was promoting the women’s World Cup, Ellis said the U.S.’s 2019 World Cup team (if it qualifies) will need to be younger than the 2015 team that was the oldest of that tournament. Ellis said that coming out of the 2016 Olympics, where the U.S. went out in the quarterfinals to a defensive-minded Sweden, she decided it was more important than ever to have players who can break down a parked-bus defense in addition to scoring in open play and in transition. She mentioned Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn as players who can operate in tight space, in transition and in a possession-based buildup game. Look for Ellis to use this tournament to hone in on players who can bring those skills to the table.

Are there still concerns at goalkeeper?

Yes, and there have been ever since Hope Solo left the scene. But Ellis said current starter Alyssa Naeher has made strides, including in the use of her feet, and can be trusted to play the ball short or long at the start of the attack. Ashlyn Harris is also on the roster, and Ellis said she brought in Adrianna Franch because she’s intrigued by her shot-stopping and ability to perform well against penalties. In fact, Ellis indicated that Franch might be a specialist who could be brought on in a tournament to face penalties, presumably in the way that Louis van Gaal did with Tim Krul in World Cup 2014.

What is Carli Lloyd’s role with the USWNT moving forward?

The top player of World Cup 2015 doesn’t have the same role she used to have, and Ellis said it’s still premature to make a decision, adding that there will be a conversation with Lloyd after World Cup qualifying in the same way that Ellis had a conversation with Abby Wambach about her role ahead of 2015. Ellis said Lloyd still had special qualities, including her ability to perform in the spotlight of big games, but she also has to be smart about how she uses Lloyd, now 36, at this stage of her career. Is it possible that Lloyd could miss out on the 2019 World Cup roster? Maybe, but it seems unlikely, as long as Lloyd would be (as she appears to be) willing to accept a reduced role.

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