In their first match since reclaiming World Cup glory, the U.S. women’s national team begin their victory tour against Costa Rica at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The tour provides head coach Jill Ellis with an early start to find the right squad for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Some key players may not feature this weekend. Forward Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Hope Solo are questionable for the first leg of the 10-match tour, as Morgan underwent knee surgery on July 17, while Solo is recovering from a knee injury she suffered during the World Cup. Forward Sydney Leroux has been ruled completely out as she recuperates from right ankle surgery.
A spirited crowd should be on hand to greet the World Cup champs, with more than 40,000 tickets already sold. It will mark the highest attended women’s stand-alone friendly in the program’s history, shattering the 35,817 that packed Busch Stadium in St.Louis in April.
With key attacking contributors Morgan and Leroux possibly sidelined, Ellis may call upon World Cup hero Carli Lloyd to play a bigger role. The 33-year-old scored six of the squad's 14 goals in the World Cup, and has been a stalwart for the U.S. team with 202 caps. Another option in the attack is 35-year-old Abby Wambach, who has stated her desire to compete in Rio.
Ellis, who recently signed a multi-year extension, may also consider giving midfielder Morgan Brian a more prominent role on the squad. The youngest player on the roster, Brian is considered a rising star and already has 35 caps since debuting in 2013. Forward Christen Press is another emerging star, and at age 26 could be a top scoring option for several years.
It's unclear who Ellis will use at goalkeeper if Solo is held out. Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher are Solo's backups.
Ellis can take comfort in a deep and efficient roster that enters this weekend's match with a great deal of momentum. The U.S. rolled through the World Cup with a stellar 6-0-1 record and thumped Japan in the final, 5-2. The Yanks put a 16-match undefeated streak on the line against Costa Rica.
Under head coach Amelia Valverde and captain Shirley Crus Trana, Costa Rica came in third place in Group E during its inaugural World Cup appearance and totaled a 0-2-1 record with three goals scored and four allowed.
The squad’s record, though, doesn’t quite do it justice. Group E included first-time participants Spain, but also difficult teams like South Korea and powerhouse Brazil, the only squad to beat Costa Rica.
Much of the credit for Costa Rica’s efforts belongs to keeper Dinnia Diaz, who was ceaselessly tested by the opposition with 19 saves, the third highest total in the tournament.
It will be the first of two friendlies between the nations with the second on Aug. 19 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Live Online: FoxSoccer2Go