After a disappointing defeat in France, the U.S. women’s national team heads to England looking to get their preparations for the 2015 World Cup back on track. Jill Ellis’ side have now won just once since securing their place in Canada through the qualifiers last October, and now take on the nation ranked sixth in the world at Stadium mk at Milton Keynes on Friday.
France were superior throughout Sunday’s friendly international, securing the 2-0 win on the back of two goals in as many minutes from Eugénie Le Sommer and Jessica Houara early in the second half. It was a tough baptism for Ashlyn Harris as the 29-year-old looks to fill the gap left by Hope Solo. The long-time U.S. No.1 was suspended for 30 days in January for her latest off-the pitch controversy, and her reinstatement into the team remains far from certain ahead of the team’s attempt to win the World Cup for the first time since 1999.
For the U.S. team, which won back-to-back Olympic titles and came within a victorious penalty shootout of winning the 2011 World Cup under Pia Sundhage, preparations for Canada have contained an unusual amount of drama. Ellis only took over last May after predecessor Tom Sermanni was fired just 16 months into his tenure. Following two matches against Brazil in Brasilia last December and now contests with two other high-raking nations in the Spring, Ellis is certainly getting tough competition ahead of the World Cup. And Ellis conceded after the defeat to France that the team remains very much a work in progress, less than four months before they play their opening game in Canada against Australia and try to negotiate a dangerous group that also includes Sweden and Nigeria.
“We’re in the process of trying to get answers and playing different players and we knew France would be a fantastic test for us,” Ellis said, according to U.S. Soccer’s official website. “At this point, we’re in the process of evaluating and also building and that’s why we play strong teams, to test ourselves. I don’t think we had great possession, we turned the ball over a lot, but still we had some quality chances, as did France.”
“It’s an evolution. There are certain phases we need to get better at, but we have to continue to grow as the rest of the world is continuing to be better. It’s a great game for the world to watch.”
Ellis has at least been boosted by the return of striker Alex Morgan to the fold against France after her latest injury layoff. Following a substitute appearance on Sunday, in which she both won and then missed a penalty, all-time international leading scorer Abby Wambach will be pushing to join Morgan in attack from the start against England. Sydney Leroux could also return as the forward looks to shake off an ankle injury, but Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone remain on the sidelines.
The Yanks hold a 7-3-1 record against their next opponents, but it was England that triumphed 2-1 when the countries last met at Wembley in 2011. As England look to make it past the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in the summer, the match with their U.S. counterparts is part of a buildup designed to test themselves against the very best. There was a setback in the team’s previous international last November, when England were beaten 3-0 at home by world’s top-ranked team, Germany. Next up for Mark Sampson’s team is a U.S. side ranked at No. 2, but which England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain believes remains the most high profile around. Not that she plans on being overawed when they take to the field.
“USA are the biggest team in the world,” she told BBC Sport. “If you look for it there will be more hype for this game, which is great because you will get more people interested in it.
“But when you're in the tunnel and it's 11 players stood next to 11 players, it's just about how you go out there and get the job done, regardless of the name on the back of the shirt. It's a huge game for Milton Keynes, a huge game for England and a huge game for women's football."
Prediction: England 1 - 2 USA
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go