USWNT Ready For Tough Competition on Home Turf

The Road to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics Games is taking a new turn for United States Women’s National Team over the next week, as U.S. Soccer launches the inaugural SheBelieves Cup which will feature four of the world’s top teams competing stateside.

Hope Solo and her USWNT teammates will welcome the national teams of England, France and Germany to the U.S. for the four-team friendly tournament, which begins on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The tournament will also swing through Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on Mar. 6 and finish at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida next Wednesday, Mar. 9.

“It’s like a mini World Cup and I think it’s amazing that it’s on American soil,” veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn said of the stacked SheBelieves Cup field. “Fans are going to see some quality soccer.”

The reigning World Cup champions qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games by winning their fourth consecutive CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship last month. Hope earned Golden Glove honors in that tournament after a shutout run through it as the starter in four of the five games played by the U.S. Hope has not allowed a goal since a 1-0 loss to China in New Orleans on Dec. 16, and holds a streak of five straight clean sheets since.

The quality of competition is about to pick up again in the SheBelieves Cup, and with qualifications out of the way, the U.S. players will be turning their full attention toward tuning up for Rio. The USWNT believes the high-level opponents they will play in the three games over the next week will be extremely beneficial to the U.S. squad as the prepare for the Olympics.

“Usually we go to Portugal to face some of the top teams in the world, but now we get to stay in the United States,” midfielder Morgan Brian said. “We’re at a point where we need extremely good competition to bring out the best in us and also to show us what we need to improve on before we head to the Olympics. We’ve been playing well, but we need more consistency. You have to show that you’re able to do it for more than 10 or 15 minutes in a half. You’re seeking a higher level of play, and good competition allows you to find that.”

Hope and Sauerbrunn lead a skilled U.S. Department of Defense that remains intact from the team’s World Cup Championship run last summer. They’re joined on the backend by defenders Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger. In the midfield, the U.S. remains strong with Brian, Tobin Heath and Carli Lloyd all expected to see significant minutes on the pitch. Up front the Stars and Stripes have an interesting mix of youth and experience, with forwards Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Mallory Pugh leading the charge.

However, Germany, France and England all bring strong sides to the pitch as well.

Each will bring unique challenges that should help U.S. players, both veteran and unseasoned, get ready for what they expect to face this summer during the Olympic Games.

“Each team presents something different, but of the highest quality,” USWNT coach Jill Ellis said. “We’re still in that process of problem-solving and trying to find out more about ourselves, so I’d rather play these teams now, rather than closer [to the Olympics], because we can look at certain things we need to face.”

The German Women’s National Team has traditionally been the strongest of the bunch, but like the USWNT, they’re reeling a bit following the post World Cup retirement of key players, including all-world striker Celia Sasic and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. However the German team still boasts elite talent, led by defender Tabea Kemme, midfielder Melanie Behringer and forwards Dzsenifer Marozsan, Anja Mittag and Alexandra Popp.

France poses a different challenge, with the skill and speed to keep opposing defenses up at night. Defender Laura Georges can push the pace from the back and drive down enemy’s flanks. Midfielder Camille Abily provides skill and leadership in the middle of the pitch and midfielder Elodie Thomis sprints past the opposition in the attacking third. The forwards are led by speedster Marie-Laure Delie and Eugénie Le Sommer who has 52 goals in 116 caps and is clinical around the net.

England’s National Team rounds out the four-team field and while the squad holds the lowest world rank in the tournament, behind the U.S. (1), Germany (2), France (3), they are the only other team, aside from the host Americans, competing in this tournament to medal in the 2015 World Cup. England finished third in Canada, their first ever medal in Women’s World Cup play. Like the USWNT, the British are strongest on the back end, which is held down by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and defender Lucy Bronze. Midfielders Jill Scott and Fara Williams will control the central areas and Williams has a proven goal scoring ability. Forwards Karen Carney, Fran Kirby and Jodie Taylor will attempt to put England out in front early.

“England is a team that now have experience at the highest level in terms of medaling in a major event,” USWNT coach Jill Ellis said. “They’ve got some fantastic players. I think, like us, they’re probably vetting some players and bringing some new personnel along. They’re going to be a competitive, aggressive team.”

The English Women’s National Team is the first on the agenda for the United States, as the two squads square off in the late game on Thursday in Tampa, following the conclusion of the SheBelieves kickoff match between Germany and France. The squads then all head to Nashville where the U.S. will face France and Germany and England will battle. Then it’s back to the Sunshine State for the finales, which pit the France vs. England and the USWNT vs. Germany. The six games in total should make for a compelling and entertaining tournament for the growing stateside fanbase of women’s soccer.

“The fans need to come out and see these games,” Ellis added,” because this is what we fought so hard to get, this quality of opponent here on our home soil. So I hope the fans come out and relish this opportunity.”

Thursday’s match between the U.S. and England from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida is slated to begin at 4:30 pm PT and the game can be seen on FS1.

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