2018 Tournament of Nations Preview

2018 Tournament of Nations

Editorial (July 23, 2018) — Last year, it was the Matildas who won it all.

The Australian Women’s National Team lifted up the Tournament of Nations trophy on American soil last summer. This year ,the U.S. Women’s National Team will look to change the landscape of a forgetful 2017.

2018 Tournament of Nations Preview

Meanwhile, Brazil and Japan are trying to catch up. In the first-ever Tournament of Nations, both countries finished with one point, in a 1-1 draw at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, WA. However, each team can find some luck on the East Coast and Midwest.

Right now, the tournament is hosting three-qualified teams for the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Five teams were qualified during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, including Australia and Japan. Meanwhile, Brazil’s qualification came through by a Copa América Femenina victory, earning a seventh title.

The United States has yet to qualify.

A nation that had to watch its own men’s team fail to qualify for this past summer’s FIFA World Cup, the United States is holding their breath for the upcoming CONCACAF Championship Tournament, which will be held from Oct. 4-17 in Cary, North Carolina.

While this tournament is essentially a glorified friendly, the matches are vital to the United States. Not only will the U.S. Women’s National Team face tough opponents, but the team will face nations already qualified for the World Cup.

While a lot can change in a year, should the United States qualify, at least Jill Ellis knows where to start when it comes to preparations.

Let’s look at all four of the Tournament of Nations Teams.

Brazil

The Brazilians have a history of success.

This is a team that has legends on it, including Marta up front and Barbara in goal. Add in a stellar midfield of Camila, Andressinha and Debinha and Brazil looks ready to pack a punch. There is a nice mixture on the roster. Head coach Vadao didn’t elect to just call in National Women’s Soccer League players.

Instead, Vadao has some young, Brazilian league talent on his squad. Juliana and Rayanne are two midfielders who play for Formengo in Brazil – and they have yet to make their first senior national team appearance.

Right now, Vadao has the perfect opportunity to try different formations and shift players around. He has the luxury of having a laid-back tournament, just like the other two qualified World Cup teams. Vadao is even proving that by naming Aline, a goalkeeper from UDG Tenerife in Spain, his starting goalkeeper ahead of Barbara.

There are even Brazilians based in Europe on the roster. In addition to Aline, defender Joyce plays for UDG Tenerife in Spain, while Rilany features for Atletico Madrid. There are also players based in Norway and Denmark, with two players featuring in Japan.

The Brazilians had a shaky 2017, with a four-game losing streak kicking off during the Tournament of Nations. After losses to the United States and Australia, Brazil fell to Australia twice in September friendlies.

However, victories against Mexico and North Korea got the momentum rolling for Brazil. The team finished as champions in the Yongchaun International Tournament with a draw against China. Then, Brazil closed the year with two friendly victories over Chile.

In 2018, Brazil is undefeated in seven matches. All of the matches were part of the Copa América Femenina qualification for France.

Brazil is currently my favorite to win the Tournament of Nations. With nine-straight victories, it’s hard to catch a team that carries legends – and a legendary coach – off guard.

Australia

Australia’s start to this last calendar year was the opposite of Brazil’s start.

The Matildas had a slow start to the Asian Cup, recording two draws and one win. In the semifinal, Australia narrowly edged Thailand on penalty kicks, 3-1. However, in the final against Japan, Australia could not hang on, losing 1-0 off a goal from Kumi Yokoyama.

After last year’s Tournament of Nations victory, Australia defeated Brazil, China, and Norway in respective friendlies. However, the Matildas couldn’t capture victory during the Algarve Cup. Instead, the team finished fourth place, falling to Portugal, 2-1, in the third-place match.

However, Samantha Kerr – arguably the best player on a talent-filled Australian roster – is finding her spark with the Chicago Red Stars. Kerr currently has nine goals in 13 games, including a hat-trick against Sky Blue FC, her former club.

The Matildas have a packed roster, including NWSL talents like Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne, Kyah Simon and Hayley Raso.

Lydia Williams, of the Seattle Reign, has joined Mackenzie Arnold on the Australian roster. There is no set starter for Alen Stajcic’s team.

Stajcic did make a surprise by including defender Larissa Crummer. A veteran of the national team, Crummer has 20 appearances and four goals. At 22 years old, she is currently unattached to a club. She has not recently made a contract signing, either.

Australia has a strong team and can make a good push for a back-to-back title. However, when the time comes to feature against Brazil, there might be a little bit of revenge tied to the match.

Japan

For the last year and a half, there has been little consistency for Japan.

While the team did hoist the Asian Cup trophy, Japan is the same team that finished tied for last with Brazil in last year’s Tournament of Nations. After last summer’s tournament, Japan compiled a winning streak of four matches until falling to North Korea, 2-0, on December 15, 2017.

The Algarve Cup start wasn’t much better. Japan was embarrassed with a 6-2 loss against the Netherlands in the opening Algarve Cup group stage match. In the eyes of fans, it seemed like an early bow-out was about to happen.

However, victories against Iceland and Denmark kept Japan in the tournament. But, the stay didn’t last long. Japan finished the Algarve Cup in fifth place, losing to Canada in the first elimination round match. Canada had goals scored by Janine Beckie and Ashley Lawrence.

Since then, Japan has been unbeaten in matches. A single victory against Vietnam and draws against South Korea and Australia sent Japan to the elimination rounds of the Asian Cup. The team then beat China and Australia to hoist the trophy and punch their ticket to the 2019 FIFA World Cup.

Recently, Japan defeated New Zealand, 3-1, in Wellington on June 10.

Japan has a lot of youth on their side, especially on defense. Sakiko Ikeda has been named the starting goalkeeper for the Tournament of Nations. The Japan-based goalkeeper, who plays for Urawa Red Diamonds, is only 25 years old and has 12 caps.

Her backups are Ayaka Yamashita, who has 19 caps and is 22 years old, and Chika Hirao, who is waiting on her first cap and is 21 years old.

Japan has four defenders under the age of 23 on their roster, including Shiori Miyake, Risa Shimizu, Aimi Kunitake and Nana Ichise. However, there is experience on Japan’s side; defender Rumi Utsugi has 110 appearances for Japan.

Will Missing Nagasato hurt Japan?

Even though she officially retired from international soccer in 2016, Japan might be hurt with the roster exclusion of Yuki Nagasato. Nagasato has been the anchor for the Chicago Red Stars offense – and defense – this season, scoring four goals and providing five assists in 16 matches.

At 31, Nagasato is playing some of her best soccer.

United States

The gracious hosts that are making this tournament happen, the United States Women’s National Team has a world of depth across the National Women’s Soccer League.

However, with that depth comes a bit of ignorance. This roster for the Tournament of Nations looks similar to last year’s roster, with only a handful of changes. Left off the roster from 2017 are players like Jane Campbell, Abby Smith, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Taylor Smith, Margaret Purce, Sydney Leroux and Lynn Williams.

Taking their places are Adrianna Franch, Tierna Davidson, Jaelene Hinkle, Merritt Mathias, Emily Sonnett, McCall Zerboni, Kealia Ohai, Amy Rodriguez and Tobin Heath. Most of those changes are positive, especially the additions of Franch, Zerboni, and Davidson.

However, the Hinkle addition serves as odd. As many NWSL and USWNT fans recall, the North Carolina Courage defender refused to partake in the team’s friendlies last June because the team was wearing LGBTQ+ inspired jersey’s to promote Pride Month.

Now, all of a sudden, Hinkle is back in the mix.

She hasn’t been stellar this season for the Courage. While the team is currently running away with first place, Hinkle hasn’t done much to impress. Either this is damage control for Jill Ellis or she really wants fans to boycott the games.

Hinkle’s addition back to the roster has sparked a fiery debate on social media. Why should Hinkle be allowed to return after declining to join the national team, just because of a rainbow-colored jersey? Other players would have killed to put on that jersey, but Hinkle, just because it supports the LGBTQ+ community, couldn’t find it in herself to do it.

Yet, Ellis has a whole stock of defenders in the NWSL – good defenders, really good defenders – to pick from. However, as she normally does, the English-born coach continues the trend of bringing the same old, same old, players in for camp.

Will she also continue her tradition of sending them back to their club injured?

Probably. That’s what happened to Margaret Purce last month.

My Picks

I have Brazil winning this whole thing.

It’s hard to argue against Vadao and such a talented roster. There are so many talented players in this tournament, but this Brazilian team has the perfect mixture of new and old. Some teams have too many younger players on it and others have too many older players.

Brazil has a shot at winning this whole thing – and showing other teams why they shouldn’t be messed with next year in France.

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