Analysis: Jill Ellis makes bold starting XI decisions vs. Japan

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EDITORIAL (July 27, 2018) — Just when you thought Jill Ellis couldn’t get more interesting.

The U.S. Women’s National Team manager rolled out a different Starting XI during the opening Tournament of Nations match against Japan. The United States ended up finishing the match with a 4-2 victory.

Analysis: Jill Ellis makes bold starting XI decisions vs. Japan

Currently, the United States is tied with Australia for first.

Ellis went with youth over experience. In some ways, it paid off. In other ways — especially on the back line — players seemed flustered at times. Becky Sauerbrunn, a usual sight at centerback, was left on the bench in favor for Abby Dahlkemper.

Dahlkemper paired with Stanford University centerback Tierna Davidson. The two players had some communication issues early, but managed to smooth the edges. However, they were scored on twice by Mina Tanaka and Moeno Sakaguchi.

Sauerbrunn sat on the bench, in front of her former home crowd of Kansas City. The city no longer has a professional women’s soccer team in the NWSL. Instead, the former FC Kansas City moved to Utah to become the Utah Royals.

“It definitely still feels like home,” Sauerbrunn told the Kansas City Star. “A lot of fond memories here. It’s sad. I think Kansas City has shown to be a good soccer city. I think the support Sporting Kansas City gets is great.”

“But I’m holding out hope it’s not a forever thing — that Kansas City will have a pro team again one day.”

Sauerbrunn wasn’t listed on any injury report. While Dahlkemper is a good, solid centerback, moving Sauerbrunn to the bench seems a bit excessive. The partnership that Sauerbrunn and Davidson has formed is only growing.

What Ellis Got Right

Carli Lloyd isn’t a starter anymore.

It’s plain and clear as day for Ellis. The former 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup hero is not performing well at the club level with Sky Blue FC. Lloyd begged for a trade from Houston, got what she wanted but can’t perform.

It’s a wonder that she even made the roster at all.

However, women’s soccer fans in the United States would have put up a major riot, fight, if Lloyd’s name wasn’t on the roster. Many people still see the same player that scored a hat-trick against Japan in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, it’s now Alex Morgan who is scoring hat-tricks — and wearing the captain’s armband. Lloyd did eventually come into the match for Morgan, but not until the 73rd minute.

By that time, the match was almost sealed.

Japan did tack on a second goal — Sakaguchi’s strike — but there wasn’t enough time to produce anything lethal.

It’s almost guaranteed that unless Lloyd falls to injury or some other unknown complication, she will be on the roster for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup — should the United States qualify. However, if Ellis actually looked at play and performance, Lloyd wouldn’t be anywhere near the roster.

Is There A Clear No. 1 In Goal?

The short answer: No.

But, Ellis thinks there is a clear No. 1 goalkeeper in Alyssa Naeher.

Right now, the roster includes Naeher, Ashlyn Harris and Adrianna Franch. Based on talent and consistency, it should be Franch starting in goal. However, Ellis continues to give Naeher the nod.

With a tournament of three matches, you’d expect all three goalkeepers to start. However, during the SheBelieves Cup, Naeher started all three matches, over Naeher and Jane Campbell.

This tournament will be a big test to if Naeher keeps that No. 1 spot, bestowed to her by Ellis. With World Cup qualifying right around the corner — in October — there is hardly a margin for error.

What’s Next?

Australia is a big test for the United States.

With a team that includes Samantha Kerr, Hayley Raso and Alanna Kennedy, the United States can’t push on the breaks. Instead, the United States needs a win to keep in contention for the Tu ornament of Nations crown.

Australia won last year. They look solid and could make a strong run for a repeat title.

The match will begin at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday. Before the United States take on Australia, Brazil and Japan will face off at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, Conn.

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