By Philip O’Connor
(Reuters) – The United States are widely tipped to retain their crown at the Women’s World Cup but to do so they will have to focus on their firepower and park the potentially distracting differences between the players and their football association.
The decision by the squad to file a lawsuit in a California court alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” under the Equal Pay Act earlier this year has cast a shadow over their preparations, but the American women know their value in what is expected to be the biggest Women’s World Cup to date.
Having won three of the previous seven tournaments and four Olympic gold medals, the U.S. women are ranked number one in the world, and bookmakers have them neck-and-neck with hosts France as favorites to win the 2019 tournament.
With players such as striker Alex Morgan and midfielders Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz, they have both the attacking power and the physicality to go all the way again.
They cruised through the 2018 CONCACAF Championship which serves as the qualifying campaign for the World Cup, winning the tournament on home soil without conceding a goal.
The opposition then was not as strong as what awaits in France, but Morgan, Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe showed the full potency of the American attack as the team scored 26 goals in their five tournament games.
The world champions will have plenty of time to find their feet in France, opening their Group F campaign against Thailand on June 11 before taking on World Cup debutants Chile five days later – neither of which should stretch them but gives their forwards the chance to find their range. They round off with a stiffer-looking test against Sweden on June 20 which is likely to decide the top two positions in the group.
British-born coach Jill Ellis has raised a few eyebrows with some of the names in her squad, selecting the likes of Ali Krieger, who only recently returned to the national team, and Allie Long and Morgan Brian, who have both been hampered by injuries.
“These 23 players have been through adversity and success, and it’s a group that has the talent, confidence, experience and desire to help us win the World Cup,” Ellis said as she announced her squad.
Though the 52-year-old coach does not have a huge array of specialist options at full back, she has plenty of versatile players who can cover, and her embarrassment of attacking riches mean that it is unlikely to be an issue as the Americans go in search of their fourth world title.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Mitch Phillips)