The wait is over for the United States Women’s National Team as they open their 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign Tuesday afternoon (3 p.m. ET on FOX, FOX Sports Go).
Their first challenge for the reigning World Cup champions is Thailand, minnows of the women’s soccer world making just its second-ever appearance at the Women’s World Cup.
All signs point to an easier victory for the United States, though this year’s tournament has already provided a bit of a shock when Italy upset Australia on Sunday.
Regardless, the Americans are the No. 1-ranked team in the world and have high hopes this summer in France.
Manager Jill Ellis will have plenty of things to iron out within her side, though that is usually what happens within a loaded roster.
Here are a few things to watch for as the US starts things up Tuesday:
Amongst the biggest questions is what she will do with her back line. The United States defense has proven to be shaky against some of the stronger sides in the world, especially against the counter-attack.
Sweden exposed that problem back in the 2016 Olympics and provided a blueprint for the rest of the world to break down the Americans.
Considering Thailand is one of the weaker sides in the tournament, it’s the perfect opportunity to tune things up in France for Ellis and her defense.
The experienced Becky Sauerbrunn will be looked on to lead what could be a rather inexperienced back line. Abby Dahlkemper and Crystal Dunn are making their first World Cup appearances with Dunn moving from forward to wing back. Kelley O’Hara was used sparingly at the 2015 World Cup, as well.
It makes Ellis’ decision on what to do with Julie Ertz that much more important.
Ertz had been a stalwart at center back for the national team, including at the 2015 World Cup, but has since been moved to a holding midfield role.
If Dahlkemper encounters any trouble alongside Sauerbrunn at center back, look for Ellis to move Ertz back to her original position.
CARLI LLOYD AND THE CHIP ON HER SHOULDER
One of the greatest goal scorers in the history of the US national team is likely entering her final World Cup and at 37 years old, Carli Lloyd could be spending her time in France as a reserve forward.
The United States is stacked up front with goal-scoring and playmaking talent, whether it’s in the form of Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and the newcomer, Mallory Pugh — who is slated to be the next big star in women’s soccer.
Yet Lloyd is not simply going to accept her role as a substitute. No, the New Jersey-native who ranks fourth in program history with 110 international goals has continued to produce, scoring five goals in her last three matches with the USWNT.
“I’m ready to go and it’s going to be a decision for the coaching staff to play me,” Lloyd said. “Life throws different challenges at you. I’ve had a different challenge and a different storyline and a different journey going into every major tournament. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”