The U.S. women's national team wrapped up an underwhelming SheBelieves Cup on Tuesday with their worst loss in nearly a decade. They finished in last place of the four-team tournament as well, with France being named the champion.
So, it wasn't a great tournament for the USWNT. So is it time to panic or should fans chill out? Here are some reasons why both might be in order:
Reason not to worry: The World Cup is not for another two years
Yeah, the USWNT's showing in the SheBelieves Cup wasn't good. They finished in last place, had their most lopsided loss in 10 years and gave up some goals they really shouldn't have. Through it all, they scored just once. Not good.
But luckily for the Americans, they don't need to be at their peak today. There's nothing on the calendar around the corner. A tournament with Brazil, Japan and Australia is rumored for July, which would offer another good test, but wouldn't actually matter. The next tournament that truly counts is the Women's World Cup, which is in 2019 – more than two years away. There's plenty of time to get on track.
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Reason to worry: The world might be catching up the USWNT
It's been foreboded for years: Women's soccer is getting more competitive as more countries invest in their women's programs and the world is catching up to the USA. The USWNT's pure athleticism wouldn't carry them anymore once European teams made an effort to bring their technical style to the women's game. The gloomy predictions never quite came to pass and the USWNT eventually went on to win the 2015 World Cup. But the 2016 Olympics went differently, with the USWNT suffering their worst finish in a major tournament ever. Was it a blip or just a long overdue reality check?
It may be a bit of both, but the SheBelieves Cup looks like microcosm for how competitive women's soccer has become. England – one of the world's better teams, but a clear drop off from the Americans – looked strong and competitive throughout the tournament, including in their 1-0 win over the USWNT. France looked perhaps the best they ever have. Germany, who have sat comfortably alongside the USWNT at the top of the world rankings for years, looked much closer to France and England than they ever had. All the teams looked closer in quality than years past, suggesting women's soccer is becoming less disparate. And if the USWNT can't adapt, they may get edged out.
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Reason not to worry: The USWNT has loads of talent and a pipeline of more
For all the USWNT's problems, it's difficult to say they are caused by a lack of players who can get the job done. Carli Lloyd is the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, and while there's an argument there were other players ahead of her last year, she was clearly one of the top ones. Alex Morgan's speed and athleticism could go against any player in the world. Becky Sauerbrunn at her best is one of the finest centerbacks in the world. Tobin Heath's technical skills and creativity are second to none. And on and on.
For all that talent, Ellis has done a good job of shaking proverbial trees to find more. Rose Lavelle made her debut in this tournament and showed exciting promise. Lynn Williams is another relative newcomer who looks like she could fight for a striker spot. There could be more Lavelle-type players in the youth ranks and more Williams-like players in the NWSL.
This is a talented squad, and the USWNT bench is full of players who would start in some of the world's top international squads, too. The pieces are there to build a winning team.
Reason to worry: The USWNT goalkeeper pool looks thin
In recent years, the USWNT gave first-choice goalkeeper Hope Solo start after start, even in friendlies that didn't matter, giving back-ups precious few international minutes. So, when Solo was kicked off the team this summer, it was an open question as to who should be the USWNT's No. 1 goalkeeper – and the SheBelieves Cup didn't necessarily bring us any closer to an answer.
In fact, neither Alyssa Naeher or Ashlyn Harris acquitted themselves well enough to become the USWNT's first choice starter. If neither is stepping up, should Ellis start looking beyond those two, at a minimum to create competition, but also to perhaps find another standout? The NWSL has goalkeepers who could compete for a spot and the youth national team ranks would merit a look too. Jane Campbell, who was just drafted by the Houston Dash, was with the team at the SheBelieves Cup but didn't play at all.
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Reason not to worry: Jill Ellis can learn from this and adjust her tactics as needed
The USWNT never wants to lose games, but this is kind of why the SheBelieves Cup exists: to give the USWNT a good, tough competition at a time when they can test things out. That's what happened – Jill Ellis put the team out in a new three-back system, tried players in new positions and tested out new partnerships on the field. Ellis was testing her hypothesis, and losses are opportunities to learn.
The three-back defense had clear vulnerabilities that France exposed on Tuesday, but it could come down to the wrong personnel or the wrong setup. Allie Long may be able to help the USWNT build out the back, but does she have the 1v1 defending skills and speed for teams that press high? Is Becky Sauerbrunn capable of being comfortable with the wide centerback role? Does it make sense to play the formation without wingbacks, as Ellis has said she wants? There are similar questions for the midfield, which struggled to maintain possession in a meaningful way throughout the tournament. Should Ellis configure it differently or use different players?
Whatever answers she settles on, it's clear that what she did in the SheBelieves Cup needs some reconsideration. Tactics and directives are going to need to change. Ellis can make big changes or small ones, but they will be informed by the SheBelieves Cup and the USWNT's losses.