Fresh off a disappointing finish to last month's SheBelieves Cup, the U.S. women's team is moving on with a pair of friendlies against Russia. The action kicks off from Dallas on Thursday (8 p.m. ET on FS1).
The result won't matter much – although if the USWNT doesn't win by a multiple-goal margin, that should be cause for concern – but player performances will matter.
The Houston Dash striker is back into the USWNT after dropping off the roster for the team's tournament last month. She may be one of the players with the most to gain by a good showing in camp. Her speed and ability find spaces in different areas around the field might be things coach Jill Ellis are looking for as the team remakes its forward line.
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She was dropped from the roster in recent months, and although she stirred controversy by kneeling during the national anthem, Ellis said Rapinoe's absence came down to depth in the winger spots. At her best, Rapinoe is one of the most creative, dynamic wide players in the world, but since returning from a devastating ACL injury back in December 2015, her form and consistency has been lacking. She has to win her spot back.
The striker returned late last year after having her second child, but she has yet to feature for the USWNT in a match. Will she show enough in camp to get an opportunity vs. Russia? If not, we'll have to wait for the NWSL season to see how she fares with FC Kansas City.
After Rodriguez had her first child in 2013, she looked revitalized and was playing some of the best soccer in her career. There's reason to believe she can do it again, but at 30 years old, she has a crop of new, young talent in the USWNT pool she will need to fend off.
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If there was a breakout star of the SheBelieves Cup, it was probably Lavelle. The 21-year-old was asked to play an unfamiliar wide role and, even if she was still adjusting to new duties, the individual talent she displayed was top notch and exciting. The question is how Ellis will utilize the recent Wisconsin graduate – will she give her a go at her familiar No. 10 role, or groom her as winger?
As long as the USWNT's three-back formation continues, Ellis will be looking for centerbacks who can bring extra skills to the role. Ellis seems to believe she has found that in Long, whose good passing range and vision helps her play out the back. But Long is so dynamic and effective on both sides of the ball in the central midfield, her usual position, that it's a question of whether it's worth grooming her for a new role at centerback.
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Coach Jill Ellis still seems to be figuring out the best position for her. At the tail end of last year, Ellis was trying her as a striker, next to the likes of Alex Morgan, but in the USWNT's most recent SheBelieves Cup, she was more of a No. 10. It's clear that Lloyd is her best in a free role that allows her to roam and focus on attacking. But wherever Lloyd is placed can create a ripple around the rest of the team because she isn't a typical No. 10 and she's not a typical striker either. There are trade-offs to wherever Lloyd is played and Ellis needs to figure that out.