The SheBelieves Cup may only be in its second year and it may have an odd name, but it will be one of the best tournaments women's soccer has to offer this year. The No. 1-ranked Americans will host powerhouses Germany, France and England in what will be their toughest test since the Rio Olympics.
There's a trophy at stake, but the tournament's result doesn't matter as much as what these games will do for individual players who need to solidify spots on the team. The action starts March 1 vs. Germany (7 p.m. ET on FS1) and here are the players who need to step up.
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It looks like Williams thwarted a challenge from another standout forward in the NWSL, fellow forward Kealia Ohai, and has worked her way into Ellis' favor. Now, the 2016 NWSL MVP can go a long way toward solidifying her standing with a good performance against tough competition.
To date, Williams has only been able to feature in soft friendlies that the USWNT won by blowout margins, but playing against Germany, France and England will be very different. If she does well in the SheBelieves Cup, expect her to be a fixture going forward – and, with her speed and dynamic runs, she may even be someone who can put some pressure on long-preferred striker Alex Morgan.
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Ellis seems to be interested in Short because she has the attributes to make a good attacking fullback or wingback. She's typically been a left back for the Chicago Red Stars, but her pace and comfort aiding the attack from the flanks allows her to bomb forward and overlap with the midfielders.
But for all the upside the 26-year-old brings, she is a newcomer to a team that has other good veteran options. Would Short, for instance, be an improvement over left back/midfielder Kelley O'Hara, who is equally adept in the attack and on defense, and seems to have boundless energy to go up and down the flanks for 90 minutes? It's hard to see how that could be the case, but she could put some pressure on the likes of Ali Kreiger or Meghan Klingenberg (who was cut from this tournament's roster), because both are less versatile.
There's little doubt that Press belongs with the USWNT and playing a key role. The question that still hasn't been definitively answered is: where should she play?
She's been a center striker on the club level, and a good one at that, but with Alex Morgan being the USWNT's preferred striker, Press as often been pushed into wide roles or in a withdrawn central role. Now, Press is facing competition from Williams, who is more similar to Morgan and the USWNT style of play than Press. Can Press carve out a starter position somewhere?
Since the World Cup in 2015, the Americans have usually used Carli Lloyd in the central midfield, and she wasn't so much a No. 10 as she was a bit of a withdrawn striker. She plays with the freedom to roam around the midfield and look for the ball to create goals. But, as good as she has been in that role, she is 34. That's where Horan can come in.
Horan is a tall, physically imposing player with good technical ability on the ball and good field vision. She played as a forward with Paris Saint-Germain and moved to more of a box-to-box midfielder when she joined the Portland Thorns last year, which is where she has often played for the USWNT. But she might be the ideal attacking midfielder who can play a Lloyd type role. Ellis has a lot of central midfield depth – a lot! – and the challenge is finding the right roles for everyone.
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If you've never heard of Pinto, don't worry – she is only 16 years old and new to the senior USWNT program. She is certainly not vying for a starting spot with the USWNT immediately and no one is expecting her to make a splash in her first-ever USWNT camp in a tournament with the world's best teams. But she could start laying the groundwork for the 2019 World Cup.
This might sound sudden and a bit soon, but consider this: Mallory Pugh was only 17 when she broke through the USWNT and within a year she represented the USWNT at the Olympics in Rio. Pinto will be a player to watch, if she does play, even though we shouldn't expect her to make a name for herself on the senior USWNT right out the gate.
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It appears that Hope Solo's days with the USWNT may very well be over. That's an opportunity for all of the goalkeepers in the pool because, while Solo was with the team, backups never got much of a shot. Now, someone has the opportunity to take over that No. 1 role and, right now, there is no clear favorite.
It looks like it will be a battle between Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for Jane Campbell to start laying the groundwork for the 2019 World Cup now. But Harris needs to step up the most. The goal she conceded vs. a weak Romanian team in November will linger as evidence her decision-making may be too risky at times, and she'll need to prove she is steadier than her last few USWNT performances have shown. Otherwise, Naeher and even Campbell may make it hard for her to earn a spot in the future.