The third and final match for the U.S. women's national team at the SheBelieves Cup is here. The USWNT will finish off their tournament against France today at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and it's the last chance to answer some big questions.
Here are some remaining questions we still have:
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Can the USWNT’s three-back handle a high press and fast pace?
Germany barely pressed at all and, for whatever reason, looked tired rather early in their match vs. the USWNT. England came out with a lot more energy, but took a measured approach that paid off. If France decided to go for a smothering high press and breakneck counterattacks, could the USWNT’s back line handle it?
France probably won’t do that because that’s not really their style of play, but it’s something for Jill Ellis to think about. The USWNT’s three-back has held up pretty well in this SheBelieves Cup tournament, but it hasn’t needed to break the pressure of a high defensive line or speedy, relentless counterattacks yet. Would it be able to do so?
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Is it time to look at some other goalkeepers?
Hope Solo probably won’t be back. Alyssa Naeher wasn’t tested that much vs. Germany, but did what she needed to do in a win. Ashlyn Harris had a rockier outing in a loss to England. Does Ellis need to start looking elsewhere for goalkeeper depth and competition?
The last remaining option in this SheBelieves Cup is Jane Campbell, who was a top goalkeeper with Stanford and will play her rookie pro season with the Houston Dash this year. She’s only 22, but she ostensibly made the SheBelieves Cup roster for a reason. She has yet to receive a cap for the senior USWNT, but maybe Tuesday is as good a day as any. If Ellis isn't sure that starting either Naeher or Harris is a good option, it may be time to branch out.
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Is Carli Lloyd really the answer?
There’s no other way to put it: Lloyd has been very quiet, sometimes invisible, in this SheBelieves Cup tournament. Of course, this is not exactly a cause for concern — Lloyd has been known throughout her career for falling off in the offseason and then stepping up in the biggest moments. The SheBelieves Cup is not a key tournament for the USWNT and the clutch Lloyd doesn’t need to come out.
But the next tournament that does matter is two years away, when Lloyd will be on the cusp of turning 37. Both Lloyd and Ellis have made it clear they see her sticking around — but after Rose Lavelle’s performance the other day, should Ellis reconsider? It’s tough to say since the 21-year-old Lavelle, who normally is an attacking No. 10-type player, played on the left wing vs. England in her USWNT debut. But she was really good, and if she can play that well and connect with the strikers from a central midfield spot, she could be the answer there. Maybe Lloyd should start Tuesday’s game on the bench so Lavelle can get a tryout in the No. 10 spot. If not, Ellis has other options for the central midfield that are enticing as well.
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Is there a spot for Kelley O’Hara?
Ellis has been rotating her squad quite a bit and putting players into sometimes surprising new roles. But with all this rotation, will 28-year-old O’Hara get a chance in the final match of the tournament? She and Emily Sonnett are the only two defenders yet to feature.
Ellis insists her three-back formation doesn’t use wingbacks, or hybrid fullbacks and wingers, because the wide players’ main duty is to attack. But what we’ve seen is that when the USWNT is under pressure, they do also need to track back and defend. O’Hara seems like the perfect candidate — she’s a longtime attacker who converted into a starting left back and, more recently, played as a winger in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. She can play everywhere on both sides of the ball and, as Ellis emphasizes a different style of play, O’Hara may be a good option — but we don’t know because Ellis hasn’t played her, apparently due to a minor groin injury. If she can get on the pitch Tuesday, that'd be a good test of a good option.
Would Alex Morgan and Christen Press be the ideal striker pair?
This is something we pondered in the aftermath of the USWNT’s loss to England over the weekend, but it warrants a deeper look. Ellis has tried some new pairings lately — Morgan with Mallory Pugh, Morgan with Carli Lloyd, Press with Lynn Williams, and so on. But maybe the most obvious choice is the best one? Why not take the team's two best strikers and put them together?
The last time Press and Morgan played together as strikers in a two-front formation was before the 2015 World Cup. Part of that is because Ellis has been using a lone striker formation through much of this time with Morgan up top. But even looking back at the USWNT’s two-front days, Press and Morgan often didn’t get tryouts together. It’s an interesting prospect — Morgan’s speed to race in behind back lines may be the perfect complement to Press, who is better with defenders in front of her.
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Who will solidify a spot on this team and where will Ellis keep shopping?
There are some players we just know will be called in for USWNT duty when the going gets tough, as long as they are healthy. Alex Morgan has long been one at the striker spot, just like Becky Sauerbrunn has been one on defense. Are there any players who can solidify a spot at that level? Otherwise, at which positions will Ellis keep an open mind, and perhaps, start dipping into the youth national team ranks and the NWSL?
Ellis has shown a willingness to shake things up in the player pool more than a USWNT coach has since, well, her predecessor Tom Sermanni got fired. Several of the players in this tournament are recent recruits who broke through based on their NWSL performances, like Lynn Williams and Casey Short. Can they prove they need to stick around? Are there other spots open and waiting for the next breakout NWSL star?