Kicks & Gigs: 5 Reasons to be Stoked for the USA/NZL Friendlies

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Usually there is nothing worse than having to wait an extra week because of an international break in the midst of a potential playoff race. But the U.S./New Zealand friendlies are something to get pumped about. Sure, it means having to take a break from some hot NWSL action, but don’t knock these two games. Friday’s match was a pretty good one, and luckily we have another one tomorrow. It’s bound to be a good time. Here are the five reasons why: 


Tobin’s Back

Come on. Admit it. You missed her. Don’t worry, I did too. And obviously, the USWNT team did as well. Their midfield just doesn’t have the same solidity without her. Sure, there are still some bright points for the National Team in her absence, including Julie Ertz’s dominance within the first 24 minutes of Friday’s match, but Tobin Heath definitely adds a little extra spark to the team when she is on the pitch. She knows how to utilize all of her assets on the field, and she makes the rest of the team better. That is not something that just anyone can bring to the table. She didn’t dress on Friday, but there is no doubt she will be interesting to watch during her return. And hey, since it’s Tobin, there is a pretty good chance she is going to make someone look like a fool with a nutmeg.

The Great Jill Ellis Experiment of 2017 Continues

If anything can be said about Jill Ellis’ team strategy for this year it is that no one knows what is coming next. Sure, I can see the benefits of trying different things out – experimenting a little bit. We still have two years until the World Cup. Let’s tweak a little bit. But Becky Sauerbrunn at midfield? Kelley O’Hara at left back? Why don’t we just try Carli Lloyd in goal for kicks and gigs? Obviously, it would never come to that, but you get my point. Right now, it is a mystery as to who is going to be playing on the pitch and where they will be playing. I like to believe Ellis has a strategy behind all this, but I suppose only time will tell. She played it pretty safe in the first match and came out with a solid victory. The team looked confident, and with a few quick goals, Ellis was able to get a little more creative in the second half. But will she mix things up for tomorrow’s match like she has been accustomed to lately? It’s worth tuning in to see.

Who’s Up Top?

My favorite part of the Jill Ellis experiment is that we never know who the starting striker might be going into the match. Honestly, we have a couple good ones to choose from, and with different formations being thrown out as well, it has created a bit of a stir within different fan bases. Who should start – Christian Press or Alex Morgan? Should we play with two up top and add Mallory Pugh into the mix or should she sit back in an attacking mid role? There are a lot of options and each striker brings a completely different style of play to the match. An argument could be made for either Press or Morgan up top, and one of the most entertaining parts of these matches will be their supporters arguing which is the smarter option. Morgan got the start on Friday and looked confident with her goal in the second half. But what shocked the world was that her and Christen Press both played on the field at the same time when Press was subbed in for Rapinoe in the 60minute. And it kind of worked with both of them on the field. So what happens next match? Who knows? But for now, it’s safe to assume that this battle will continue throughout the next two years as we prepare to head to France.

New Kid on the Block

Okay, so she isn’t that new because she has already been practicing with us. But Sofia Huerta, as of this past week, has officially put on the red, white, and blue and represent the United States. FIFA granted her one-time change of national allocation from Mexico to the U.S., and although everyone was excited for her to come over, there was some skepticism on how she would fit with this team. Eager to prove herself and show off her skill set, Huerta showed she could dish a ball to more than just her Red Stars’ teammate, Christian Press. When she came off the bench in the second half she made the most of her time playing outside back and gave Alex Morgan a beauty of a ball, leading to our third goal. It’s hard to say what kind of longevity Huerta will have with this team, but Friday proved it will be exciting to watch.

Get to Know Your Football Ferns

The New Zealand National Team is a bit of a mystery to me, and most likely, you as well. With the exception of Rosie White, Rebekah Stott, and Katie Bowen, who all play in the NWSL, we Americans don’t get the opportunity to see these women play too often. In the last two meetings the USWNT have had with the Ferns before this series, the U.S. has recorded shutouts. But that is not to say that these women should be underestimated. They are the current Oceanic Football Champions, and they have steady leadership in Manager, Tony Readings. Sure, they lost in the first match, but the team played well together. It’ll be interesting to see how they tweak their performance and strategy against a rebuilding and experimenting U.S. side, and for that reason, I cannot wait to see what the Kiwis produce out there on the pitch tomorrow.


Sure, we are all anxiously waiting to see how the top four of the NWSL comes out. But that doesn’t mean that this international break is a time to pout. It’s a time to be pumped. We get a couple of entertaining friendlies, a first US cap for Huerta, and we get to see how Jill Ellis sets up her front line … and well, everyone else for that matter. Honestly, these friendlies are like the wild west. Anything could happen (including hell freezing over when Press and Morgan both took the field at the same time). So if you missed Friday’s match, never fear – you have Tuesday to keep you entertained as well.

 

Image courtesy of Kelley Piper