The USWNT have finished 2018 without dropping a match. 20 matches played and a 18-0-2 record to show for it. And now it’s time for all eyes to turn to 2019.
We now know who the USWNT will face in the group stage of the 2019 Women’s World Cup – Thailand, Chile and Sweden – so all that worry about a “group of death” is suddenly gone.
The US are all but a lock to come out of this group on top. Even if they somehow draw Sweden, the goal differential against Chile and Thailand should more than see them through.
The USWNT is in a good position heading into 2019. They have a solid core, and a large crop of players who appear ready to take the next step upward. Is it precisely the roster I’d prefer? No. And likely many other observers have some differences of their own. But with as much talent as the US has available, there aren’t a ton of flat-out wrong answers.
And while some issues linger, the USWNT is winning. Not just winning, but blowing teams out of the water. They faced Denmark, Germany, England, Mexico, China, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Canada, Portugal and Scotland and came away with wins. Australia and France were their only draws.
Fans of the USWNT are in a strange position. They have come to expect utter perfection, knowing that any moment the cleat could drop and the team could end up relegated to the trash bin of women’s soccer history.
The truth is often found between the extremes. This team isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. And it truth is: it doesn’t need to be perfect.
Jill Ellis is not an all-time great coach, but she’s done a pretty good job at bringing the USWNT back to a clear status as the best in the world, after their worst-ever performance in the 2016 Olympics. That period has included some real downs – notably the experimental phase that saw a three back with Allie Long in the middle – but she’s righted the ship. These days, the US is the sort of team that can – and often does – make good teams look bad.
I am not saying the USWNT will win the Women’s World Cup. But no matter what Kelley O’Hara or Jill Ellis says, they are the favorites by any sane measure. While there are places the team still needs to improve, there’s no reason to think they can’t do it. This is not the US team of 2003 or 2007, which faced real, maybe unfixable, problems.
For this holiday season may we all find a little chill in our gift piles. Six-plus months until the first Women’s World Cup match kicks off is a long time to rage tweet about who is going to be the second back up goalkeeper.