“Excitement would be the best word to describe where I am personally and where our players are,” United States Coach Jill Ellis said Thursday at her prematch news conference. “I think when the tournament kicks off and you watch the games, the anticipation for your first match grows. So I think the players are ready, excited, hungry.”
The United States has not played since strolling through a sendoff victory against Mexico on May 27 in New Jersey. The day after that match, the team flew to London and — at Ellis’s insistence — went off the grid for about a week of preparations. They resurfaced briefly for a few days of interviews notable mostly for Megan Rapinoe’s declaring France, not the United States, the favorite to win the tournament.
“I think all the pressure’s on them,” she said.
[For the U.S. and its coach, a low-key start to a high-stakes month.]
Does the U.S. have a soft spot? (Not today, but maybe later.)
Jill Ellis’s team might have the best attacking lineup in the world, with a front line of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath backed by a goal-chasing midfield of Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz and, depending on fitness, Lindsey Horan or Sam Mewis. (That Ellis can bring on players equally dangerous — Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press — up front must strike fear into opposing coaches and tiring defenses.)
But even the outside backs — Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara — like to press forward and get involved in attacks. (Dunn plays as a forward for her club team, so her brain is wired to get into the attack.)
That all makes the United States a phenomenal attacking force, but there have been times that aggressiveness has left center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper and even goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher exposed when quick turnovers turn into counterattacks.
Naeher is the first American not named Brianna Scurry or Hope Solo to start a game at the World Cup in two decades, and so some have pointed to her as a potential weak link. Her teammates and coach vehemently disagree — Andrew Keh of The Times wrote about this supposed “weak link” for our preview section — and Naeher frankly doesn’t care what her doubters think of her.