The US is the team to beat at the World Cup, and we get a first look on Tuesday
The eighth Women’s World Cup has generated enthusiasm in Europe and the continent’s teams have been impressive. Host country France kick-started the event with a 4-1 victory over South Korea, attracting a sellout crowd at Parc Des Princes on Friday. But the WWC will not truly take off until the US gets into the act, starting with a match against Thailand in Reims on Tuesday.
FIFA is expecting a worldwide television audience of 1 billion, partly spurred by the US. As for the nine stadiums, more than 920,000 tickets have been sold — about 300,000 to US buyers.
The US has been considered the team to beat since winning the first WWC in 1991, and that remains the case in France with eight starters returning from the team that won the 2015 title in Canada.
Captain Carli Lloyd (110 career goals) and Alex Morgan (101 career goals) will be up front, along with Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, Christen Press, and Megan Rapinoe. Allie Long or Hanson’s Sam Mewis will pair with Julie Ertz to provide midfield support. The back line is experienced, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper in the middle and former Boston Breaker Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn outside, in front of Alyssa Naeher.
But the US route to advancement could become complicated.
The US should coast through its opening games against the Thais, then Chile in Paris on June 16. That should set up a Group F, first-place showdown with Sweden in Le Havre on June 20. But there is no obvious advantage to winning the group, since that would likely lead to a second-round match against China, Germany or Spain, with France probably waiting in the quarterfinals.
World Cups traditionally favor the home team with seeding, but organizers have set up a scenario that could see either France or the US eliminated with a week and a half remaining in the event.
■ At Parc des Princes in Paris, Argentina — which went into its match with Japan with an 0-6-0 record and a 33-2 goal deficit in WWC play — followed the lead of former Washington Spirit playmaker Estefania Banini and earned a scoreless draw. Japan’s inexperience was costly, but coach Asako Takakura also failed to align the team to exploit the Argentinian’s single-striker, everyone-defending setup.
■ Canada beat Cameroon, 1-0, at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier. Kadeisha Buchanan’s 45th-minute header followed an errant Cameroon back pass intended for goalkeeper Annette Ngo Ndom, leading to a corner with seconds remaining in the first half.
What to watch for Tuesday
■ Netherlands vs. New Zealand, Group E, Stade Océane, Le Havre. While the Dutch men’s team has mostly disappointed recently, the Leeuwinnen have been capturing the country’s attention since winning the 2017 Euros at home. New Zealand, guided by former US national team coach Tom Sermanni, are 0-9-3 in WWC play. Ferns midfielder Rosie White performed for the Boston Breakers in 2016 and ’17.
■ Chile vs. Sweden, Group F, Roazhon Park, Rennes. The Swedes were the only team to blank the US (0-0 draw) in the 2015 WWC, but failed to win a game and were eliminated in the second round. Defender Nilla Fischer, 34, who scored the second goal in Sweden’s 2-1 win over the US in 2011 (the last US defeat in the WWC), remains a starter.
■ US v. Thailand, Group F, Stade August-Delaune, Reims. This could be the last WWC go-round for many of the US group, the oldest in the competition with an average age of 28 years — 11 US players are in their 30s. Group F might be the weakest of the tournament, and the US would be wise to conserve energy. The US team includes former Boston Breakers Rose Lavelle, Kelley O’Hara, and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (Seymour, Conn.). Sam Mewis (Whitman-Hanson HS/Scorpions SC) played for the Breakers Academy team.