USWNT look at Tournament of Nations as tuneup to World Cup qualifiers

SANTA MONICA — The United States Women’s National Team kicks off the Tournament of Nations Thursday, July 26, and offers a new wave of excitement for USWNT fans. The Tournament of Nations is one of the last tournaments leading up to the 2019 World Cup for the women’s national soccer team — and that’s why they view it as a tuneup for the World Cup.

World Cup qualifiers kick off in October, and while France automatically qualifies as the host team, the USWNT have to qualify for the international tournament happening next year. However, the US may find themselves a bit nervous after their performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics fiasco and suffering their sole loss to Australia last year, forcing the team to look at this year Tournament of Nations as an important World Cup tuneup.

“That’s the big thing for us,” said Utah Royal forward Amy Rodriguez, part of two Olympic championship teams and the 2015 squad that beat Japan in the World Cup final. “We’re going to take this tournament as a preparation for qualifiers, because that’s the big tournament coming up.”

However, the tournament itself won’t be any easy task as Australia, the US, Japan and Brazil all rank in the top 10 teams in the world. The US will have to put its best foot forward in this tournament to win, and it will really let the world know where it currently stands despite its falters since the last world cup.

While the players are utilizing the tournament as a tuneup, head coach Jill Ellis is focused on winning and finding the ideal roster for the tournament. Ellis announced one of the most blended lineups the USWNT has ever seen last week. It consisted of a variety of new and old faces, but even among the new faces, a large amount of experience will grace the field over the coming weeks.

Whose to say that Ellis playing with the lineup isn’t her preparing for the up-n-coming World Cup qualifiers?

“I think what we take away from these games will help us moving forward,” she added, “but I think the players we have coming back, that feeling of getting back on top of the podium — you know, building and gaining confidence as we march toward qualifiers, that’s important.”

The US has faced some set backs after a number of players landed on the injury roster. Mallory Pugh continues to sit on the sidelines with a knee injury that will keep her out until at least August while standout defender Kelleey O’Hara suffers from a hamstring injury, preventing the left back position from being filled easily. Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Morgan Brian and Julie Ertz all appear to have returned from their injuries and made the cut for the roster, but they all are being slowly integrated back onto the field and may not see as much playing time as they have in the past to prevent further injuries.

However, the memory of the Olympics and loss to Australia has spurred the US to a 15-0-2 performance in the last year.

“I think that lit a flame under us,” Utah Royal and USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn said, “because we never want to feel like that. The best thing about this team is we’ve never rested on our laurels. We’ve always tried to push that bar higher and higher, and that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple years.”

The US face off with Japan at 4 p.m. PT, Thursday, July 26, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. 

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