Reliance on Three USWNT Midfielders
Because of Jill Ellis’s 4-3-3 approach to the USWNT roster, the USWNT midfield is extremely important to success. While most teams control the center of the pitch with four midfielders, the U.S. women rely on three, key contributors. This lineup leans heavily on distributing the ball to striker and wingers, and aggressively pushing forward. With only three starters, Ellis chose to bring just six total midfielders. But, as said before with players like Crystal Dunn, many of the USWNT roster are very versatile. With that being said, here are the midfielders to keep an eye on in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
USWNT Midfield Projected Starters
Lindsey Horan| Age: 25 | Caps: 68 | CM
Lindsey Horan is without question the USWNT midfield’s biggest star. At just 25 years of age. Horan is an incredible talent and has the potential to become the best midfielder in the world.
While most of the U.S. women transitioned from high school to college to pro, Horan skipped college to play professionally. And who could blame her when she garnered a six-figure contract from Paris-Saint Germain. With this move, Horan instantly received experience playing against tough competition. She excelled. Horan scored 46 goals in 58 appearances with PSG before she transitioned back to the States.
In the NWSL, Horan became the best attacking, defending, and overall midfielder. She is the reigning NSWL MVP, obviously earned a spot on the 2018 NWSL Best XI, and was the NWSL Championship MVP in 2017. Horan has been elite in the NWSL, but her 2018 campaign was ridiculous.
On the NWSL official league leaders list, there are 31 different statistics for non-goalkeepers, excluding stats for yellow and red cards. Horan appears on 30 of those top-50 lists. Here are some highlights:
- #1 in Total Touches (1,852)
- 1st in Total Duels Won (297)
- 1st in Aerial Duels Won (141)
- 2nd in Dribbles Completed (46)
- 2nd in Total Passes (1,293)
- 3rd in Goals Scored (13)
- 3rd in Headed Clearances (42)
- 4th in Tackles Won (47)
- 5th in Recoveries (218)
- 6th in Shots on Target
Just entering her prime, Horan is primed for an international breakout in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. She is a dominant force in all facets of the game. Be ready to watch Horan win headers, make clutch tackles, beat her opponents on the dribble and strike long-shots with effortless power.
Julie Ertz| Age: 27 | Caps: 82 | DM
Seizing opportunities and rising to the occasion is what Julie Ertz does best. Leading up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Ertz replaced Crystal Dunn on the 23-woman USWNT roster. Not only did she replace Dunn, but Ertz started and played every minute of all seven World Cup games. Only her and four other U.S. women did that. From outside looking in to mainstay, Ertz cemented her name on the USWNT midfield.
In her club career, Ertz quickly earned praise on the Chicago Red Stars. After being drafted third overall in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, Ertz became the 2014 NWSL Rookie of the Year. In the following years with her team, she earned a spot on the 2015 NWSL Best XI and three spots on the NWSL Second XI (2016, 2017, 2018). She’s consistently been among the top of the league at the midfield position.
Ertz hasn’t always played in the center of the pitch. In her first World Cup, she was a defender. But in 2017, in one of Jill Ellis’ many experiments, she moved Ertz to midfield. It was an incredibly successful move. Ellis became the USWNT Player of the Year in 2017 and is the hammer of the USWNT midfield. Combining defensive and midfield experience, intelligence and leadership, and an outright willingness to sacrifice her body created the most intimidating midfielder on the USWNT roster. She’s known for her aggressiveness. Ertz often recklessly forces her way into challenges and tackles. It’s earned her a reputation as an enforcer, never backing down from winning 50-50 balls in the middle of the field.
She’s more than just a bruiser though. Ertz scored 31 goals in 79 collegiate appearances for the Santa Clara Broncos and she’s also shown capability of scoring professionally and internationally. She’s dangerous on set pieces, probably due to her outright carelessness for challenges. Ellis also encourages Ertz to push up field. Though she’s a defensive midfielder, she’s far less holding in Ellis’ ultra-attack system. Because of this, it can often lead to counterattacks. However, the style of play for the USWNT is to press forward, create opportunities and shoot as many times as necessary. They rarely sit back on their heels or park the bus. Ready your eyes for some wince-inducing tackles and pray that Ertz can stay healthy, even in her punishing play.
Rose Lavelle| Age: 24 | Caps: 27 | AM
Rose Lavelle is a brilliant player to watch. Her collegiate play and highlight-reel footskills earned her the first overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. Lavelle was the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year in 2015 and 2016. Backheels, early through balls, and control at full pace are a few of her traits. On the ball, Lavelle is creative, talented and confident. She’s is dynamic and technically savvy.
That’s all great… if she can stay on the field. But she hasn’t been able to. In her first two seasons of NWSL action, Lavelle only played 21 total games, due to international-play injuries. She has torn her hamstring multiple times and has consistently been unreliable. Though she has 27 caps, Lavelle only played three, full-90 games for the USWMT.
Certainly, Lavelle carries the injury-prone tag now. So why would Ellis choose to start her? It boils down to two reasons: attacking prowess and team chemistry. As noted above, Lavelle is a talented attacker, capable of creating her own opportunities. She brings a unique set of skills to the USWNT midfield. Also, Lavelle complement Horan and Ertz very well. Ertz is the holder and enforcer. Horan controls the team, both defensively and offensively. Everything goes through Horan. Lavelle, on the other hand, is almost strictly sought-out for her connection with Horan and her scoring ability. This skillset earned her three goals in five appearances in the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship.
Clearly, Lavelle is a young, impressive footballer. Nonetheless, fitness and experience are a big deal. She is only 24 and this is her first World Cup. On top of that, Lavelle’s hamstrings are a big question mark. Starting a player that has only played three full-90 matches internationally is a bold move. The health of Lavelle’s hamstrings is incredibly important.
USWNT Midfield Projected Bench
Samantha Mewis| Age: 26 | Caps: 50 | CM
Standing at five feet and eleven inches, Samantha Mewis is known by her teammates as the “Tower of Power”. Mewis is a great, all-around midfielder. She is known for skillful dribbling, excellent field position and a powerful leg. Mewis is a problem to opposing defenses and is always a danger to score from distance.
In the NWSL, Mewis is consistently near the top of the league. She was a finalist for NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2015, a finalist for the 2017 NWSL MVP and earned a spot on the NWSL Best XI in 2017. Mewis also showed up in big games. In the 2016 and 2018 playoffs, she scored goals in both semi-finals and the 2016 NWSL Championship game.
Honestly, Mewis isn’t on the bench because of poor play, inconsistency or anything in her control. She’s sitting on the sideline because of Horan’s ascension and Lavelle/Ertz’s role-playing in Ellis’s 4-3-3 system. She’s a really good footballer, but lacks the chemistry and unique skillset needed to start for Ellis. With that being said, Mewis is a great replacement for Horan or Lavelle, if either misses time. Considering Lavelle’s injury history, Mewis could find playtime as early as the first match.
Allie Long | Age: 31 | Caps: 45 | DM
For the better part of the past year, due to a lingering knee injury and younger call-ups, Allie Long was on the roster bubble. Ellis was testing out different athletes for the USWNT midfield and she left Long out. But, in the final moments, Ellis chose experience. As was the case with Ali Krieger and Morgan Brian, Jill Ellis wanted the veterans that have been there before. She wants known quantities.
”World Cups aren’t moments to invest in players. World Cups are about winning.”Jill Ellis
Long is a good depth play for Ellis. She’s played on NWSL teams with Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Megan Rapinoe. Certainly, team chemistry is a good thing. Also, Long is a good backup to Ertz. Though she’s not nearly the punisher Ertz is, Long is a solid, holding midfielder. Long is consistent, maintains possession and can win tackles. She has experience in big tournaments and in different defensive/midfield positions.
Prior to her knee injury, Long was in excellent form. She earned spots on the NWSL Best XI in consecutive years (2015, 2016) and helped the Portland Thorns to one NWSL Shield (2016) and two NWSL Championships (2013, 2017). Now, with a fully healed knee (fingers crossed), Long is game-fit, reliable and ready for opportunity.
Morgan Brian | Age: 26 | Caps: 86 | CM
When it comes to Morgan Brian, it is all about her health. Brian’s play hasn’t been the problem when she’s been fit. In the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Brian was instrumental in the USWNT’s win against China in the quarterfinals. She also played in six games, starting in four. In that tournament, she found her feet and ignited a spark into the USWNT midfield. Her growth and form continued into the 2016 Olympic run, where she earned the Golden Ball in the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
Brian is an impressive midfielder. She has the ability to win a tackle, instantly know where to pass the ball, and make a run for the connecting pass. Her soccer intelligence and instinct belong in tournaments like the 2019 World Cup.
Unfortunately, Brian hasn’t been fit for years. Brian’s suffered from some sort of injury each season since 2015. This series of injuries lingered and kept her off the pitch. Since 2017 began, Brian has only played 19 games. For a player with 86 caps to her name, that’s a major red flag. But, Jill Ellis saw that Brian started in her three NWSL games in 2019. Clearly that was enough to put trust in Brian. If Brian can recapture her form and fitness from years prior, she will excel as a substitute.
The USWNT Midfield Needs Luck
In this tournament, Ellis went with what she knows. She kept her core structure in Horan, Ertz and Lavelle. And she made sure that Long and Morgan made the squad. But Jill Ellis is banking on a healthy roster. Lavelle, Long, and Brian each carry significant injury risks. Additionally, Ertz’ reckless (though incredibly needed to aid the defense) puts her in danger of hitting the sideline. If the USWNT want to succeed, their stars absolutely have to stay on the pitch. Putting rose-colored glasses on won’t keep them free of injury. Yes, the USWNT have many players, both defenders and forwards, that are versatile enough to play in the midfield. But Ellis’ lack of true, midfield depth is alarming. All USWNT fans can do now is hope for the best.
Check out the USWNT Defense roster break down.
Check out the USWNT Goalkeeper roster break down.