Considering that the U.S. Women’s National Team’s starting goalkeeper, Alyssa Neaher, is getting her first World Cup playtime, the USWNT defense could not be more important. Here are those players.
USWNT Defense Projected Starters
Becky Sauerbrunn | Age: 33 | Caps: 157 | CB
Unlike many Ellis experiments, Becky Sauerbrunn is a consistent starter for the USWNT defense. Sauerbrunn is entering her third Women’s World Cup. She showed in 2015 that she was the top defender in the world. But, four years removed from playing every minute of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, does she still have it?
The short answer is, “Well, mostly yes.” Sauerbrunn has an elite and accomplished career in soccer. In college, she was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Her success followed her professionally. She was the NWSL Defender of the Year from 2013-2015. Then, in the 2015 World Cup, she helped the USWNT put together the most dominant, defensive campaign.
But, that was four years ago. Sauerbrunn is 33 years old now. However, she still has been exceptional. In the NWSL, she remains at the top, named to the NWSL Best XI six seasons in a row. Even though she is older and is not in her 2015 form, she is still a great player. Think of her 2019 World Cup like Carles Puyol’s 2010 World Cup. In the twilight of her career, watch for strong use of intelligence, timing and position.
Abby Dahlkemper | Age: 26 | Caps: 39 | CB
Unlike her counterpart Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper is just coming into her own.
In college, Dalhkemper was a player that UCLA could count on, starting 92 of 93 games in four seasons. Dahlkemper racked up starts and earned a finalist spot for the MAX Hermann Trophy (first defender in 10 years to do so). Her collegiate play garnered the third-overall selection in the 2015 NWSL College Draft. Since her draft, she quickly rose the ranks of defenders. Dahlkemper aided the Flash to an NWSL Championship in 2016, the NC Courage to the 2017 Shield, 2018 Shield and 2018 NWSL Championship.
Dahlkemper is still known for always being counted on. She played every minute, including playoff games, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. At just 24 years of age, Dahlkemper received the title “NWSL Defender of the Year”. She subsequently earned a spot on the NWSL Best XI in 2017 and 2018. Professionally, Dahlkemper is at the top of her game.
But, despite Dahlkemper’s success in the NWSL, she looked average on the USWNT. This is most likely due to the lack of support and aggressive nature of the U.S. Women’s National Team. Ellis’ coaching style dictates the players and schemes surrounding Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn. Because of this, Dahlkemper is asked to do more for the USWNT defense than professionally. Nonetheless, Dahlkemper is a powerful, savvy and elite defender. It’s time for her to show up on the world stage.
Crystal Dunn | Age: 26 | Caps: 85 | LB
Crystal Dunn’s left-back position for the USWNT defense is a clear picture of Jill Ellis’ coaching style. Dunn, though she has been a solid and regular defensive contributor for the US Women’s National Team in recent years, is actually an exceptional winger or attacking midfielder. At the University of North Carolina, Dunn led the team in points with 31 goals and 25 assists in 80 games. After being drafted first overall in the 2014 NWSL Draft by the Washington Spirit, Dunn emerged onto the scene in 2015. Her 15 goals earned her the Golden Boot, the NWSL MVP, and set a new NWSL record for goals per team game (0.75). Dunn also has 24 international goals and the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament Golden Boot.
But, instead of playing as a winger, Ellis is forcing Dunn to guard the elite wingers of the world. It displays the lack of defensive depth, abundance of natural attackers, and overall attitude of Ellis. Luckily, Dunn has shown competence and quality as a defender ever since college. She was the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Defensive Player of the Year during college. Granted, it’s not her natural position, but she can still be a good left back. Keep fingers crossed that Dunn can hold against the best wingers of the world.
Kelley O’Hara | Age: 30 | Caps: 117 | RB
Like Dunn, O’Hara is another all-around player. She transitioned from playing forward for her entire collegiate career to play outside back for the USWNT defense. Ellis loves versatility.
Fortunately for the defense, O’Hara is participating in her third World Cup. Though she was a spot-starter in World Cup games, she played well. O’Hara is a good one-on-one defender out wide and fits the teams need for good defenders.
But, there is a major, glaring issue. O’Hara might not be healthy. She underwent ankle surgery in October and is still battling this ongoing ankle injury. The USWNT can’t afford to lose a starter or have a depleted lineup. O’Hara’s ankle has to hold up.
USWNT Defense Projected Bench
Emily Sonnett | Age: 25 | Caps: 32 | CB/RB
Sonnett, in her young career, is a great defensive player. She was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, taken first overall in the 2016 NWSL Draft by the Portland Thorns and played every minute of her 15 rookie games. In 2018, she claimed her position on the NWSL Best XI and the 2019 USWNT World Cup roster.
This will be Sonnett’s first World Cup and the USWNT defense might need her. In the Tournament of Nations, Emily Sonnett started in place of the injured Kelley O’Hara. If O’Hara misses time again, Sonnett is a serviceable backup and should (though Ellis loves her veterans) play ahead of Ali Krieger.
Ali Krieger | Age: 34 | Caps: 100 | FB
Ali Krieger was a great player.
Krieger was part of Fox Soccer’s Best Eleven of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011, NWSL Best XI in 2014 and 2017, and FIFA FIFPRO World XI in 2016. She helped FCC Frankfurt to multiple championships in 2008 and 2011 in the Frauen DFB-Pokal, Fussball-Bundesliga and UEFA Champions leagues. She was great.
Krieger is not in the same form as her younger self. She’s not the 2015 Women’s World Cup star. The USWNT operated without her from August, 2017 to March, 2019. Then, on the doorstep of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, Ellis called on her beloved veteran once again.
“Ali has never been off the radar,” Ellis told reporters when asked about Krieger last month. “Sometimes the experience piece is something you have to take into consideration going into a massive event like [the World Cup].”Jill Ellis
Ellis values experience and wanted as many pieces of her 2015 World Cup championship as possible. But, even though Krieger is a true fullback and provides needed depth and experience, her fitness and form are questionable. It could be disastrous if Ellis turns to Krieger instead of Sonnett or Davidson when needed. Krieger is a big risk heading into this tournament.
Tierna Davidson | Age: 20 | Caps: 20 | CB
Tierna Davidson could very well be the USWNT’s best defender soon, but she is green. Davidson is only 20 years old. She played only two professional games so far in her career and only has 19 caps. She’s so young and lacks experience.
Nonetheless, Davidson is a gifted defender. Davidson was the 2017 College Cup Most Outstanding Defensive Player, a 2017 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, All-America First Team, U.S. Soccer’s 2018 Young Female Player of the year, and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft. Davidson is good.
She’s fast, agile and more physically impressive than the other starters. On a vulnerable 4-3-3, Davidson can make up ground on counter attacks. But then again, she is inexperienced. Davidson, at this point in her career, is unfortunately just a depth move.
Can the USWNT Defense Hold?
All signs of Jill Ellis’ coaching point to an addiction. Ellis is addicted to attacking power. Aside from operating in a 4-3-3 scheme, Ellis encourages midfielders to aggressively push up and also put Crystal Dunn, a talented winger, at left back. The USWNT has one game-plan: score.
This game-plan cost the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Games. Granted, the U.S. took 26 shots in their 1-1 draw/penalty loss to Sweden, but it exposed the USWNT. Teams can park the bus and counterattack. All they need to do is make one steal and two passes to get into scoring position. When Hope Solo was in goal with a strong, defensive supporting cast, this wasn’t as much of a problem. They could afford to do this.
This year is different. The USWNT staff failed to develop a defense around Alyssa Naeher. They refused to put trust in Arin Wright (Gilliland), Megan Oyster and Casey Short. Instead, Ellis and staff chose to put attackers in defenders clothes and to chose World Cup experience over current form. Because of this, the USWNT defense is porous and susceptible to scoring opportunities. USWNT fans need to hope for healthy legs and a healthy lead.
Check out the USWNT Goal keepers.