Whenever the U.S. women’s soccer team comes to town, the atmosphere is usually part-soccer, part-circus. But when the Americans take the field at Talen Energy Stadium to play Japan in the SheBelieves Cup (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1), it will be all business.
Just eight games remain before the World Cup kicks off. Only five remain before what will be the U.S.' squad gathers for its pre-tournament training camp. Every minute of action from now until then will be crucial. And they’ll be especially crucial for the players trying to earn the last tickets to France.
So while you watch stars like Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and local favorites Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz, be sure to keep an eye on two players who aren’t as famous: forward Jessica McDonald and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
McDonald excelled last year with the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, leading the team to an unprecedented treble of trophies and winning MVP honors in the playoff title game. That success led to her first national call-up in a year and a half, for last November’s trip to Europe. She scored the lone goal in the 1-0 win at Portugal, and has been part of every roster since then.
“I thought she did very well in our January camp,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.
“I obviously have my foot in that door,” McDonald said. “The only thing I have to do is just perform really well and continue to improve myself - and prove myself, as well. Obviously, I’m here for my strengths, and I’m just going to try and continue to use them.”
Franch has established herself as the No. 3 goalkeeper on the depth chart, behind starter Alyssa Naeher and backup Ashlyn Harris. Since three goalkeepers make the World Cup team, that’s a good place to be. But she has yet to actually play for the U.S., and she’s running out of time to do so before the tournament.
Ellis was asked Tuesday if Franch would make her debut during the SheBelieves Cup. The answer wasn’t direct, but sent a signal that it won’t happen.
“Right now it’s critical that our back line and our goalkeeper start to really build cohesion,” Ellis said. “So it’s not just giving players time to give them time. It’s making sure we’re accomplishing something in that.”
Another player who could have had a big opportunity in this tournament is midfielder Danielle Colaprico, since Lindsey Horan is out injured. But Colaprico re-aggravated a groin injury during last week’s training camp, and has been ruled out.
Ellis said the door remains open for Colaprico to make it to the World Cup.
“She’s going to return [to the national team] once she’s healthy,” Ellis said. “She’ll have an opportunity to work herself back in, in terms of her match fitness and obviously play. I saw some good things out of Danny when we went to Portugal.”