TAMPA — As the U.S. women’s national team prepares to the play the final match in the SheBelieves Cup tonight at Raymond James Stadium, players and coaches know there is plenty of work to do. The team comes into its game against Brazil with consecutive 2-2 ties against Japan and England.
That may not be bad for most clubs, but for the defending World Cup champions it’s certainly not the expectation. Throw in two other matches this year, a 3-1 loss to France and a 1-0 win over Spain in January, and the national team has been average at best.
“That’s not very good,’’ forward Megan Rapinoe said.“There are things happening that are not allowing us to get the results that we want. But the big picture is that we are still three months or so away from the World Cup. We have time to make those adjustments. There are lessons in every game. We have to learn them.’’
To be sure, the SheBelieves Cup is not the World Cup. With Japan and England playing at 5:15 p.m. prior to the U.S.-Brazil game at 8 p.m., the U.S. needs a lot of help in order to take home the Cup on Tuesday. But that’s not the ultimate goal. The goal is to not allow so many goals.
The National team had a stretch of nine straight matches where it didn’t allow a goal from August to November of last year. But after a two month break they have allowed seven goals in four matches. In the last two matches, the U.S. used a defensive line of Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson and Julie Ertz.
National team coach Jill Ellis said she doesn’t give out her lineup until game time. But she said this isn’t a panic situation. She doesn’t plan on making any drastic changes to her roster.
“It’s not about a specific player, it’s trusting the group we have,’’ Ellis said. “It’s really only their third or fourth game together. You want things to be perfect but I’d rather learn from it now and be perfect in June or July.’’
The U.S. still has a potent offense. Rapinoe and Tobin Heath each scored against England. Rapinoe and Alex Morgan had goals against Japan. Morgan has 99 career goals for the national team. Her next will be a milestone, but she’s not too concerned about that.
“This tournament is important to us,’’ Morgan said. “We should’ve picked up more points than we did. But there is still a possibility to win it. We just have to do our job.’’
After Tuesday night’s match, the team will take a month off and players will join their club teams. The next national team match will be April 4 against Australia in Colorado. The team will have five more tune up matches after this one before heading to France for the World Cup.
The team on the Raymond James field Tuesday will basically be the same one that takes on Thailand on June 11 to open the World Cup. The challenge will be can it shore up its defense and continue scoring goals.
“I like this group,’’ Ellis said. “I think we’re in a good place.’’
When/Where: Tonight, Raymond James Stadium.
Matches: Japan vs. England, 5:15 p.m.; United States vs. Brazil, 8 p.m.
Tickets: Price starts at $30, good for both matches. For information, go to www.ussoccer.com.
About the Cup: This is the fourth year of the SheBelieves Cup. It is a round robin tournament featuring four teams and is played at three different sites. The first matches were played in Chester, Pa., the second were in Nashville and this is the third round.
The United States tied both of its matches against Japan and England. Japan and England each have a win over Brazil. If there is a winner in the Japan vs. England game, then that team wins the Cup. If those teams tie, the United States can win the Cup if it beats Brazil by a certain amount of goals. That number would be determined by the score of the Japan/England tie.
Notes: This is the national team’s 30th appearance in Florida, second most behind California. This will be the fifth match played at Raymond James Stadium. The national team has won the four previous matches in Tampa, all by one goal. They defeated England 1-0 at Raymond James Stadium in the 2016 SheBelieves Cup…The U.S. is 5-1-2 all-time against Brazil.