The United States Women’s National Team kick off their 2019 SheBelieves Cup campaign against Japan in the Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania on Wednesday (7PM ET, live on FS1).
The fourth running of the annual, four-team tournament provides the USWNT with the ideal opportunity to gauge their level just a few months removed from this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France with three matches against fellow top-10 ranked teams.
The three previous editions of the SheBelieves Cup have featured England, France and Germany, but this year, France and Germany are not involved. Brazil and Japan have taken their places, marginally reducing the competitiveness of a competition that would otherwise have featured the top four teams in the world.
It is nevertheless a strong enough field to draw some solid conclusions as to the USWNT’s prospects of defending their World Cup crown this summer. After patchy results in 2017, including ceding the SheBelieves Cup to France, they went undefeated through 2018. Their tournament tally included winning the SheBelieves Cup, the Tournament of Nations and the CONCACAF Women’s Championship. Defeat to France last month in Le Havre did raise some doubts.
It is worth qualifying the circumstances of that defeat a little bit. The US Women were missing two of their regular starters in attack in Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, as well as Julie Ertz, Casey Short and Kelley O’Hara. While their entirely domestic-based squad were in the midst of the NWSL off-season, France’s were game-ready. A few days later, a team now featuring Ertz, Heath and Rapinoe downed Spain 1-0 in Alicante.
With all that said, the ease with which France were able to force turnovers in midfield and move forward quickly into dangerous attacking positions was still concerning, particularly as that was a relative weakness for the team even during last year’s long unbeaten run. Against stronger opposition, it feels as if the US are reliant on their highly potent attack, headed by Alex Morgan, to both cower opponents and marginalize their defensive issues in transition.
That is one of the key things still to refine for the team who top both the FIFA rankings and the best American bookmakers’ list of favorites to lift the World Cup. With a full-strength squad that is unlikely to vary much from the one that will take the field this summer, the US will aim to build confidence and cohesion by winning the SheBelieves Cup for a third time.
Their first opponents are Japan, the side they have met in each of the last two World Cup finals. In 2011, Japan won their first title by defeating the United States on penalties. In 2015, the US raced into an early four-goal lead and eventually emerged as 5-2 victors.
Things haven’t gone particularly well for Japan in the four years since that latter final. While they remain eighth in the FIFA rankings, their win over Australia in the final of last year’s Asian Cup was one of only two in that time against teams currently ranked inside the top 10. Overall, their record in such fixtures reads: two wins, three draws and 12 defeats.
They do have some quality. Saki Kumagai is a regular on the Lyon team who have won each of the last three UEFA Women’s Champions League titles. Rumi Utsugi is a familiar face to NWSL fans, having played for the Seattle Reign since 2016. Emi Nakajima and Kumi Yokoyama are both attacking threats. The fact that nine of their 23-women squad for this tournament are previously uncapped indicates they are a team still scrabbling for solutions.
Our Preview’s United States Women vs Japan Women Predictions & Picks Verdict
Japan are a side who the USWNT will be fairly confident of seeing off on Wednesday, a fact reflected in the sportsbooks’ betting odds where they are heavy favorites. The US have won 4-2 and 3-0 in their meetings in the last two Tournaments of Nations, and won four and drawn one of their last five encounters. They have the offensive power to overcome a relatively inexperienced Japan side in what could well be a high-scoring game.
- Our pick would be to be on over 3.5 goals in the game, which should be around +120 when the bookies publish their odds on this matchup.