USA-South Africa: Three keys for U.S. women at start of send-off series

The USA begins the final phase of its preparations for the 2019 Women's World Cup when it faces South Africa Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

The reigning world champions play three over the next two weeks before heading to France, where they will play their first game on June 11 against Thailand.

Here are three keys Coach Jill Ellis will be focusing on ...

1. Get O'Hara back up to speed. The big unknown that impacted Ellis' construction of the U.S. roster for the Women's World Cup was Kelley O'Hara's fitness. The first-choice right back played just three U.S. games in 2019 as she has struggled after ankle surgery last October following Concacaf qualifying.

She played in two NWSL games for the Utah Royals before heading to national team camp, but she is still working on getting back to full fitness and being able to go 90 minutes. The matches against South Africa, New Zealand on Thursday and Mexico in two weeks will be about getting ready for France.

2. Keep midfield trio intact. The USA dominated Concacaf qualifying with a midfield trio of Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle, but they've rarely played together in 2019, starting as a midfield trio just twice -- against Spain in January and Australia in April -- and playing only one half before one of them was subbed off.

At their best, Ertz and Horan are two of the best central midfielders in the world, and they are probably the two most irreplaceable players in the U.S. lineup. Eight of the 10 goals the USA has allowed in its first seven games -- it only allowed nine goals in 20 games in 2018 -- came with either Ertz or Horan out of the lineup.

3. Spread out the minutes. In the buildup to the South Africa game, players talked about how the attention has turned from making the team to building its cohesion.

There isn't currently much of a doubt about who will be starting, so Ellis will have to balance getting the starters time together and as many other players some minutes to feel apart of the team. With only three games and only six subs allowed per game, that won't be easy.

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorn; 1/0), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride; 21/0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 43/0)
DEFENDERS (7): Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 37/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 19/1); Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 82/24), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride; 99/1), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals; 155/0), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns; 31/0)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars; 82/6), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 79/18), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns; 66/8), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit; 24/6), Allie Long (Reign FC; 42/6), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage; 47/9)
FORWARDS (7): Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns; 147/28); Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 271/107), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage; 7/2), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 160/101), Christen Press (Utah Royals; 113/47), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit; 50/15), Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC; 150/44)
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