USA-New Zealand Preview: Three things to look for from U.S. women

The USA plays the second game of its three-game send-off series on Thursday when it hosts New Zealand at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

It is coming off a 3-0 win over South Africa in which it struggled to break down the Banyana Banyana defense in the first half and only pulled away in the last quarter of an hour.

Here are three things to look for in the match against the Football Ferns that could draw a crowd approaching 40,000, the largest since the 2015 Victory Tour ...

Consistency is the key. Coach Jill Ellis wasn't too disappointed in the U.S. performance against South Africa. To the contrary, she says the team learned a lot from having to try to break down a determined opponent.

"I don't think it's fatigue, I don't think it's training," Ellis said after Sunday's game. "We got so many good takeaways from this game, it was fantastic. Sometimes you just have to get into a game. The World Cup games, they don't always start perfectly. Sometimes several games don't start perfectly."

She said the key was the USA got better as the game went on.

"It's the ability of a team to get better in a game and grow in a game," Ellis added. "You start flying and you fade so I think we've just got to be the team that's got to be consistent in what we do. Sometimes, you play teams that present slightly different things, it does take a little bit of an adjustment. I thought the quality obviously got better."

Expanded role for Mewis? Starting in place of the injured Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis scored the first two goals against South Africa to give her 11 goals in 49 international matches.

Ellis and Mewis go way back. Ellis recruited Mewis to attend UCLA though she left to take a job in player development at U.S. Soccer in 2011 before Mewis' freshman season. Ellis did have her on the team she took to the 2010 Under-20 Women's World Cup in Germany.

"Sammy's confidence just grows and grows and grows with match play and the experience that she gets out there," Ellis said. "She's a dynamic player than can impact a game. When you go to a World Cup, your midfield, you need to have players that can score goals from distance, that can get in the box, that can obviously play make. There's versatility to Sam."

More juggling. Ellis wanted to see as many players as possible against South Africa, making three changes at halftime and two more in the 60th minute. She also moved Julie Ertz from central midfield to center back to start the second half and moved Crystal Dunn around, first from left back to right back and then into midfield. Those two moves show she is thinking seriously of moving them around at the World Cup.

The Ertz move in particular suggests that Ellis remains worried about the backline, which leaked goals earlier in the year -- 10 goals allowed in its first six games vs. nine in all of 2018 (20 games).

Dunn is the only player who has started all eight games in 2019 -- seven at left back after opening in midfield against France in the 3-1 loss in Le Havre. Ellis' right choice at right back if something happens to Kelley O'Hara could be Dunn over Emily Sonnett or Ali Krieger with Tierna Davidson moving into Dunn's spot at left beck.
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