Backdrop. In 2015, the USA opened the Women's World Cup with a group that included Australia, Sweden and Nigeria, which between them had played in 20 of the 21
previous tournamens, and it wasn't until the fifth game in Canada that the starting lineup took shape that took the USA to its third world championship.
On Tuesday, it opens play at the 2019 Women's World Cup with the easiest draw it has ever been given: Thailand, which is playing in only its second World Cup and enters the World Cup with 11 losses in its last 12 games, and Chile, which has never played in the Women's World Cup, before closing out play in Group F against Sweden.
“I respect every team over here because I think sometimes it’s incredibly hard to get here," said U.S. coach Jill Ellis on Monday. "So the fact that they’re here, they’re competing, and they’re ready, we know we have to be at our very best. That’s the challenge for us, making sure we identify our opponent, but also make sure we focus on ourselves and make sure all our tools are sharpened and ready to go.”
U.S. lineup. In contrast to 2015, Ellis takes a set lineup into the 2019 opener -- the same lineup that won the Concacaf qualifying tournament last fall.
Goalkeeper: 1 Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 46/0)
Defenders: 5 Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals; 118/2)
-- 4 Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage; 40/0)
-- 7 Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals; 158/0)
-- 19 Crystal Dunn (NC Courage; 85/24)
Midfielders: 8 Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 82/18)
-- 9 Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns; 68/8)
-- 16 Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit; 27/7)
Forwards: 17 Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns; 150/30)
-- 13 Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 163/101)
-- 15 Megan Rapinoe (Reign FC; 153/44)
Note: In parentheses are caps and goals.
In the Send-Off Series, the only concern was Horan's status. She skipped the SheBelieves Cup with a quad injury, and then started just one of the three matches in May. O'Hara dealt with ongoing issues this spring following ankle surgery last fall but started all three games in May.
Thailand. Thailand qualified for its second straight World Cup by finishing fourth in the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup. Taking Australia -- one of the World Cup top six seeds -- to a shootout in the Asian Cup suggests the Thais are competitive in Asia.
Since qualifying, Thailand lost all three games at the Asian Games and Yongchuan International Tournament, won only one of four games in the Cyprus Cup in late winter and then lost to France (3-0) and Belgium (6-1) after getting to Europe in May. By comparison, the USA beat Belgium, 6-0, in April.
U.S. Connection: American Suchawadee Nildhamrong (Miranda Nild) was the leading scorer in 2018 at the University of California. American Tiffany Sornpao is the starting goalkeeper at Kennesaw State.
Venue. The Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims -- the center of France's Champagne wine-growing region -- is smallest of the three stadiums in which the USA will play -- 21,127-seat capacity -- and is sold out like the Parc des Princes (47,929 seats) in Paris for USA-Chile on Sunday and Le Havre's Stade Oceane (25,181 seats) for USA-Sweden on June 20. The was first opened in 1935 and was a venue for the 1938 World Cup. It was most recently renovated at a cost of $70 million in 2008.
Photos: France LOC.