Monday night the United States embarks on their first step in a journey that began four years ago following a penalty shootout loss to Japan. The USWNT has not lifted the World Cup trophy since 1999, but will look to do so for the first time in 16 years. Their quest for World Cup glory begins with the group stage, as they take on Australia, the 10th ranked team in the world. A win in their first match will be pivotal for the United States, as they seek to win Group D.
Player to Watch for the United States: Lauren Holiday
With Alex Morgan nursing a knee injury, one of the players who normally plays a reserve role will have to step up for the USWNT, and it looks like that player will be Lauren Holiday. Holiday is a pacey midfielder who excels at getting forward and creating attacking chances for her teammates. In the three tuneup friendlies leading up to the World Cup, Holiday was relegated to a holding midfield role, where she struggled massively to defend, especially against South Korea. Look for Holiday to get forward and be much more aggressive against Australia, as the thrill of playing her first World Cup match in 2015 will bring out the best in this fierce competitor. For the United States to control this game early, Holiday will be key, and her teammates will be looking for a huge game out of the midfielder.
Player to Watch for Australia: Caitlin Foord
The Matildas will look towards right winger Caitlin Foord as the focal point of their attack against the United States. Foord appeared for Australia in the 2011 World Cup at the tender age of 16 and impressed the world as she took home the Best Young Player of the Tournament. Now at 20, Foord is even hungrier for World Cup glory with Australia and can think of no better glory than beating the United States, currently ranked number two in the world. After losing in the quarterfinals 3-1 to Sweden in 2011, Foord and her Aussie teammates will no doubt look to not only make the knockout round in 2015, but make a serious push towards the final. Foord will be key down the right flank for the Matildas, as she demonstrates the ability to both defend and push the ball forward into the attacking third.
Prediction: 2-0 USA
Despite the early struggles of the United States in their tuneup friendlies, the USWNT will undoubtedly be ready to make a statement in their opening game of the World Cup. After watching Germany, the world number one, dismantle Ivory Coast 10-0 the day before, the American women will be ready to show they are here to win a trophy as well. In 24 all-time meetings between the American and Australian national teams, the United States is 22-0-2, and this matchup should be no different. Australia is an athletic, difficult side, but the technical skill of the American players, especially in the forward positions will ultimately overwhelm the Matildas. Look for the United States to get forward early, hoping to send a very pro-American crowd in Winnipeg into an absolute frenzy. If the Americans can control possession in midfield and allow their forwards to create chances, it’s going to be a very long day for Australia.
While I don’t expect a blowout win by any means, the United States has far too much talent to drop a key group game against a team like Australia. If the USWNT has any chance of winning Group D, they must beat Australia, and knowing that will likely propel them on to victory.