The U.S. defeated Chile on Sunday behind the strength of several reserve players, showing their roster’s strength from top to bottom
Alex Morgan tied a World Cup record by scoring five goals in the United States’ 13-0 tournament-opening win over Thailand.
In the team’s second game, Morgan didn’t play a single minute. And she was fine with it.
For head coach Jill Ellis, heavy squad rotation at this World Cup was all part of her grand plan. Against Chile, it worked.
“It’s been this big-picture plan for a few months now,” Ellis said after her team defeated Chile 3-0 in Paris, a game in which she made seven changes to her team from the Thailand match and still got the result needed to send the U.S. into the World Cup last 16.
In addition to Morgan, the other two members of the USWNT’s deadly front trio, Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe, were also rested. So were starting midfielder Rose Lavelle and first-choice full-backs Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn.
Of course, Ellis’s plan was made possible by the deep bench full of world-class talent she has to call upon. When she started her reserves, it wasn’t as if she made Chile the favorite. Far from it.
“The bench that we have is ridiculous,” Rapinoe said, “It’s by far the deepest that we’ve ever had.”
Indeed, if the U.S. were to field a second-choice team at this World Cup, it would likely be a contender to lift the crown. What other country can bring the likes of two-time world player of the year Carli Lloyd – who scored twice against Chile – off the bench?
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“We knew going into this that it takes all 23 players,” Lloyd said. “It takes the entire roster to ultimately lift this trophy.”
Remarkably, the U.S. has now used almost that entire roster in the first two games of the tournament. All 20 field players have seen the field, with only the team’s two backup goalkeepers yet to play.
“This team has incredible depth and when [Ellis] chooses who goes on during a game and who starts, there’s no explanation needed,” Morgan said. “We trust in her and it was pretty incredible we were able to get all [20 field] players on the pitch in the first two games.”
Morgan didn’t seem perturbed at all about being benched right after her incredible five-goal performance. It was a testament to how the entire team has bought into Ellis’s philosophy.
Rather than ride the hot hand, Ellis’s thinking goes, the U.S. wants to create as many hot hands as possible by giving every player a chance at minutes.
“Every single one of them has got butterflies out of the way,” Ellis said.
“They know that trust is there and that’s a huge part for a coach to show that trust in terms of playing players in the biggest stage of their careers.”
Naturally, not every coach has the same luxury as Ellis. Most teams at the World Cup must select their top-choice lineup every game.
But the U.S. is different.
“We know how deep we are, we know how competitive it is in training, how hard it is to get a spot on the field,” Christen Press said.
Press joined Lloyd and Mallory Pugh in a remade front three that caused Chile plenty of problems and would have generated several more goals were it not for the heroics of Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler.
That attacking trio might all return to the bench against Sweden in the team’s group-stage finale on Thursday. But Ellis has now given them all a start in the World Cup, and knows she’ll be able to call upon them and all their teammates should they be needed.
“We need them in a good place,” Ellis said. “And if they can have minutes and the butterflies are kind of out of the way, I think it helps us down the line.”