FRISCO, Tex. — Megan Rapinoe has earned 143 caps for the U.S. women’s national team going back to 2006. She has played in two World Cup finals and won one of them. She knows what quality is, and what it isn’t, and she has never hesitated to be honest, even brutally so, about calling things as she sees them.
And so it’s worth paying attention to what Rapinoe had to say about the current status of the USWNT after it beat Jamaica 6-0 on Sunday to earn a berth in next summer’s World Cup.
“I think this team is sort of pound for pound more talented than any team I’ve been involved with on the national team—across the board, all the way through the positions,” Rapinoe said. “You could tell the younger players just had something different about them. It was just a matter of putting it all together. Obviously, we went through a lot of frustrating times when it wasn’t all together, and we’d get a little stuck on the field at times. But I feel like everyone is kind of in the same groove right now and on the same page for what we want to try and do.”
Jamaica wasn’t good on Sunday, but it wasn’t inept, either, and the U.S. built a 5-0 lead after 33 minutes thanks to some of the prettiest goals you’ll ever see, whether it was Abby Dahlkemper to Rapinoe, Crystal Dunn to Julie Ertz or Lindsey Horan to Tobin Heath. It’s worth noting that Dahlkemper, Dunn and Horan weren’t even involved in the U.S.’s World Cup triumph four years ago.
With eight months to go before the start of France 2019, things are coming together for coach Jill Ellis’s team.
“Just the variety in the players that are scoring goals,” Ellis said afterward. “You can’t shut down just one threat. We talk a lot about team goals. Our center backs penetrate, and our outside backs are getting high. It’s cohesive in terms of how we attack. Everybody’s involved. … Overall, our positioning, our ball movement, our tempo throughout the tournament has just been very good. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It’s really about challenging ourselves to get better every game.”
Has the U.S. defense been challenged in this tournament? No, it hasn’t. The U.S. outshot Jamaica 26-3 on Sunday after outshooting Trinidad and Tobago 59-0 in the previous game. But the U.S. defense did come through earlier in the year, as defender Becky Sauerbrunn pointed out on Sunday.
“I have confidence that we’ve had a really tough schedule this year,” she said. “We won SheBelieves, we won Tournament of Nations, and those were top-ranked teams and the defense did do well in a lot of those games. We were found out in a few, but then we quickly worked on those things to kind of shore things up. We don’t want to get too excited, but everyone’s putting in a shift defensively now. So it doesn’t look like the center backs have to do a lot because the people in front of us are working really hard to do their jobs.”
One of the hallmarks of modern soccer is having fullbacks who can bomb down the wings and create danger on the attacking end, and in Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara the U.S. certainly has that on both sides. Horan’s rise to MVP status in the NWSL has carried over to her national team performances. She’s a monster. And the more recent integration of a post-injury Rose Lavelle in this tournament has been a positive addition for a player who could become very special. As for the front three of Heath, Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, the combination can’t work much better than it is right now.
“We have a great pool of players, an amazing 25 to 28 players that Jill has brought in over the last year,” Morgan said. “Obviously, with this tournament it’s only 20 players, but we have 23 going to the World Cup. So I think the depth is incredible, and the younger players really showed a lot of experience, even though it’s only been a year or two for a lot of these players to get 10, 20, 30 caps. I’m really impressed with their calmness and composure throughout this tournament.”
Perhaps the only spot on the field where significant questions remain is at goalkeeper, but you can’t fault Alyssa Naeher for not being busy in this tournament. She should be tested a bit more against Canada on Wednesday, but the way things are going right now, not even Canada may present much of a challenge.
These days, the only team in the world that seems to give the U.S. much trouble is Australia. Maybe that will change in the next eight months before the World Cup. Maybe it won’t. But it’s time to entertain the idea, as Rapinoe has, that this team has a chance over the next year to become the greatest USWNT of all time.