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As Women's World Cup Rolls on, USWNT Eager to Start Its Title Defense

The U.S. women's national team and Thailand will be the final sides to begin play at the 2019 Women's World Cup, and on the eve of the match, coach Jill Ellis addressed fresh criticism from Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd's role on the team.

REIMS, France — The U.S. and Thailand will be the last two teams to make their 2019 Women's World Cup debuts when they meet here on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, FOX, Telemundo), and you could tell on Monday that U.S. star Alex Morgan has been ready to start for a while now.

“We’re feeling quite left out that we’re the last ones,” she joked at a loose pregame press conference with coach Jill Ellis (who for her part showed off some impressive French language skills).

The defending champion Americans didn’t appear to be overlooking Thailand—a wise call, considering 2011 champ Japan’s 0-0 tie against supposed also-ran Argentina on Monday—but the fact remains that the U.S. beat Thailand 9-0 in 2016 and could put up another eye-popping scoreline on Tuesday. The U.S. has drawn by far its easiest group ever at a Women’s World Cup, and the first two games against Thailand and Chile could get ugly before the group finale against Sweden.

You might be surprised to know that Thailand has a forward, Miranda Nild, who like Morgan went to college at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I just met her in the hallway, so it’s already friendly,” Morgan said on Monday. “I introduced myself to her. I was the proactive one, so I already have the edge on that. I’m really excited to see some fellow Cal Bears … For Miranda, it’s just such a great opportunity. She’s a player that’s shown really well with the Thai team.”


Here are some other notes from Monday:

• Ellis was asked about the prevalence of set-piece goals in the tournament so far and whether the U.S. hoped to add to that tally.

“Teams that are rich with aerial presence, it comes down to two things: The quality of serve and obviously the player receiving it,” she said. “The teams that do have quality in the air, obviously it becomes an advantage. I think it’s going to be a major part of this tournament, and already we’ve seen several goals from set pieces in some shape or form.

“It’s definitely a strength of ours, something we pay attention to on both sides of the ball … The addition of VAR lends itself to how set pieces can be influential. Especially with teams that man-to-man mark, it becomes more challenging to get hold of players than in the past.”

• A British writer asked Ellis for her response to former U.S. keeper Hope Solo’s remarks on the BBC that Ellis “cracked under pressure” and refused to show the team video of goals it had conceded in the Olympics.

“I mean, comments are comments,” Ellis said. “For me, personally, listen, I feel over the past five years I’ve made a lot of important decisions. I have processes to make those decisions. And at this point everything that we focus on is about this group of players that are here now. Pundits out there, that’s part of it, and part of the message [inside the U.S. team] is always to focus on the internal part of the game.”

• Ellis was also asked whether she considered it an issue that Abby Wambach said she accepted her role as a substitute in the 2015 Women's World Cup, while Carli Lloyd has said she doesn’t accept being a sub at this one.

“No, because I’ve known Carli for a long time, and that’s a special quality, believe it or not,” she said. “Whether Carli comes in off the bench or starts a game, she is a game-changer. What I know Carli will do is put the team first. And I love the belief that you want to be on the pitch and can make the difference. Every player has that. Part of when you talk about a team, you say, ‘Listen, if you’re an injured player, your goal is to be healthy. If you’re a player that’s on the bench, your goal is to be the starter.' That’s the kind of drive to help a team get across the line. I have no issue with that.”