Tierna Davidson put on a clinic in Paris on Sunday.
Davidson made her FIFA Women's World Cup debut against Chile, in a match which featured a slate of players who didn't get much on-pitch action against Thailand. The young defender was one of seven changes made to the starting lineup by Jill Ellis, leading to some called it the USWNT's 'second-string team'. However, Davidson's performance didn't look second-string.
The 20-year-old from Menlo Park, California, recorded two assists in her debut. Both of her assists came on corner kicks – her first finding Carli Lloyd (who she said after the match 'just tells me to put it on her head') and her second being met by Julie Ertz at the near post.
Davidson went the full 90 minutes in the United States' 3-0 victory over Chile, which saw them clinch their spot in the round of 16 ahead of Thursday's group-clincher against Sweden. However, it's unlikely that she will start.
Why? Let's take a look.
Davidson Featured at LB, Which is Crystal Dunn's Spot
In a perfect world, Crystal Dunn would be in the attack and Tierna Davidson would be starting at left-back – but for some reason, Ellis feels the need to keep Dunn in that role. Meanwhile, Dunn features as a winger/striker for the North Carolina Courage — a role she excels in.
However, during the USWNT's experiment period, Ellis put Dunn at left-back and has stuck to that decision in the 12-18 months since. Her talents, truly, are being wasted at left back. While she has shown to be intense and physical, she's a much better fit for the attack – lacking the height to excel in defence, and with her first move always forward rather than back. She missed out in 2015, but is Ellis' starting left-back in France.
However, Davidson is a tall 5'10 presence and a natural left-back. She's even featured in the role for the Chicago Red Stars this season, where she was drafted back in January. On a balmy Sunday evening in Paris, she kept young Chilean strikers like Daniela Zamora, María Urrutia and Rosario Balmaceda at bay throughout the entire match.
Her delivery on the two goals she assisted was near perfection. Davidson looked a lot more like a long-time World Cup veteran than a young, 20-year-old rookie.
The Other Option? Centre-Back
Davidson has featured at centre-back before, pairing up and learning with Becky Sauerbrunn. However, it seems like Sauerbrunn's partner for the tournament is solidified, with Abby Dahlkemper penned into the second spot at the heart of the back four.
Dahlkemper started against Thailand and was one of just three outfield players who kept their spots into the win over Chile. Although she wasn't tested too much, Dunn's North Carolina Courage teammate held up well alongside Sauerbrunn, denying the young Chilean forwards space to move into.
There's no way that Davidson would start over Sauerbrunn, and it doesn't seem like Dahlkemper is letting go of her spot over the next few weeks, barring something surprising. However, Sauerbrunn isn't getting any younger. She'll likely be at the Olympics next year — should the USWNT qualify — but after that her future is unknown. Dahlkemper and Davidson could very well be the future.
Should Davidson Start?
The simple answer is yes.
However, she won't. That's on Ellis. The biggest problem facing the US Women's National Team is the abundance of depth – for a coach, a great problem to have. Should anyone get hurt throughout this tournament or accumulate too many yellow cards, Ellis has options to go to all over the pitch.
It's amazing to think that the seven players who came in against Chila are considered second-choice players, especially with talents like Davidson, Mallory Pugh and Christen Press. Oh! And Carli Lloyd. Heard of her?
However, with depth like the United States has, it's hard to get everyone in. Also, add in the limitation of only three substitutes per game, and it's nearly impossible to make national team fans happy with player selection. What helps with that, surprise surprise, is winning.
If the United States wants to beat a tough Swedish team, they'll need all the help they can get on set pieces – and Davidson has shown that she's the player that can perform, despite the pressures of the big stage. All that being said, Chile didn't (and couldn't) pressure the United States the way Sweden will.
Dunn will likely get the start, but don't be surprised to see Davidson enter the match, especially if the match is still scoreless as the second half drags on.