US women’s team to start World Cup title defense against Thailand

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The time has finally arrived for the United States women’s national soccer team to begin its World Cup title defense, seeking a fourth tournament trophy all-time.

Not a whole lot has changed since its epic victory over Japan in 2015, as the U.S. are favorites once again, with one of the most talented rosters in the tournament. And if someone were to think Tuesday’s group stage match against Thailand will be a cakewalk, their assessment wouldn’t be too far off.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off Friday in France with a dominant 4-0 performance from the host nation over South Korea. Six of the eight matches that have been played so far have tallied three or more goals, showing that these teams don’t have any interest in conservative play — a promising sign for the rest of the tournament.

A similar goal count is likely to be slanted in favor of the United States against Thailand, which is making only its second appearance at a World Cup. The United States has never dropped an opening match at a World Cup and is slated to keep that streak going against a severely inexperienced Thailand squad.

“This team is united in a way I’ve never seen before,” said U.S. star striker Alex Morgan in a press conference before the match. Morgan will hope to add to her spectacular 101 national team goals, with her role on this team being more important than it’s ever been.

The departures of legendary forward Abby Wambach and veteran goalkeeper Hope Solo mean that there are massive shoes to fill on this team, on and off the field. The question marks going into the tournament, however, have been diminished, as the Yanks are on a nine-match unbeaten run.

A huge contributor to that run, forward Tobin Heath, has emerged as the impact player for this team with her performances in the tournament’s lead-up. Her unmatched quickness and movement have brought her game to the next level. Heath’s performances throughout this tournament will, for better or for worse, heavily influence the U.S. team’s fate.

Thailand is one of the most successful teams in Southeast Asia, having won one AFC Asian Cup, four AFF Women’s Championship titles and five Southeast Asian Games gold medals. Comparatively, however, the talent pool in the region lacks far behind those of the North and South American regions.

Despite Thailand’s historical successes, this is the United States’ game to lose. Although the goals tell us which team wins or loses the match, it is imperative that the members of the U.S. team prioritize the way in which they go about their performance.

A sharp, fluid and aggressive style of play is what head coach Jill Ellis will hope her team employs when it steps on the field.

Kickoff is at noon PST on Tuesday. The game will be aired on Fox.

Spencer Golanka is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.