By Celia Balf
The final leg of the 2018 SheBelieves Cup kicks off on Wednesday in Orlando, Florida when France and Germany meet first (4 p.m. ET, ESPN3) followed by the grand finale and winner takes-all title match between the U.S. women’s national team and England (7 p.m. ET, ESPNews.)
The SheBelieves Cup has wrapped up in Columbus, Ohio and Harrison, N.J., which only leaves one more stop in the third-annual tournament, Orlando City Stadium home of the NWSL’s Orlando Pride and MLS’s Orlando City SC. Germany (0-1-1) and France (0-1-1) each have one point, while the U.S. (1-0-1) and England (1-0-1) each have four points. England holds the advantage in goals (plus three to plus one), which means just a tie against the United States could award new head coach Phil Neville’s side the 2018 SheBelieves Cup trophy.
On Sunday, the United States played France to a 1-1 result with a goal from Washington Spirit forward Mallory Pugh in the 35th minute. Just minutes later, Olympique Lyon forward Eugénie Le Sommer leveled the score in the 38th minute. Although the result was far from what the United States could be pleased with, a win on Wednesday would still regain the trophy after last year’s disappointing fourth place finish in the tournament.
Ellis has gone with almost the same starting lineup against France as she did against Germany on March 1, with the only changes being Olympique Lyon midfielder Morgan Brian in for Sky Blue FC forward Carli Lloyd and Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan in for Chicago Red Stars midfielder Julie Ertz. The small changes to the lineup are a different tactic from last year’s SheBelieves Cup where Ellis made seven changes from the starting 11 after the Germany game for the England match.
Ertz started at defensive midfield against Germany, however sat out the entire France due to a few minor knocks.
“This is the group that we want to move forward with,” Ellis said in the post-game press conference on Sunday. “Now it’s getting better at what we do and there is no better test than playing these teams.”
Last year the United States fell 1-0 to England after Birmingham City forward Ellen White found the back of the net in the 89th minute. This year, the United States will once again have to find a way to stop White, who has scored twice in this year’s tournament and has 71 caps and 26 goals to date.
The two sides have met 14 times in history, with the United States holding the 9-4-1 all-time advantage. Neville, after just being named head coach in January of this year, has the chance to lead his team to their first SheBelieves Cup title and make an impressive coaching debut at that.
“I can feel the confidence and belief building in our team,” Neville said after England’s 2-2 draw against Germany. “Obviously Jill on the other side has got a fantastic team. But there is a trophy to be played for here and it’s a trophy we’ve never won.”
For North Carolina Courage forward Crystal Dunn, this match against England will feel like a particular special reunion after she spent the past year overseas with Chelsea FC.
“I spent a good year over there, [they are] some of my best buds now, I know they are going to give us a good game,” Dunn said post-game. “I’ll tell them to ease up a bit,” Dunn laughs,“But, no it’ll be a great match.” England has five players from Chelsea FC on its SheBelieves Cup roster (goalkeeper Carly Telford, defender Anita Asante, defender Millie Bright, defender Hannah Blundell and forward Fran Kirby.) The roster also features two current NWSL players, Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly and Seattle Reign forward Jodie Taylor.
Daly earned her first few minutes of the tournament against Germany when she came in for Manchester City forward Mel Lawley in the 84th minute. This is Daly’s second time representing England at the SheBelieves Cup. Taylor started in England’s opening match against England and scored to make it 3-0 in the 39th minute, her 16th goal for England.
Dunn was called on by Ellis in the 76th minute on Sunday after Chicago Red Stars defender Casey Short went down with an ankle injury. U.S. Soccer says Short is day-to-day for the England match. This was Dunn’s first appearance for the United States in this year’s tournament and Ellis was confident to call on her to step in. Dunn was subbed in for Pugh in the 73rd minute before shifting back to fill in for Short in the left back role. “Crystal came in match fit, and ready to go,” Ellis said after the game.