The United States are the defending champions going into the 2019 World Cup, having defeated Japan in the 2015 final in Vancouver. They kick off their campaign in France against the lowest ranked Asian side in the competition, Thailand, and will be expected to win comfortably.
The United States women’s national team are one of the country’s most successful sporting exports. While many of the big US sporting events and successes take place within the confines of national sports such as gridiron and baseball, this soccer team have dominated an international game, winning three World Cups and never finishing a tournament lower than third place.
They are a team of stars, the pride of the USA, but winning back to back World Cups won’t be easy and despite their dominance it’s something they are yet to do.
Thailand will be hoping to provide tougher opposition than they did last time the two teams met. A friendly in Columbus back in 2016 saw them on the wrong end of a 9-0 thrashing, during which Carli Lloyd bagged a hat-trick and Alex Morgan a brace off the bench. The pair are in United States’ World Cup squad this summer, and Lloyd will be looking to this tournament to extend her impressive goal tally.
She is fourth on the all-time US goal scorers list with 110, but still 20 behind Kristine Lilly, and could see the Thailand game as an opportunity to rack up more goals.
It’s a Thailand side who are participating in their second consecutive World Cup, having qualified for the tournament in Canada four years ago. They only won one game there — 3-2 against Ivory Coast with Orathai Srimanee scoring twice.
They qualified for their second tournament in a row via the Asian Cup, during which they pushed the team ranked sixth in the world — Australia — to a penalty shootout in the semi-final.
Though they lost to China in the third place match, they had already done enough to book their place in France by defeating Philippines and Jordan during the group stage.
US-Born — Thailand International(s)
Kanjana Sungngoen finished with four goals in qualifying, putting her joint second in the scoring charts, but perhaps the most interesting story going into this game is that of Suchawadee Nildhamrong, who might be better known to fans of women’s college soccer in the United States as Miranda Nild.
Nild is one of the World Cup newcomers in the Thailand squad, having not participated in the 2015 tournament, and she qualifies for the country through her Thai-born father who moved to America aged ten.
Nild herself was born and raised in California, making her name as a forward with the Berkley based college side California Golden Bears. She was named offensive MVP in her junior season, scoring seven goals in 17 appearances.
She received her first Thailand call-up in April 2017 and went on to help the Chaba Kaew qualify for the aforementioned Asian Cup, finding the net in a 6-0 victory against Palestine, and scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win against Chinese Taipei.
She will now come up against the country of her birth, and is looking forward to competing against the favourites.
“It will be cool for sure to look across at the American players and realise that now we are on the same stage for that opening match,” Nild told the Equaliser, who also revealed that while in college she modelled her game on Liverpool’s Brazilian forward, Roberto Firmino.
“This will be our second World Cup and the same as last time, we have the defending champion in our group, but we’re not focusing on that because our aim is to reach the next round.”
Nild is not the only one in this situation. Back-up goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao, also known as Darunee Chantrak, was born in Georgia and played college soccer for the Kennesaw State Owls.
Better Shape Up
Under head coach Jill Ellis the United States are likely to field a 4-3-3 formation, and though there are a number of star names in this lineup including the aforementioned Lloyd and Morgan, as well as Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Lindsey Horan to name just a few, midfield marauder Julie Ertz could be key to actually winning the thing or, as is important in tournament football, not losing.
With that in mind the US will also have to stay switched on in defence, and that especially applies to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Thailand on the other hand are likely to prioritise damage limitation, and are likely to line up in a 4-5-1 formation, looking to hit their opponents on the break. With the attacking talent in the US lineup, Thailand can’t really be blamed for approaching the game in this fashion, but they will also have an eye on their own attack and the US will need to concentrate throughout the team, throughout the game.
Though the pre-match predictions, perhaps including this preview, will have this down as a one-sided game with the United States looking to outdo France’s 4-0 win against Korea Republic, it will still be interesting to see what Thailand can bring to the table. The East Asian side aren’t the worst team in the tournament, but the problem for them is that their first opponents are one of the best.