So you didn’t cultivate a good pool of fullbacks or consider changing your playing style to suit the back line you do have, and now you’re recalling someone you didn’t cap for two years until bringing her back in for the last handful of friendlies before the World Cup.
That’s right: after seemingly falling out of favor and being dropped from the USWNT (two caps shy of 100 until this year!), Jill Ellis has brought Ali Krieger back into the fold. Not only that, but named her to the 2019 Women’s World Cup roster. Talk about a reversal of fortune.
But the fact of the matter is, Ellis having to go back to a well that seemed to have been closed off isn’t just admitting she was wrong, it’s admitting she mismanaged the fullback pool badly enough along the way to necessitate this recall. Ellis had two years to work with Casey Short, Taylor Smith, and Sofia Huerta, among others, as well as observe the NWSL fullback pool. And what did she do? Somehow Smith regressed under Ellis and seems to have had some kind of crisis of confidence, Huerta wasn’t converted properly to a fullback nor given the attention she needed to do so despite giving up representing Mexico to play for the US, and Short is out despite having excellent lockdown ability (see her battles with Tobin Heath during Chicago and Portland’s 4-4 slugfest), a decent engine, and 90-minute fitness. I would go so far as to say that of all the RB options, Short is probably the best defensively out of all of them, and yet here we are.
So what does that leave for fullback options before Krieger? Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn seem like obvious starters, as much as it sucks to think that Dunn, so dynamic in her midfield role for the Courage, will get pinned back into her secondary role on the biggest possible stage. There’s also Ellis’ more recent solution of pushing center backs wide, like Emily Sonnett and Tierna Davidson, while also relying (theoretically) on a high press from her front six in a 4-3-3 keeping the ball away from the goal. And there have been some flavor options like Emily Fox, getting some seasoning on players but not seriously preparing them to step into the senior squad full time. But pushing center backs to the wings is suboptimal and Kelley O’Hara is still not 90 minutes fit.
So that leaves Ellis returning to the right back she spurned in 2017, bringing back someone who has a proven record of performance from a previous World Cup and who brings a measure of experience and steadiness at the most high-pressure time possible. You could do worse than Ali Krieger as a sub, someone to help you see out the last 15 or 30 minutes of a game strong, and to provide some veteran leadership in camp. On a conference call with media after the official roster announcement, Ellis confirmed that she gave strong consideration to players who already had World Cup experience. Of Krieger in particular, Ellis said, “No moment is ever going to be too big for her.” And that’s a fair assessment.
But the fact of the matter is, Jill Ellis thought she was done with Krieger, and then did who-knows-what for two years to replace her, and then had to call her back. Hopefully the satisfaction of getting that World Cup phone call was enough to make up for freezing Krieger out for years, denying her the financial benefits of USSF allocation and roster and match bonuses, and leaving her on read two caps shy of 100 until the writing was on the wall and Krieger finally returned for in the last US friendly in April against Belgium, and now, the World Cup. Hopefully.