TAMPA, Florida – The U.S. women’s national team’s performance at the 2019 SheBelieves Cup was less than ideal. Coach Jill Ellis’ side failed to record clean sheets in a pair of surprise 2-2 draws against Japan and England. It wasn’t until the final match of the tournament that the Americans recorded their first win at SheBelieves, 1-0 over Brazil.
While fans and media were puzzled by the miscues in the midfield — and the lack of organization in the back-line — the players themselves weren’t pleased with how the team performed in what is widely considered a major test ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris earned a clean sheet in the 1-0 win over Brazil. While she was happy to see her team bounce back with a big win, she was less than thrilled with the overall showing from the Americans at the SheBelieves Cup. Open and honest as usual, Harris still sees it as a necessary step toward repeating as World Cup champions.
“I don’t think we were good enough,” Harris said of the tournament, after the U.S. defeated Brazil. “I don’t think the performances we put out the last few games are going to win us a World Cup, but it’s no better time than now to fix those tweaks, and continue building. This tournament is going to make us a better team come France, and we needed that. If we keep playing, winning, and skating though things, we won’t be able to dig deep and learn. I think we really learned, this tournament, a lot of things about ourselves. We have to reflect on that, and we know we have to be better. Tonight, we did that, and it’s a turning point. I think we have to continue paying a lot of attention to detail. It is going to be tough, this tournament is going to be really tough, and we have to be ready for it, and we have to be ready for it mentally.”
Ellis has stated on several occasions that a healthy Alyssa Naeher is her No. 1 goalkeeper. Naeher was unable to play the last two games due to a minor shoulder injury suffered against Japan, so Adrianna Franch played against England and Harris played the finale against Brazil.
Still, Harris is a huge part of the team. It takes an entire squad from top to bottom to win a World Cup. A veteran goalie like Harris carries a lot of weight in that U.S. locker room. Harris acknowledges that there is a lot left to do in the five U.S. matches before the World Cup begins.
As for what exactly U.S. Soccer specifically needs to work on, Harris was mum.
“We gave up more goals than we wanted to, let’s say that,” Harris told The Equalizer postgame in Tampa. “The clean sheet tonight was very important for us. We knew we needed to be better defensively, and collectively, we were. They couldn’t break us down. They had a really difficult time breaking us down, and that’s a testament to the back four, the team as a whole, and we worked hard for that clean sheet. I’m proud of the team and we move forward. We learn from our mistakes, giving up goals, being out of position, and the small little details that will cost us, and we look to improve that.”
The U.S. did not play like the world’s No. 1 ranked team at the SheBelieves Cup. The end of the 2015 World Cup showed a U.S. side that turned up, bossed the match, and played with confidence and swagger. They’ll need that and then some to repeat in France.
“Absolutely, there is no doubt in my mind that this team has the confidence to accomplish anything,” Harris said. “I think the evolution of the game is growing, teams are better, and we’re getting tested a lot more, but that’s what we want. We don’t want it easy. We knew that this was going to be difficult. Going into this tournament, we’re playing hard teams for a reason. We don’t want easy games. We want to be tested; we want to learn from being exposed. We want to learn from giving up goals. The way we do that is playing against really hard teams, and that’s what people are seeing. A lot of other teams aren’t having the schedule leading up to the World Cup because they are fearful. We’re not fearful, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
The 33-year-old Harris has 20 caps with her country. It’s never easy for an athlete to come in off the bench. We saw how Franch struggled with a costly in her first senior team cap. In Harris, the Americans have a capable and reliable keeper. Should Ellis need to call on Harris, she knows that she can count on her.
“Having those minutes, and building that chemistry was important,” Ellis said. “We were a bit leggy at the end. That’s where you need your goalkeeper to make saves. For Ashlyn to come up big, I think she would agree it’s expected. It’s obviously a massive boost to have someone back there when you’re under the gun a little bit in terms of defending to be able to pull off those big saves. I’m really proud of her.”