The competitive edge is off this next round of Victory Tour matches for the United States women's national soccer team, but at least the show will go on. When Carli Lloyd and rest of the 2015 Women's World Cup roster take the field Thursday night, instead of facing the world's No. 9-ranked team in Australia, the U.S. will square off against Haiti (live, FS1, FOX Sports Go, 7 p.m. ET).
The Matildas abruptly withdrew from the back-to-back series last week due to a strike for better compensation against the Australian soccer federation. And while this U.S. tour is primarily a way to celebrate the U.S. team's first World Cup win since 1999, Australia would have proved a stiff test for the U.S. women's national soccer team. The match would have meant a pretty exciting show for the thousands who've bought tickets here and for Sunday's match in Birmingham, Alabama.
"We are sincerely appreciative to Haiti for organizing their team to come for these two matches and they will enjoy the environments in Detroit and Birmingham," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.
Haiti is ranked No. 63 in the FIFA World Rankings, but after losing Australia last week, U.S. Soccer officials scrambled to find a replacement from CONCACAF nations.
"For us, it's another opportunity to get the group together, stay connected and focus on our performance as we continue to prepare for Olympic qualifying. Many of the players have had a short break since the end of the NWSL season and others will be coming out of the semifinals, so we'll take that all into account. We're looking forward to putting on entertaining matches for our fans to continue to celebrate the success this summer,'' Ellis said.
While a quality opponent isn't on deck, the U.S. women may actually be breathing a sigh of relief. Ellis will eventually use these Victory Tour friendlies to prepare for Olympic qualifying in February, but with many of the players involved in the National Women's Soccer League playoffs, Ellis actually must factor in fatigue and travel for top players.
Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo, key players for the Seattle Reign, and Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday and Heather O'Reilly, stars for KCFC, will play in the NWSL title match on Oct. 1 in Portland. The NWSL finalists are coming off the Sept. 13 semifinals, in which Seattle downed the Washington Spirit and Kansas City defeated Chicago. That means a slew of U.S. players have been playing pretty much non-stop for a year, including the grueling month-long World Cup tournament in Canada this past June.
What fans can look forward to seeing during this series against Haiti is the call-up of NWSL star Crystal Dunn. The former Norh Carolina Tar Heel tore up the NWSL league this season after Ellis denied the versatile star a spot on the 23-woman World Cup roster. Dunn has already won the Golden Boot for her stellar play this season in league play, and now looks to be an undeniable threat for a U.S. roster that will undergo some big changes over the coming months.
While Abby Wambach has yet to decide her career future, Holiday, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx will call it quits after this year. And while Lloyd's shift to an attacking midfield role was key the U.S. World Cup win, the lack of scoring by the U.S. for much of the past year would sure seem to indicate that the side could use an injection of talent and energy on the attack. Dunn, a defender most of her career, has evolved into a dangerous threat on the counter-attack, and was used by the Washington coaching staff to propel that NWSL team to No. 4 in the standings this year.
But no matter what official or unofficial business the U.S. team or coaching staff is looking to accomplish with this next round of friendlies, the matches in Detroit and Birmingham will pick up on the enthusiasm level shown in the first round of Victory Tour friendlies last month in Pittsburgh and Chattanooga. The U.S. team has been generous with its adoring fans, and are using this tour to not only thank people for the World Cup support, but to help build on the success of the World Cup attendance and TV ratings.
The U.S. women will look toward October for more competitive matches against Brazil, the opponent for the matches Oct. 21 in Seattle and Oct. 25 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
The CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will take place Feb. 10 through 21 in Dallas and Houston. Between now and then, some significant roster moves could take place, since the 23-person World Cup roster will be pared down to the 18-person Olympic roster.
For now, however, there will be some fun and games against Haiti.