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3 tough lineup choices the United States women face against Germany

Jill Ellis has some hard decisions to make ahead of the USWNT's World Cup semifinal match.

The United States made three big changes to their lineup in the Women's World Cup quarterfinal against China -- two forced, one not -- and now Jill Ellis has some serious selection dilemmas on her hands. All three of the new players that were introduced in that game brought something new to the table, and the Americans put together their best performance in the tournament.

Now, Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe are back from suspension. Abby Wambach and Christen Press have had a game off, and should be fresh for the last two. The USWNT lineup does not pick itself against Germany, with Ellis facing three tough decisions. Here's what she has to think about as she makes them.

1. Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd vs. Morgan Brian

Based on Brian's performance against China and how much she contributed to the team's success as a whole, it would be crazy to bench her. But she's also just 22 years old and playing in her first major tournament. While China are a good team, Germany are the best in the world. She might not be ready for the step up in competition.

Then again, what have Holiday and Lloyd done as a pair to show they should be kept together? They got torched on the counter in two of the three games that they played as a unit, and only an incompetent coaching job from Pia Sundhage saved them from having the same happen against Sweden. They also didn't do enough going forward to compensate for their lack of defense.

With Brian in as a holding midfielder against China, the U.S. actually had a defensive presence that could win the ball back and slow down their opponent's counters. She also made better passing decisions than either of her more veteran teammates have in this tournament. And with her holding, Lloyd felt more comfortable getting forward, resulting in her scoring the winner.

But China are also a team that has their midfielders sit deep and counters almost exclusively down the flanks. Even if the U.S. lost, Brian was going to be made to look good by a team that sets up like China does. She might play the exact same way against Germany, but look awful if Anja Mittag is on her game.

Ultimately, that's a risk the USWNT has to take. Brian's inexperience might cost them, but the complete absence of defensive anything offered by the Holiday-Lloyd pairing definitely will.

Ellis won't bench Lloyd, but for pure matchup purposes, the best pairing might be Brian and Holiday. While Lloyd's turnovers don't hurt that much against Colombia or China, they're likely to lead to goals on the other end against a quality side like Germany. Her late runs into the box and goal-scoring prowess might be even more pronounced if she comes off the bench with fresh legs as well.

2. Tobin Heath vs. the rest of the wingers

Fans were a bit annoyed when forwards Press and Brian got starts out wide ahead of Heath, a true winger, but she hasn't been great in the opportunities she's gotten. Rapinoe is a lock to slot back into the starting lineup, so the right wing spot is up for grabs, and there's probably someone who deserves a chance more than Heath.

Kelley O'Hara performed well against China -- better than Heath, at least -- but probably not well enough that she's locked into her position. Press and Heather O'Reilly will get some consideration as well. And Ellis might remedy dilemma No. 1 by starting all three of Lloyd, Holiday and Brian, moving one of the latter two out to the right wing. This position is a total toss-up.

Ellis' decision should probably come down to what she's looking for. If she wants someone to help in midfield and aid in keeping the ball, Holiday is the best choice. If she wants some defense, it's O'Hara. If she wants width and someone who can cross, it's O'Reilly. And if she wants goals, it's Press. Heath is the compromise option who isn't great at any of these things, but isn't deficient in any of them either.

3. Amy Rodriguez vs. the rest of the forwards

The majority of Rodriguez's performance against China was good. But that miss. Oh man, that miss.

As Andrew Jerell Jones notes there, Press or Leroux probably would have scored. But do Press or Leroux even get into that position? This is the story of Rodriguez's USWNT career -- she sees runs that no one else sees, makes them early, gets into brilliant positions ... and misses. She has 29 goals in 125 caps, and probably should have around 70.

But it's better to get into that position regularly and only score a quarter of those chances than it is to rarely get into that position at all. Leroux and Press are better finishers than Rodriguez, sure, but their runs off the ball aren't as intelligent. And despite being 5'4 and having a reputation for running in behind defenses, Rodriguez is a better hold-up player than both of them as well. Plus, she was by far the best club player of the United States' five forwards in 2014.

Misses like that one get people dropped, though, especially when Leroux, Press and Wambach are on the bench. And in a big game, after getting the last match off, Ellis is going to be tempted to put Wambach back into the lineup.

And yet, she really shouldn't. Rodriguez is seven inches shorter than Wambach and weighs much less, but is somehow a better hold-up player than the giant American target forward. Her hard work off the ball and willingness to do the dirty work when on it, as opposed to just going for glory herself, makes Alex Morgan better. And Morgan is the best American attacking player, by some distance. If a second striker isn't going to make Morgan better, she has no business starting, and Rodriguez is the only one who's proven she can do that.


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