The US opens the 2013 Algarve Cup Wednesday in Portugal when they face Iceland. The Algarve Cup is one of the annual cups played in the women's international game. Traditionally, the USA do very well and are the defending champions.
The format is a bit different. Three groups in group stage. Groups A and B are the championship groups. They play round robin against each other, then the first place teams play for the title, the second place teams play for third, and the third place teams play for fifth. The two last place finishers compete for places 7-12 with the members from Group C, which are generally second tier nations looking to improve. This year's groups are as follows:
Group A - Japan, Germany, Norway, Denmark
Group B - USA, Sweden, Iceland, China
Group C - Portugal, Hungary, Wales, Mexico
Analysis: The US should be happy they aren't in Group A which is the more difficult of the two. Granted, Iceland is better than most people think, and China isn't what they used to be. But Norway and Denmark are both likely better than either Iceland or China at this point. This could be yet another USA-Japan match up in what has been the best rivalry in the women's game the last two years, but both team's have legitimate roadblocks to deal with first. For the US, the roadblock is a Sweden side that has a history of recent success against the US. The short time frame of the tournament tends to help the US though as they are usually deeper and playing four games in 8 days (the final day of the tournament is March 13) can wear out a team, especially ones that don't have a reliable bench. For Japan, Germany is no given and having to play three big physical teams in quick succession could wear them out. Mexico should win group C.
goalkeepers - Nicole Barnhart, Jill Loyden, Ashlyn Harris*
defenders - Rachel Buehler, Kelly O'Hara, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn*, Whitney Engen*,
midfielders - Lauren Cheney, Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Heather O'Reilly, Tobin Heath, Yael Averbuch, Kristie Mewis*
forwards - Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Christin Press*, Lauren Horan*
*players have five caps or less
Analysis - There are several notable absences including the injured Hope Solo, but even if those players were healthy we might see a similar roster. New coach Tom Sermanni showed a willingness to play some younger players in last month's friendlies. Given that he had other options to call in besides the very young players he did, there is every reason to think he may not have altered the roster much anyway and that we may see some of the young players, at least off the bench. We do not, for example, see Heather Mitts or Lori Lindsey on the roster, though both were available. Again, this is not a bad thing as the US needs to find out what the younger players can do. Many of the players above with only a handful of caps have reached an age where they are too old for the U-20 team, which means time is running out to find out whether they have a future with the full senior national team.
Still, expect to see the usual suspects in the starting lineups, with Nicole Barnhart the top keeper in Solo's absence. The US will likely be playing to win and will perhaps sprinkle in caps for the younger players if they have a lead. One player to keep an eye on is midfielder Yael Averbuch. Averbuch was the last cut from the 2011 World Cup roster. She's 26, has a booming shot, and if she's ever going to force her way into the regular rotation, it will likely be now. Given the midfielders named to the squad, there is a good chance she'll play in at least two out of the three round robin games.