We are through two USWNT games at the 2019 World Cup. Already, in 180 minutes, we have seen broken records and controversies. We have seen all 20 outfield players and 16 combined goals. And ridiculous depth. Jill Ellis rolled out her second string on Sunday. It still stomped Chile, leading defender Ali Krieger to declare postgame: “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.”
It was a brilliant quote. And, arguably, an accurate one. It also got us thinking: What if that best team and that second-best team squared off?
Or, better yet: What if they snuck out of their French hotel one night, to a deserted field with riggable floodlights, and let their imaginations wander? Back to the schoolyards where they once honed their craft. What if they – the best women’s soccer team in the world, but also the two best – chose captains, picked teams, and created soccer’s equivalent of the fabled Dream Team scrimmage without a camera in sight?
It might be the most entertaining women’s soccer game ever. And the most entertaining part might just be the ego-stroking, feelings-hurting, playground-style draft.
The thought was so enchanting that we couldn’t confine it to our WhatsApp chat. So we created an imaginary five-a-side tournament. Four managers – myself (Henry Bushnell), Doug McIntyre, Leander Schaerlaeckens and Joey Gulino. Twenty USWNT players from which to pick. (Sorry, keepers.) Twenty-minute games, futsal-sized fields, mini goals. No offside. All shots must come from the attacking half.
I, somehow, got first pick. And considered three options…
Round 1, Pick 1: Henry Bushnell selects Tobin Heath
Am I going to reveal who those three options are, though? Hell nah. Because Tobinho is an obvious choice at No. 1 if we’re playing small-sided.
And while I wait for my second pick, Tobin and I will be busy drafting two rule amendments: 1. Five megs = a goal; 2. Any player who gets megged has to leave the field in shame for 30 seconds.
Round 1, Pick 2: Leander Schaerlaeckens selects Lindsey Horan
My strategy of tanking the last season paid off. I got the second pick in the lottery. Sure, the relationship with my fanbase is irreparably broken, but whatever, we’ll just make new fans when we start winning again.
Oh, right, my pick: Lindsey Horan. Creative players are a dime-a-dozen on this team. But there’s only one Horan, the midfield metronome who makes it all go. And her engine and physicality, paired with a butter-soft touch and three-eyed vision, will shine even more in a small-sided game on a tiny field.
COWER BEFORE MY LINDSEY.
Round 1, Pick 3: Joey Gulino selects Alex Morgan
You guys are already overthinking this. It’s why you finished bottom half of the table last season.
Round 1, Pick 4: Doug McIntyre selects Carli Lloyd
Lloyd thinks she’s still the best player in the world. Who am I to argue? Did you see her steal a goal off the boot of Julie Ertz against Chile? Carli is clutch and her competitiveness makes the players around her better. Jill Ellis might not want her in her 11, but with Morgan already taken she’s the first name in my starting five every day of the week.
Round 2, Pick 1: Doug McIntyre selects Tierna Davidson
Defense wins championships and at 20, Davidson might already be the most gifted pure defender on the U.S. team. (No disrespect to Julie Ertz.) That’s a pretty solid spine for my side so far.
Round 2, Pick 2: Joey Gulino selects Rose Lavelle
Nifty on-ball magicians are invaluable to five-a-sides, and the Nutmeg Duchess is an easy pick for me here. She’s also the lone Ohioan (represent!) on the USWNT this summer, and low-key the funniest social media presence on the team.
Round 2, Pick 3: Leander Schaerlaeckens selects Julie Ertz
I love you all, but you’re morons. You’ve allowed me to put Ertz and Horan in the same midfield. It doesn’t really matter what anybody else does from here. My team will just smash everybody and then we can walk goals into the empty net.
Round 2, Pick 4: Henry Bushnell selects Megan Rapinoe
I love you all, but you’re morons. You’ve allowed me to, somehow, snag two of my three options at No. 1 overall – and probably two of the three most creative players in the squad.
(Also, for the record, after six picks, I sent an incredulous text to our group about Julie Ertz being available to trick Leander into passing on Pinoe.)
Round 3, Pick 1: Henry Bushnell selects Crystal Dunn
My goodness, my team is stacked.
Round 3, Pick 2: Leander Schaerlaeckens selects Christen Press
She may not be the tricksiest player on the team, but she may be the most creative. And she plays on both sides of the ball. Maybe more so than any other attacker.
Round 3, Pick 3: Joey Gulino selects Mallory Pugh
An analytics darling, Mal is also a perfect fit for the team I’m building. Goals to spare, energy to run for days, and width to use every nook of the confined pitch. Incredible value for a pick outside the top 10, even amid this player pool.
Round 3, Pick 4: Doug McIntyre selects Jessica McDonald
The most athletic player on the U.S. squad has a nose for the net, and she would be a bull in a china shop playing 5v5.
Round 4, Pick 1: Doug McIntyre selects Samantha Mewis
I don’t have a midfielder yet and as an imposing two-way presence, Mewis is perfect for this format. She can do the sort of defense dirty work behind Lloyd and McDonald that often goes unnoticed. And with 14 international goals -- including two goals against Thailand in her World Cup debut -- she can finish off plays when she gets the opportunity.
Round 4, Pick 2: Joey Gulino selects Kelley O’Hara
Five-a-sides are less about traditional setups and more about interchangeability, and there are few better Swiss Army knives on the USWNT roster than O’Hara. She’ll defend primarily in our squad, but don’t be surprised to see her get forward and link up with the all-world attackers we have too.
Round 4, Pick 3: Leander Schaerlaeckens selects Ali Krieger
Krieger, like O’Hara, can cover an entire flank by herself. Plus, she can hold down the defense more centrally.
Round 4, Pick 4: Henry Bushnell selects Allie Long
Long is an NYC futsal legend. (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but …) She has talked about how playing in small-sided, indoor men’s leagues helped her grow as a player. Those skills translate here. This is a steal at the end of the fourth round.
Round 5, Pick 1: Henry Bushnell selects Emily Sonnett
For the goal celly pettiness and general team camaraderie. (Oh, and we needed a defender.)
Sonnett will also run our social media accounts, and may or may be responsible for a pitchside speaker armed with sound effects for every time Tobin or Pinoe takes an opponent’s soul.
Round 5, Pick 2: Leander Schaerlaeckens selects Abby Dahlkemper
Good luck getting through my central block of Horan, Ertz and Dahlkemper.
Round 5, Pick 3: Joey Gulino selects Morgan Brian
To return to Krieger’s original thesis, there isn’t much reason to be upset about any picks you make in a draft class this stacked. The kind of team we want to be, the kind of structure that *actually* succeeds in five-a-side as opposed to 11v11, the culture we’re trying to build, it can only end with Brian. We acknowledge health concerns, but if she’s in form and firing, look out.
Round 5, Pick 4: Doug McIntyre selects Becky Sauerbrunn
Not sure how I ended up with the last pick in three of the five rounds but no matter. I think my team might still the best of the lot defensively, and all of my players are tough as nails and have something to prove. With Davidson and Sauerbrunn locking it down in the back, Mewis patrolling the middle and Big Jess creating space for the irrepressible Lloyd up top, we’re spoiling for this fight. Underestimate us at your peril.
Henry: Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, Crystal Dunn, Allie Long, Emily Sonnett
Leander: Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Christen Press, Ali Krieger, Abby Dahlkemper
Joey: Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Mal Pugh, Kelley O’Hara, Morgan Brian
Doug: Carli Lloyd, Tierna Davidson, Sam Mewis, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn
Joey: The best part about this draft is I am genuinely, 100 percent convinced my team would kick your teams’ asses.
Leander: I have Horan and Ertz! My top two picks. Our asses will remain unkicked.
Joey: My team would stretch Doug’s and Leander’s thin, while Henry’s squad is really just a diet version of mine. Sweep the competition, take the trophy.
Henry: This tweet says it all.
Joey, your team has zero natural defenders. (Also, Alex Morgan: overrated 5-a-side player, IMO.)
Doug’s team has zero creativity (and, until the fifth round, zero starters!).
Leander’s honestly looks like one a grouchy, bus-parking Jose Mourinho would pick. (I say that with all due respect to Lindsey Horan, who was the only player I didn’t get from my draft board’s top four.) What formation is that team playing?
Doug: No creativity? Why do you hate Carli Lloyd, Henry? Also, the starter thing is overblown. That’s the entire point of this (admittedly ridiculous) exercise. All of you can say what you want. I’ll take my five against anyone else’s any day of the week.
Leander: How dare you, Henry. My team has the most obvious formation of all: Press central, Horan behind to her left, then Ertz back centrally, Krieger to her rear right and Dahlkemper parked in the middle. I’m labeling this formation “The Snake.”
Henry: From Caitlin Murray, our objective expert, when presented with the squads as Team A, B, C and D:
“I think Team B [Leander’s] has the best balance of attack and defense. Everyone there is good on both sides of the ball. And the 2015 USWNT taught us that defense wins championships, even if the 2019 USWNT is in France right now attempting to prove that wrong. (Unless Team B is Leander's team – then I take that back.) [Ed. note: Awkward …] Then again, maybe the first two teams would just drop enough goals to crush the spirit of their opponents.”
Leander: Caitlin is correct and her judgment is unimpeachable. There is no mechanism for appeal. Her ruling is final and binding.
Henry: Nah, that’s what we have Twitter for ...
Joey: We’ve had our say, so we put it to you, the readers.
Which team do you like most? Which team do you hate? Who would you have drafted?
Pretty much all of us can agree: The USWNT is deep and awesome.
That’s about all we’ll agree on. Let the ribaldry begin!
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