USWNT Stock Watch: Roles solidifying in Americans' World Cup plans

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/olympics/rio-2016/a/1124307/" data-ylk="slk:Carli Lloyd">Carli Lloyd</a> might not be the star she was in 2015, but she's more than ready to help the U.S. women's national team repeat in France. (Getty)
Carli Lloyd might not be the star she was in 2015, but she's more than ready to help the U.S. women's national team repeat in France. (Getty)

In two of their last send-off games before the Women's World Cup next month, the U.S. women's national team earned a pair of confidence-boosting wins. But the performances themselves were more of a mix.

After all, wins against South Africa and New Zealand are to be expected from the No. 1-ranked team in the world. But the USWNT just didn't look dominant enough in the first game, struggling to break down South Africa's bunker. The showing against New Zealand was much stronger, and the USWNT resembled more the team we should expect to see in France.

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The lingering question is whether coach Jill Ellis will make any changes to her preferred starting lineup when the U.S. gets there.

To that end, here is a look at whose stock on the USWNT went up and who failed to prove they can be a factor in France.

Trending up

▲ Samantha Mewis, midfielder, North Carolina Courage

She was on the rise in our previous stock watch, and her upward trajectory continues.

Mewis has been peculiarly underrated by the USWNT coaching staff for a while, but she keeps getting chances to show she belongs on the field. She notched three goals across both games, but it's not just her contributions to the score sheet that have her stock going up again.

While Mewis may not be the best on the team at any single thing, she is the most well-rounded midfielder and very good at everything. She may be relegated to the role of a Swiss Army knife super-sub for the U.S. in France, but if she keeps up her great form, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her get significant minutes in the tournament.

Ellis probably has it already set in her mind what she wants to do in France. But if there's a player that has forced Ellis to think twice, it's Mewis.

Samantha Mewis has more than made her case for playing time as a jack-of-all-trades midfielder. (Getty)
Samantha Mewis has more than made her case for playing time as a jack-of-all-trades midfielder. (Getty)

▲ Kelley O'Hara, defender, Utah Royals

The USWNT sure seemed to miss O'Hara when she was out for a pair of friendlies in April. In her return, she showed why.

It's not just that O'Hara is the first-choice right back and it's not even close. It's not just that she's the best defending option on the right side. She is also incredibly effective in the attack, something that none of her backups can say.

Without O'Hara, the USWNT relies on left back Crystal Dunn to push forward and make overlapping runs in an asymmetrical formation that shifts from a 4-3-3 to something that resembles a 3-4-3. But when O'Hara is on the field, she is just as capable of combining with the players in front of her, often Rose Lavelle, and taking on some of that attacking responsibility.

With both O'Hara and Dunn on the field, the USWNT can be more balanced and more unpredictable, because those fullback runs can come from both flanks.

▲ Carli Lloyd, striker, Sky Blue FC

People keep counting Lloyd out, and Lloyd keeps proving them wrong.

She's going to turn 37 right after the World Cup ends, but Lloyd hasn't lost a step when it comes to her nose for goal and her clutch ability to deliver in big moments. It took her just 44 seconds to score as a substitute against New Zealand, and she scored three goals the past two games.

Lloyd may not be the starter she once was, but that doesn't mean she won't make an impact in France. If her latest string of performances for the USWNT and her club, Sky Blue FC, are any indication, she is already in World Cup form.

Trending down

▼ Jessica McDonald, striker, North Carolina Courage

It wasn't a surprise when McDonald made it on the USWNT's World Cup roster. We did predict it, after all, and if Alex Morgan were to get injured, McDonald would help fill a hole without changing the way the USWNT plays.

But otherwise, it's very difficult to see how McDonald could play a minute in France. Lloyd is fantastic off the bench, and Christen Press can come on either as the center striker or as a winger, too.

McDonald seems to have made the USWNT's World Cup team as a luxury player. Another way to put that? The USWNT just doesn't need her.

Jessica McDonald would help the USWNT not miss a beat tactically should Alex Morgan get injured. Otherwise, it's hard to see her playing in France. (Getty)
Jessica McDonald would help the USWNT not miss a beat tactically should Alex Morgan get injured. Otherwise, it's hard to see her playing in France. (Getty)

▼ Ashlyn Harris, goalkeeper, Orlando Pride

At this point, the only way presumed No. 2 goalkeeper Harris can play in France is if starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher has some shockingly bad showings in net. Unfortunately for Harris, that not only didn't happen, there was really never even a chance.

South Africa and New Zealand generated very little going forward and Naeher wasn't tested at all. Questions may remain about Naeher as the No. 1 goalkeeper, but they aren't going to be answered before the World Cup and Harris is stuck at the No. 2 spot.

▼ Emily Sonnett, defender, Portland Thorns

There may not be too much to read into it, but it's notable that the right back substitute on Thursday was Ali Krieger, not Sonnett.

Sonnett has been a fine fill-in for an injured O'Hara, but Sonnett's usual position in the NWSL is actually as a center back. It must mean something that Krieger, an experienced right back who had been out of the team for two years, was abruptly called back into the USWNT and surprisingly made the World Cup roster.

Neither Sonnett or Krieger will usurp O'Hara as the starting right back, but the battle to be the second choice seems to be intensifying.

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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