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Coach Jill Ellis confident USWNT can still win SheBelieves Cup — with a little help

TAMPA, Fla. — First came Japan. 2-2 draw. Then came England. 2-2 draw. Now comes Brazil. 

“We still feel we can win the tournament, which was the goal from the outset,” United States women’s national team coach Jill Ellis said during a Monday night press conference at Raymond James Stadium, the site of her team’s upcoming SheBelieves Cup finale against the Seleção. “It may be challenging, in terms of having to rely on another result, but I think this team right now is very focused.”

In addition to a victory against Brazil in the 8 p.m. ET match Tuesday, which FS1 will broadcast, the other result needed to win the annual four-team international tournament is a draw between Japan and England when they play on the same field a couple hours earlier. See full tournament schedule and results.

Japan and England are tied with four points after both drawing the U.S. and beating Brazil, 3-1 and 2-1, respectively. But Japan is in first place with a better goal differential. The U.S. is in third place with two points. Though Brazil is last with no points, the team has plenty of talent with the reigning Best FIFA Women’s Player, Marta.

“She’s unpredictably predictable, meaning you know she’s uber creative, can separate players, has a tremendous left foot and likes to score goals,” Ellis said of Marta, an Orlando Pride player in the National Women’s Soccer League. “She’s a player you can’t lose track of. . . . I’m a big fan. It’s a good thing for our players to play against that quality.”

Defending Brazil’s fastbreaks in transition will be critical as well, according to Ellis, along with winning the ball back immediately and staying organized defensively — a problem area the last two matches.

“They’re always a fun team to face because there is so much transition,” said forward Alex Morgan, who plays with Marta on the Pride and will try to score her 100th U.S. goal during the match. “They attack with a lot of numbers, which means at times they’re vulnerable defensively if they give up the ball.”

Ellis did not reveal what changes, if any, she will make to the lineup for Brazil, but one change is certain: goalkeeper. Typical starter Alyssa Naeher picked up an injury during the last game and when asked whether she will be ready for Tuesday night, Ellis said, “No, she will not.”

That means either Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris or Portland Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch will take over between the posts. Ellis would not reveal which one, saying only, “Got a plan. . . . We obviously have two other goalkeepers here and have confidence in them.

(All video courtesy U.S. Soccer/Wazee Digital)

“I think the team collectively knows that we’ve got to make sure we keep clean sheets. Then we’re guaranteed an opportunity,” Ellis said. “We score goals. If we keep clean sheets, then we guarantee.”

 Tampa congresswoman Kathy Castor introduced Ellis at the press conference and emphasized her district’s support for the national team in its quest for another World Cup title and the SheBelieves Cup’s mission of empowering young women. 

“The Tampa Bay area is a soccer-friendly, soccer-frenzy type of place, so we’re looking forward to the big match tomorrow,” Castor said. “I wanted to stop by and welcome the team and the coach because this is also a community where we believe in the power of women and SheBelieves.”

As of Tuesday morning, 12,000 tickets had been sold for the Tampa games, according to U.S. Soccer.

The games are important tests ahead of the World Cup this summer in France, and the results of the first two matches in Philadelphia and Nashville showed the U.S. still needs work. 

“The last four games, we have two ties, one win and one loss, and that’s not very good,” U.S. veteran Megan Rapinoe said. “So there’s obviously some things happening in all those games that aren’t allowing us to get the result that we want. . . . It’s still three and a half months out from the World Cup and we have time to adjust and make little tweaks, but, like I said in my postgame comments before: There’s lessons in the game, in every game, and we have to learn them.”

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