US women to play tough schedule in build-up to World Cup defence

Alex Morgan (13, centre), Kelley O’hara (5), left and Lindsey Horan (9). (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: The United States will prepare to defend their women’s World Cup crown with a demanding schedule of friendlies starting in France on Jan 19, USA Soccer said Thursday.

The previously announced match at Le Havre is the first of two friendlies in Europe, with the Americans taking on Spain three days later.

Then the Americans will return home for eight matches at US venues, a string of tune-ups that will see the reigning world champions face five of the top eight teams in the FIFA rankings.

On February 27 in Chester Pennsylvania, the United States will take on Japan in the opener of the She Believes Cup, with competition continuing against England on March 2 in Nashville, Tennessee, and Brazil on March 5 in Tampa, Florida.

In April, the USA will host sixth-ranked Australia in Colorado and Belgium in Los Angeles’ newest MLS stadium.

In May they will face South Africa in Santa Clara, California, a team still to be determined in St Louis and Mexico on May 26 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

“This schedule checks a lot of important boxes in our preparation for the World Cup,” coach Jill Ellis said. “We’ll get to experience a variety of teams in regard to their strengths and styles of play and almost all of them will be in their World Cup preparation as well.

“It will go fast, but these games will be a major factor in pushing us to be at our peak once we arrive in France next summer.”

The 2019 Women’s World Cup will be held across nine venues in France from June 7-July 7.

The draw is scheduled for Saturday in Paris.