If the aim of every ambitious coach and player is to be tested against the best, opportunity will knock for Scotland at Paisley’s Simple Digital Arena tonight. It’s an appropriately named venue, because, whichever way you look at it, the USA are simply the best when it comes to women’s football.
Not only have they won the World Cup more often than any other nation – three out of the seven editions – and four Olympic tournaments, their sustained level of success since playing their first international match in 1985 is astonishing. It took them five games to get off the mark, but when they beat Portugal 1-0 in Estoril on Thursday night, it was win No 500 from 639 outings.
The only surprising aspect of the Portugal result was they didn’t rattle in more goals, but it took their current unbeaten run to 27 games. Three of the superstars of women’s football are available in attack and between them Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have amassed over 550 international appearances and almost 250 goals.
“The US have had that for years,” Scotland head coach Shelley Kerr said. “They have more resources and players to choose from – and when you win you get even more resources, so it’s a vicious circle for everyone else who is playing catch up.
“People have asked why we’re playing the best team in the world when we could maybe be on the back of a heavy defeat, but, if you have that attitude, you’ll never learn – either as a coach or a player.
“We’ve matured as a team. Just how far we’ll find out against them.”
Two factors which are key to success in almost any sport have driven the Americans throughout their near-35 years of excellence. The first is athletic prowess and a huge player pool to select from, and the second is mental toughness.
Just how ruthless the Americans can be was demonstrated by the manner in which they ditched head coach Tom Sermanni. The Fifer – he started his playing career with Albion Rovers and Blackpool – had enjoyed two successful stints in charge of the Australian women’s team when he was appointed to replace the Swede, Pia Sundhage, as USA head coach in 2013.
By coincidence his first two games were back-to-back friendly wins over Scotland, but he was summarily dispatched in April of the following year. There had been indifferent results in that year’s Algarve Cup competition, but overall his record was 23 wins, four draws and two defeats in 29 games.
Kerr, understandably, says the performance rather than the result will be her marker in Paisley tonight. She will be without Arsenal midfielder Kim Little, who was back to her very best after missing Euro 2017 due to injury.
The Scotland vice-captain fractured a fibula following a challenge by Chelsea player Drew Spence in a recent Super League game.
Full -backs Sophie Howard and Emma Mitchell are also out with lesser injuries, as is winger Lisa Evans. Nevertheless, the Scotland squad has more depth than at any time previously and Birmingham City’s Chloe Arthur and Manchester United’s Kirsty Smith could get their chances at full back tonight.