CARY, N.C. — As the U.S. Women’s National Team prepares to take the field for the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship, the coaches and players know there are challenges in front of them but they are excited to get the tournament underway as the road to the World Cup begins.
Before facing off against Mexico as USA opens Group A play Thursday, forward Alex Morgan put an emphasis on how this tournament is one of the team’s toughest competitions in two years.
“We’re really eager to get this tournament started,” Morgan told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve been talking about it for around two years now. It’s the first major competition we’ve had in two years and the first time for some of my teammates in their senior careers. So we’re just really excited for tomorrow and to get it started and to be in the thick of qualifying. We feel completely prepared and we’re ready.”
Coach Jill Ellis echoed a similar sentiment, saying she is happy with how the players have prepared to this point and is excited to get the tournament started.
“We’re obviously delighted to be back in Cary and we’re just really excited to get to this tournament. It just feels like we’ve been waiting a long time,” Ellis said. “This will be the most important game for us we’ve played in two years and so I think the players are prepared. We had a great week of training, got a lot done.”
The U.S. heads into qualifying with an 11-0-2 record in 2018. The team hasn’t lost a game since the 2017 Tournament of Nations and they have gone 18-0-3 over the past 14 months. The USWNT will enter the tournament as the world’s top-ranked team and is 27-1-0 in qualifying, never having finished lower than third in a World Cup.
Despite the team’s recent success, the players and coaches know they’re still going to have to work hard to make it to the World Cup. Ellis said the message to the team has been: “We’ve got to earn it.”
“One of the messages we started this camp with and we talked to the players about is we’ve got to earn it,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to earn the right to go on this journey and this is the first step. I think there’s a humility, but there’s also a confidence.”
Morgan, who was a member of the 2015 FIFA World Cup championship team and is 10 goals away from becoming the seventh American with 100 goals in international play, explained this tournament isn’t one to take for granted.
“We don’t want the young players coming up and taking it for granted,” Morgan said. “This tournament that’s here in North Carolina, on a stage we’ve seen plenty of times this year and last year with the National Team — this is different.”
The eight-team, 13-day competition serves as the regional World Cup qualifier and the top three finishers will earn an invitation to France. The fourth-place team will advance to a playoff with Argentina, where another World Cup berth will be on the line.
The U.S. will face Mexico at 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday with a ticket to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup at stake.