It seemed clear when Jill Ellis repeated a lineup during the group stage of the Concacaf Women's Championship that the coach has decided on what her best team looks like.
The manager of the United States always is going to have choice to make. The coach of the reigning World Cup champion and top-ranked team has plenty of depth to rely on, especially for a match like the one Sunday against Jamaica that will send the winner to next year's World Cup in France.
While Jamaica has been brave and has done well to reach this stage as a country that only recently started looking seriously at women's football, the U.S. could field a D-team and still have a reasonable expectation of topping the Reggae Girlz' best. Even so, a World Cup berth must be earned, something the U.S. recalls from 2010 when host Mexico shocked the favorites in the semifinals and the Americans had to go through a playoff to earn a spot in Germany.
While on paper Jamaica is closer in quality to easily-dispatched group rivals like Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico than the elite friendly opponents the U.S. played during the year such as Australia, Japan and England, it's still this game that will put the Americans where they want to be - defending their World Cup crown.
"This is it. I think everyone feels the same way I do that we play all these friendlies all the time to put ourselves in a position to be successful in these games. This is for everything. This is for France," forward Megan Rapinoe said. "Obviously, moving forward we want to win Concacaf, but most importantly we want to qualify for France. This is our opportunity to do that."
Ellis isn't quite ready to declare that she has her top team selected, at least not publicly. The coach said the team is still trying to use romps over regional foes in the last week to reach the standards it has set internally. Rather than looking at how personnel groups are fitting together, Ellis said her focus is on improving in all phases of the game.
"What I’m looking for is are the the things that we’re trying to execute, are those getting better in terms of attacking defending?" she said on Saturday. "So, I think we’re looking at the components within the game first and foremost.
"I think we’ve got a very deep squad and I think we’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of choices, but I think what’s been consistent over the past six months is that the players that we’ve utilized understanding the roles, responsibilities in the game. That’s maybe what I’m kind of implying in terms of being the best version of ourselves."
As Rapinoe alluded to, the next goal would be lifting the Concacaf trophy and asserting the regional dominance the Stars and Stripes have put on display since the cycle started. Even with a potential final against rival Canada looming, though, Ellis said she won't put her lineup together thinking about anything other than Sunday.
"There is no other goal right now. That’s simple enough. This is the game. I would honestly say, I know certainly within our staff that no one has looked beyond this game," she said. "That’s just how it has to be. You have to pay the same amount of detail regardless of opponent when so much is on the line. That’s a bridge you cross hopefully when you come to it, but right now it’s about Jamaica."
Once again, we'll look at Ellis' lineup and see if we're any closer to knowing what she wants to do with the team when it's in France - or if she's putting any priority on Wednesday's potential final. Right now, though, the team still has to get to France. As long as it succeeds in that goal, U.S. fans will be happy to celebrate Sunday night no matter who was on the field accomplishing the task.