Who were the Westfield Matildas best at the Tournament of Nations?
The trophy will be heading to America this year after USA edged out Australia on goal difference, with Lindsey Horan’s last-minute equaliser the separating factor between the two teams.
Despite the disappointment, there’s plenty of positives for the Westfield Matildas to draw ahead of the World Cup in France next year after a sterling tournament from Alen Stajcic’s squad.
But who stood out the most in the US? Here’s who we thought were Australia’s best from an enthralling Tournament of Nations campaign.
There’s no doubt that Alanna Kennedy is right up there with the best defenders in the world, and after the 2018 Tournament of Nations it’s easy to see why.
Alongside centre half partner Clare Polkinghorne, Kennedy was an inspirational presence at the back for the Westfield Matildas, who finished as the tournament’s best defensive team.
The pair did not miss a beat in organising the team’s defence and were in many ways the enablers for the team’s success – with Kennedy emerging as a vocal leader.
One of the most impressive aspects of the pair’s tournament offering was their ability to knit what was at times a makeshift defence into a cohesive unit.
The personal highlight for Kennedy, like so many of the Australian squad, was her near faultless performance against the United States in Connecticut.
Alen Stajcic has referred to the 1-1 draw as one of Australia’s best defensive performances ever, and Kennedy was the central figure in this: making last-ditch recovery runs and key clearances in an all-round outstanding match.
America’s 90th minute equaliser is the sole blemish on an otherwise flawless tournament, capped by a cleverly dispatched free kick against Japan.
For a player who regularly wreaks havoc from set pieces aerially, her ability to inflict damage from the dead ball showed just how complete a player the Orlando Pride stalwart is at her best.
Ellie Carpenter was singled out for praise by Stajcic after every tournament match, and the Australian Head Coach must be savouring his time with one of the most talented players Australia has ever produced.
The teenager barely put a foot wrong for the Westfield Matildas. An ever-willing and committed member of Australia’s collective defensive performance, Carpenter was everywhere for the green and gold.
Not only was the energetic 18-year-old rock solid at the back, but her willingness to push forward in the final third caused several moments of danger for the opposition.
Carpenter’s composure in possession saw Stajcic swap her over to the left flank in Australia’s final match against Japan, where she turned in another sensational performance.
But her tournament highlight arrived against the United States where she was matched up against American superstar Megan Rapinoe – a player 15 years senior – and did not let the veteran forward escape her clutches.
She also took taking one for the team to new levels of meaning against USA, copping a brutal falcon before nonchalantly shrugging it off.
Steph Catley’s withdrawal on the eve of the tournament came as a big blow for both player and tournament.
But thankfully for the Westfield Matildas, Elise Kellond-Knight excelled in her stead.
Playing two matches against Brazil and USA in the left back position she made her name in, Kellond-Knight was an outstanding presence on the left side of the pitch.
Opposition teams might have viewed the former Brisbane Roar player as a weak link, but the 27-year-old’s consummate professionalism ensured she was never in danger.
When she returned to the base of midfield against Japan, Kellond-Knight and midfield partner Emily van Egmond proved a cut above the reigning Asian Cup champions.
It was Kellond-Knight’s set pieces that caused no shortage of problems for opposition throughout the tournament, with the 3-1 win against Brazil a prime candidate of her exceptional delivery.
As one of the team’s senior players, the Hammarby midfielder was one of Australia’s key enforcers and her selfless tournament epitomises the approach instilled by Stajcic.
Sam Kerr may have stolen the goalscoring headlines again for the Westfield Matildas, but Hayley Raso was often the unsung member of the team’s attacking set up.
The Portland Thorns forward was a consistent danger on the right side in Australia’s opening two matches against Brazil and US and combined effectively with the likes of Carpenter and Kerr.
Her intelligence on the ball and ability to craft openings for teammates resulted in Australia getting to the by-line for multiple scoring opportunities and when the 23-year-old got into dangerous situations herself her deliver was almost always on the mark.
But it was Raso’s unflinching commitment to the cause that will live long in the memory. Few ran further than the Brisbane Roar flyer throughout the tournament, and nothing surmised Australia's attitude in America than her rolled-up sleeves against Japan.