USWNT: Defeat to France heightens concerns ahead of Women’s World Cup
For all the attention that it received prior to the match, Hope Solo’s absence was the least of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s concerns in their first-ever defeat to France on Sunday.
The 2-0 scoreline was every bit a fair reflection of a game in which the U.S. were simply outclassed by a confident, smooth, possession-oriented French team.
At its most fundamental, the difference between the U.S. and France was that while both sides set up at kickoff in a 4-4-2 formation, the U.S. looked like 11 players on the field, while France looked like a team. (And this after a three-week camp!)
It was frequently difficult to to tell what style the U.S. intended to play, or what the game plan was, beyond repeatedly launching early, hopeful balls upfield toward strikers Alex Morgan and Christen Press.
The U.S. had difficulty playing out of the back, connecting passes in the center of the park, and sustaining pressure in the attacking third. And despite nominally having equal numbers in midfield, the U.S. consistently looked a player short. (Among other things, this game was a useful reminder that style and formation are not the same.)
Certainly this game did nothing to answer the lingering questions about the unsettled depth chart at fullback, the lack of a natural defensive midfielder (and the relationships among the midfielders who are on the field), or the preference for Abby Wambach over Amy Rodriguez at forward. On an individual level, Lori Chalupny and Meghan Klingenberg were outmatched at left and right back, respectively; Lauren Holiday looked dreadfully out of sorts in her current deeper role and Carli Lloyd marooned on the wing.
The most significant thing that Wambach did in her 30 minutes on the field was taking the captain’s armband away from Lloyd when she came on, then promptly diving to win a deeply dubious penalty kick (which she failed to convert). The few encouraging signs, notably Morgan beginning to shake the rust off after her second straight long injury layoff, were far outshadowed by the rest.
The deeper concern, though, is that the U.S. seem to be stuck in neutral, rather than improving as the World Cup approaches.
Today, as before, we saw the problem that has bedeviled the U.S. for as long as Jill Ellis has been in charge: Against good teams the USWNT are simply unable to complete strings of passes with the ball, move coherently off the ball, control possession and tempo, and dictate play to the opposition, rather than the other way around.
Barring a deep run in the Algarve Cup in March, this was by far the most difficult opposition that the U.S. will face between now and the World Cup. We can only hope that Ellis and her staff will have taken lessons away from this defeat that they will be able to implement in the easier matches to come.