USWNT embarrassed by Brazil as Jill Ellis’ decisions continue to puzzle
It’s safe to say that when U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati made the decision last spring to fire Tom Sermanni as U.S. Women’s National Team head coach in favor of Jill Ellis, this was probably not what he had in mind.
The USWNT blew a 2-0 lead and lost 3-2 to Brazil on Sunday, in the second game of the International Tournament of Brasilia (contested by the U.S., Brazil, China and Argentina). Combined with their opening draw with China, the result leaves the U.S. in third place with one group game to play.
The real problem is not that the U.S. (deservedly) lost a friendly, but the lackluster, aimless way in which they were beaten. Yes, Marta scored a brilliant hat trick—the second goal, in particular, in which she struck from a tight angle after taking on and beating three U.S. defenders, was breathtaking. But the U.S. were second best throughout regardless.
The problems ran from back to front. The heretofore ageless Christie Rampone looked the part of a 39-year-old playing two games less than a week, not least in the moment shortly after the second Brazilian goal when she and Hope Solo between them almost contrived to let in a third.
Lori Chalupny got the start at left back for her first cap in five years, only to be substituted after 30 minutes as part of an apparent pre-planned reshuffling of the back four.
Attacker-turned-holding-mid Lauren Holiday was frequently left isolated, with little support either in maintaining possession or defensive solidity; the first and second Brazilian goals both knifed through the center of the U.S. midfield far, far too easily. Tobin Heath was all but invisible. And Abby Wambach, playing 90 minutes essentially as a fourth forward, did hardly anything of note besides complain to the referee.
There was no structure or pattern to the U.S. play, either in midfield or attack, unless one counts repeatedly booting long balls up to a forward or to the wings, and never playing out from the back. It looked for all the world like the USWNT of a decade ago. And the U.S., unsurprisingly, simply could not hold on to the ball for any sustained period of time.
When Marta scored her second goal 12 minutes into the second half the U.S. had barely managed to string five passes together in the half—let alone do anything with them. Becky Sauerbrunn said in a WNT video filmed before the match that “We need to start using our brains a little bit more.”
There was no sign of it here.
Ellis’s substitution choices were also strange, even leaving aside the Chalupny cameo. She left an ineffective Wambach on the field for the full match rather than, for example, giving Amy Rodriguez a runout. She made no substitutions at halftime, notwithstanding the evident problems in the U.S. play in the first half. And when Ellis did go to her bench on the hour, it was not to reshuffle the midfield, but simply to do a like-for-like swap of Holiday with Morgan Brian.
Even that move backfired—the players on the field failed to organize themselves properly during the substitution, such that Brazil were able to quickly take a free kick and score the winner when Brian had barely run onto the field. The few bright spots (a couple of incisive passing moves involving Brian and Christen Press late on, youngster Sam Mewis getting a 10-minute cameo) hardly made up for the rest.
[player_box id=29697 leftright=right]In short, it was ugly; and ugly in a way that we have seen before from the USWNT under Ellis. There is no sense of direction from this team, much less a destination. Certainly there’s no sense that the WNT is ready to handle the Group of Difficulty when the Women’s World Cup arrives next summer.
For better or worse, Ellis’s job is safe. She is too deeply entrenched in the USWNT hierarchy, has too long of a history with the current squad, and it is likely too close to the 2015 tournament. But you have to wonder whether Gulati, if he had the spring’s decisions to do over again, would make the same call.