WASHINGTON D.C. – The United States women’s national team suffered a humiliating defeat to France on Tuesday night, falling 3-0 in the final match of the SheBelieves Cup. The loss gave France the win in the tournament, and left Jill Ellis and her staff asking questions about how this team can move forward.
The match was played in a steady rain that added a chill to the evening, but the thousands in attendance kept spirits high and remained in the dreary weather until the end of the match, even after the USWNT’s disappointing performance.
Here are 7 takeaways from the match:
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The back three didn’t handle the stress test
This entire tournament has been coach Jill Ellis’ best chance at implementing a new tactical system with three defenders and five midfielders. Ellis knew that the team needed a stress test to see how they handled playing it, and this tournament provided them the perfect opportunity.
On Tuesday night, France showed that the U.S. still has a lot of work to do. France began the match by pressing extremely high, daring the USWNT back three and midfield to try and play out of the pressure. It was brutally effective – in the seventh minute, following a lazy Carli Lloyd pass to Morgan Brian in the midfield, the U.S. were dispossessed and France played the ball in behind to Eugenie Le Sommer, who was taken out by keeper Naeher and awarded a penalty. Naeher received a yellow, Camille Abily finished coolly, and the U.S. was down a goal.
A minute later, it went from bad to worse, when again the U.S. was picked apart. Wendie Renard played in Le Sommer, who got in behind again, then beat Naeher with an easy finish in the bottom right corner. The RFK crowd went silent as the USWNT huddled together outside the 18-yard box, trying to sort out what exactly had gone wrong.
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Jill Ellis stuck with it, as she should
This transition to a new system was never going to be easy, and if Ellis wants to move the team forward to a free-flowing, passing side, they have to play games like this. It would have been understandable if, after the opening 9 minutes, she said “forget it,” put four in the back, and had everyone start huffing it up to the strikers.
She stuck with the plan for another 60 minutes, only bringing in Julie Johnston to shore things up in the last 20 minutes of the match. Waiting that long probably led to the third goal, which came after a shambolic bit of defending from the U.S., but that back three needed time to try and figure it out.
There is still a lot of work to be done
While the experiment is a good one and Ellis is wise to use this tournament to try it (and continue trying it moving forward), this team still has a bit to figure out, especially in the defense. Allie Long, newish to central defense, often looked unsure as to whether she was meant to be stepping to the ball or dropping centrally, and Casey Short was routinely targeted by the France team, who built a gameplan of hitting long balls over the top to the quick Elodie Thomis and having her run at Short.
Playing out of the back too was a challenge, as too often the wrong decision was made. That will all get sorted out in time, but these are real issues that need to be addressed.
Tobin Heath is so incredibly dope
I don’t have much to add here to that. Just felt like it needed to be said.
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Rose Lavelle is super talented … and still has a lot to learn
Lavelle has at times looked like the best player for the USWNT this tournament, but struggled a bit on Tuesday evening, as she took a few poor touches and too often tried to beat her defender when easier passes were available. That’s something you see often in talented young players – the desire, when things get rough, to try and go it alone and fix everything with one magical run.
Lavelle was replaced at halftime with Mallory Pugh, who found more success. For Lavelle fans, no worries: This is a minor thing and something Ellis and the coaching staff will correct with time. Lavelle is still a spellbinding talent.
The connection between the midfield and the strikers wasn’t there
The defense is understandably in an experimental phase and it’s perhaps unsurprising they struggled a bit on Tuesday. What was more worrying was that the linkup between the USWNT midfield and strikers often seemed lacking. France committed a defender to man marking Carli Lloyd at times, who struggled to find space and time to create. In the first half, with Lavelle playing with blinders on and Lloyd struggling to get going, it often fell to the aforementioned Heath, who is so very dope, to create for the U.S. team. Strikers Christen Press and Lynn Williams gamely made runs, but couldn’t find any space for much of the first 45.
Things improved in the second half, with the introduction of Pugh and Crystal Dunn, who made the French defense uncomfortable with direct runs that tested their speed. Ellis also switched Pugh and Heath, setting up a right-sided attack with Heath and Dunn that found some success. Pugh was also able to use her quickness to cut into her right foot, which nearly resulted in a goal in the 56th minute when she cut inside and fired a shot that tested Meline Gerard.
The team looked most dangerous on set pieces, when Heath had time to serve in a ball. A free header in the 24th minute beat the France goalie but was cleared off the line, and there were a few designed corner plays that just missed. Still, even set pieces had problems – the U.S. wasted a few good opportunities with weak balls to no one.
This was a bad night, but ultimately it doesn’t matter much
The team has young talent, a solid core, and are transitioning to a new system. This was a test to see how the team would handle the pressure of a big match against a tough opponent, and Ellis and her coaching staff learned a lot. It was a bad night, but this isn’t the end of the world.