The U.S. women's national team opened 2017 with a 1-0 win over powerhouse Germany on Wednesday. It wasn't a spectacular showing from the Americans, but knowing that this is their first match since November and coach Jill Ellis has been experimenting, there's plenty of things to take away from the match.
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Jill Ellis wants the players' roles to be fluid, but it needs more work
Ask Ellis about a system, and she'll probably offer a friendly reminder that the system is where the players start the match, but it's not where they will remain. Throughout the match, Ellis' preferred interchange was obvious, most notably with wingers Tobin Heath and Crystal Dunn switching sides for stretches, and then switching back. Ellis wants the USWNT to be unpredictable and they were, but getting it just right will take some time.
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This team still needs Alex Morgan
Germany left pockets of space open that both Lynn Williams and Christen Press were unable to make timely runs into. Though Williams did her best to run down long balls, that is really Morgan's expertise, and as long as the USWNT is going to continue to launching balls in the final third, there's no reason not to start Morgan. That's not to say Williams and Press didn't add value – Press' work in particular on the USWNT's first goal was special – but the first half was a frustrating one without Morgan's speed and power.
The USWNT seems to want to move away from the direct style of play that makes Morgan so useful, and these may just be the growing pains of that. But it remains to be seen how effectively Ellis can fundamentally change the USWNT's style of play.
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The three-back experiment got a little better
Germany didn't press enough, and rather than moving quickly in transition to pull the USWNT out of shape, they often opted to slow the game down and regroup. That left the American backline able to keep its shape and avoid the nervy moments they had against Romania to finish out the year. On top of it, the extra numbers in the midfield did well to limit Germany's outlets and defensively the Americans looked decent.
The central midfield was shut down too easily
Morgan Brian and Samantha Mewis started alongside each other in switching off box-to-box midfielder role. But the pair struggled the connect as Germany clogged up the midfield. Carli Lloyd, who was asked to play a roaming role between the central midfield and the strikers, didn't see the ball nearly enough to make an impact.
The USWNT's set pieces must improve
The Americans struggled on set pieces in the Olympics, and this match vs. Germany wasn't much of an improvement. The USWNT looked too static in the handful of corner kicks they had, and they seemed to be missing the aerial presence of centerback Julie Johnston, who has been the USWNT's finest weapon on set pieces over the past two years. It's peculiar since set pieces were such a strength at the 2015 World Cup, but they amounted to wasted opportunities on Wednesday.
The USWNT should keep experimenting and trying new things
Was the USWNT great against Germany? Not particularly. But with the World Cup another two years away, now is the time to try new things. The USWNT discovered some things that worked, like when they increased the tempo of the match, and some things that didn't, like the long balls over the top. Ellis can build on that.