Well, the U.S. women's national team couldn't have asked for a better confidence boost after a very poor SheBelieves Cup tournament. The USWNT returned to their winning ways on Thursday and crushed Russia, 4-0, in a pretty easy friendly.
Here are our takeaways from the match:
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Ellis wants more numbers in the midfield
The USWNT coach scrapped a three-back formation like the ones the team has been using lately and instead trotted the players out in a 4-4-2. But it was quickly apparent that right back Kelley O'Hara had been asked to push way up the field in the attack so Rose Lavelle, starting on the right wing, could pinch inside centrally. The 4-4-2 in defense turned into a 3-4-1-2 in the attack. The result was more numbers in the midfield with players in their best attacking positions, while not having to weather the positional complexities of an unfamiliar three-back line.
So, it may not be that Jill Ellis is abandoning the idea of a starting three-back formation, but she is clearly looking at her options when it comes to bolstering the team's ability to control in the midfield.
The best player on the field for the USWNT wasn't the reigning Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd, or another veteran. It may have been 21-year-old Rose Lavelle, who will make her pro debut as a rookie when the NWSL season starts next week. While she impressed in the moments when she was weaving her way through defenders and nutmegging players, she was very good at the simple things, like finding the right player to pass to and slipping a perfectly weighted pass through a seam.
She was able to make more of an impact from a central position than she did in her debut during the SheBelieves Cup on the flank and Ellis should consider using Lavelle as the USWNT's dedicated No. 10 going forward.
Coming off a SheBelieves Cup that offered some tough competition, and some tough losses, it was a stark difference to see the USWNT taking on Russia in a friendly. The Russians just weren't good enough to test the Americans in any meaningful way and it was a very quiet game for the Americans defensively.
As Ellis continues to tinker with the USWNT's tactical system and personnel, the team needs to be tested against good teams and Russia didn't offer that. Anything we learned from Thursday's game needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and the USWNT needs to schedule tougher games in the future.
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Long is a better defensive midfielder option
She's often been a box-to-box midfielder in her career and Ellis recently experimented with Allie Long as a centerback, but her return to the midfield on Thursday was mostly a positive one. She has the physicality and passing range to be a good defensive midfielder, if Ellis were willing to play with a player dedicated to that position.
The Americans weren't tested nearly enough defensively on Thursday, but Long was good when she had to cut out Russia's advances and play an enforcer-type role. She was less effective going forward, as she flubbed a couple golden opportunities to score by sending shots off target, including on a penalty kick.
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The USWNT looked a little disjointed and uncomfortable
Despite the relatively easy competition, the Americans at times looked like they weren't on the same page. They were called offside over and over as players, most often Crystal Dunn, weren't able to time their runs right. Some passes caught players going the wrong way and shots went off target all night.
It could be down to the tinkering the USWNT is going through, both tactically and with personnel. It's not really a cause for concern at this point -- the cohesion the team needs should come once a core squad and a go-to identity are settled upon. But it did affect their play on Thursday.
The forward position is up for grabs still
Crystal Dunn started as the USWNT's main striker, but it wasn't the best outing for her. Despite a pair of goals, she was called offside several times and at times she wasn't dynamic enough against a Russian side that made things pretty easy. Against good teams, she'll get far fewer chances to get her runs right. Carli Lloyd started up top with her and went stretches without making much of an impact either. Christen Press and Alex Morgan replaced them for the second half, and neither of them were able to find the back of the net, but by then the match was pretty settled anyway.
It seems Ellis is open-minded about the striker role and is willing to try some players in different roles and different partnerships. Add in the fact that Lynn Williams and Kealia Ohai are on the bench and Amy Rodriguez made her return on Thursday, and Ellis has a lot of options.
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The USWNT needs to improve finishing chances
Speaking of strikers, the Americans fired a whopping 33 shots and put just seven on frame. A 4-0 score line is very good, but it's a little less impressive when you look at the sheer number of good-quality chances they had that the Americans didn't finish.
While a lot of the big picture stuff -- formations, tactics, partnerships -- is going through changes and it's to be expected that the USWNT is adjusting, the basic stuff like finishing is important to still get right.
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