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U.S. Women's Team

6 Things We Learned From U.S. Victory Over China

Tom Sermanni is gone, Jill Ellis is interim coach, and the United States women's national team beat China 3-0 Thursday night in San Diego. ASN's John D. Halloran shares six insights gleaned from the contest.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
April 11, 2014
10:38 AM
JUST FOUR DAYS after the dismissal of head coach Tom Sermanni, the United States women’s national team—currently managed by interim coach Jill Ellis—rolled to a 3-0 victory over China in San Diego.

The win was the second victory over China in the last week and came on the back of goals by Carli Lloyd (2) and Sydney Leroux.

Here are six things we learned during the match.

Rapinoe Was Unshackled
When the U.S. announced its starting lineup on Thursday, the two biggest surprises were Megan Rapinoe playing in central midfield with Lauren Holiday up top. Both players have experience at those respective positions, but most recently Holiday has played as a central midfielder with Rapinoe wide.

But Rapinoe didn’t disappoint in the middle on Thursday, contributing to wave after wave of U.S. attacks. Rapinoe’s creativity, as well as her ability to both see and play passes most other players simply are unable to, was a major contributor to the U.S.’s dominance. She was involved in the build-up of all three U.S. goals.

Carli Lloyd Was in Beast Mode
Thriving in U.S.’s new-look 4-3-3, Lloyd put on another clinic on Thursday night. She contributed two goals—the second of which was a beautiful, dipping, left-footed strike from distance.

Since the absence of Shannon Boxx, Lloyd has served different roles in the U.S. midfield and, on many occasions, been asked to take on more of the defensive responsibilities. Thursday was yet another reminder that Lloyd needs to be deployed as an attacking midfielder where she can link play and be given the freedom to get into positions where she can make the most out of her world-class striking ability.

A Missed Opportunity for Van Hollebeke
In the Pia Sundhage era, Rachel Van Hollebeke (then Buehler) was an automatic selection for the starting XI at center back for the United States women. However, in the Tom Sermanni era, Van Hollebeke saw Becky Sauerbrunn and Whitney Engen take on increasingly important roles. In fact, under Sermanni, Van Hollebeke was the least-used center-back—Sauerbrunn started 16 games at the position, Engen 12, Rampone 12 and Van Hollebeke only eight.

On Thursday in San Diego, near Van Hollebeke’s hometown of Del Mar, Calif., she was given the start, but injured her ankle on a corner kick in the second minute of the match and had to come out. In her place entered Engen who, in combination with Sauerbunn, put on another impressive defensive display.

Van Hollebeke is only 28 years old, but over the past two years, Sauerbrunn has developed into a world-class center-back. Engen has also stepped up her game and gained valuable experience overseas with Liverpool and, currently, Tyreso. There’s still a long way to go until World Cup qualifying in October, but Thursday was another sign of the changing of the guard along the U.S. back line.

Wambach Didn’t Start
Despite denials by U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati and Abby Wambach herself, rumors of a player revolt have continued to persist in the aftermath of Sermanni’s dismissal. Wambach has been a central figure of much of this speculation with at least one reporter saying that the U.S. legend was involved in the decision.

However, on Thursday, Wambach did not start in the first game without Sermanni. And, in the pre-game broadcast, former U.S. defender Kate Markgraf—who earned over 200 caps in an international career that lasted over a decade—implied that the real reason behind Sermanni’s sacking was a lack of competitiveness in his coaching style. She repeated similar comments throughout the game and the explanation seems entirely plausible considering both Sermanni’s seemingly laid-back approach and the ultra-competitive atmosphere present on the best team in the world.

Stick with the 4-3-3
No one knows when a permanent replacement for Sermanni will be announced, but whoever it is the new coach needs to continue to develop the U.S. in a 4-3-3. Certainly, two wins against lowly China need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it's obvious that a dedicated holding midfielder has allowed the U.S.’s attacking personalities—like Lloyd, Rapinoe and Holiday—to express themselves in a way they were not able to in the previous 4-4-2.

Ali Krieger has also thrived in the new system, getting forward into space and delivering good service into the area. The U.S. still doesn’t have a true holding midfielder, but Morgan Brian has done enough in two starts to continue to earn chances at the position going forward.

Odds and Ends
  • On Thursday, Sydney Leroux once again dominated play early in the first half, but saw a drop off later on. That tendency has been obvious in a number of recent U.S. matches which may be an argument to use Leroux off the bench, rather than as a player counted on for a 90-minute effort. As good as Leroux has been, she might be even more effective coming on late in matches—as she was often used in the Pia Sundhage era—when she would get to run at defenses full of tired legs.

  • Heather O’Reilly again struggled to make an impact on the match, something we've seen from her against higher-level competition. If the U.S. sticks with the 4-3-3, it is hard to believe the U.S. would not be better served looking at players like Christen Press or Erika Tymrak to supplement a forward line likely to include Wambach, Alex Morgan, Leroux, and possibly Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe.

  • Finally, Meghan Klingenberg put in another decent effort at left back. Klingenberg has been in and out of U.S. camps over the past year, but earned two starts in a row against China, both over veteran Stephanie Cox. While there’s plenty of competition with Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn, Krisitie Mewis, and others, Klingenberg’s performance on Thursday, as well as last Sunday, put her firmly in the mix for a roster spot in World Cup qualifying.

    John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist specializing in the U.S. women's team. Follow him on Twitter.
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