The United States women's national team star tallied two goals in the American's 2-2 tie with the European squad. John D. Halloran watched the match and reports on what it all means.
John D. Halloran
June 20, 2014
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The United States women's national team tied France 2-2 on Thursday night in East Hartford, Connecticut, coming from behind twice to preserve its 84-game, 10-year unbeaten streak at home.
Trailing 1-0 in the second half, the U.S. equalized on a goal from Alex Morgan in the 56th minute. Then, after falling behind to France again in the 68th minute, Morgan scored on a fantastic solo effort in the 86th minute.
Here are four things we learned from the match.
Thank Goodness for Morgan
In the first half, the U.S. attack was devoid of ideas. When the Americans finally came back in the second 45 minutes, it was due more to Morgan's outstanding solo efforts than anything else.
On her first goal, Morgan struck from distance on a left-footed shot from 25 yards out that went off the post and in. That goal also happened to be Morgan's first for the U.S. in over a year, following her long layoff due to an ankle injury.
On Morgan's second goal, she used her speed to beat two French defenders off a Tobin Heath throw in and did just enough to get off a right-footed shot that dribbled past the French keeper.
Heading into the match, the U.S. was on an 83-game unbeaten streak at home that goes back all the way to 2004. Without Morgan, that streak would have surely ended Thursday night.
The Draw Papers over the Cracks
To put it simply, the U.S. women's national team has not looked the same since coach Pia Sundhage left following the 2012 Olympics. Her first replacement, Tom Sermanni, seemed to be leading the team in a new and positive direction until a series of losses at the Algarve Cup this spring led to his dismissal. People are already asking questions about new coach Jill Ellis.
In Sermanni's last game, and in the three games under Ellis, the U.S. has come out in a 4-3-3 formation. While this formation may seem best suited to the U.S. considering the team's considerable talent at forward, Ellis's deployment of Carli Lloyd as a holding midfielder with Lauren Holiday as the attacking midfielder in the U.S.'s last two games has been ineffective.
On Thursday, Holiday had one of her worst games in a U.S. shirt, repeatedly giving away possession and struggling to create attacking chances for the U.S. Starting center forward Sydney Leroux was rarely involved in the game and starting outside forward Heather O'Reilly contributed little to the cause.
Leroux's case was certainly not helped by the U.S. setup (the outside forwards were asked to track back defensively) which essentially placed the U.S. in a 4-5-1 with Leroux up top by herself. On the live stream broadcast, the announcer also said that Ellis wanted the team to play more direct, a particularly disturbing statement considering the U.S. had only one player high up the pitch as a target.
The U.S. certainly has excuses for the poor performance against France as it was missing Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, and Megan Rapinoe, but Ellis still made the decision not to start Heath, Kelley O'Hara, or Amy Rodriguez, who is in red hot club form and looked very strong when she did finally enter the match late.
At left-back, Meghan Klingenberg was given the start, but just like Stephanie Cox on Saturday, Klingenberg struggled against France. O'Hara may have been a forward in college and may play there for her club, but she's clearly the best option the U.S. has at left-back and needs to be starting there for the team game in and game out. When O'Hara did finally enter the match on Thursday, however, she was put in at right-back while Ali Krieger was moved over to the left.
The point of using the 4-3-3, considering the U.S.'s talent pool, is to get both Lloyd and Holiday in advanced positions. But if Ellis is going to continue using two holding midfielders, it should be Lloyd who plays in the advanced position with Holiday holding. Furthermore, it's time to have the difficult discussion with O'Reilly and begin to give her minutes to the younger, more talented players like Heath, Rodriguez, and Christen Press.
Besides Morgan's strong play and Rodriguez' brief, bright cameo, there were several positives for U.S. fans. Allie Long, who only recently made her U.S. debut against Canada, was very strong on Thursday night. Over and over again, Long helped the U.S. maintain possession by working the ball out of the defensive third, she won challenges, she assisted on Morgan's first goal, and repeatedly found her outside backs as they overlapped into the attack.
Also on the positive side was the calming play of Becky Sauerbrunn in the back. It may have gone under the radar because of her superb positioning, but Sauerbrunn snuffed out chance after chance against the French, winning challenges in the air, stepping to win the ball repeatedly, and cleaning up messes when her teammates made mistakes.
Finally, U.S. fans could once again look positively at the play of Press. Just as she did against France last Saturday, Press created numerous chances for the U.S. She had fantastic services to her teammates—including one all the way across the face of goal in the first half—hit the post on a well-driven shot in the second half and nearly scored off a service from Ali Krieger in the first stanza.
Although it is still very early in her tenure, so far it seems that Ellis' choice has been to make no choices. She's trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes, trying to force changes that make little sense and still fiddling with her personnel.
It's never easy being a manager when tough choices need to made, and it's even harder being the manager of a team with a talent pool as deep as the U.S.
But one of the things that got her predecessor into trouble was so-called "excessive experimentation." And as of right now, it doesn't seem that Ellis has been much different.
In the end against France, it not only took two outstanding goals from Alex Morgan to save the U.S. from a loss, but it also required a last-ditch save from goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in the 88th minute.
Frankly, the U.S. has too much talent to not be able to find a semi-consistent lineup and style of play.