U.S. Women's National Team
France Dominates U.S. Women En Route to 3-0 Win
March 08, 2017
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team staggered to the finish line in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup on Tuesday night in Washington D.C., losing 3-0 to France and closing out the tournament in last place.
From the outset, Les Bleues put the Americans on their heels, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes to break the game open before it ever really got started. Adding a third goal shortly into the second half, the French cruised to victory and won the tournament.
The loss was the worst for the Americans since a 4-0 shellacking at the 2007 World Cup that ultimately cost then-head coach Greg Ryan his job. The loss on Tuesday night also seemed reminiscent of a 5-3 loss to Denmark in the 2014 Algarve Cup, which led to coach Tom Sermanni being fired a month later.
Following the team’s earliest-ever exit in a major tournament at this past summer’s Olympics, the pressure will no doubt be on current head coach Jill Ellis in the months to come. In the three games of the SheBelieves Cup, the Americans scored only one goal and conceded four. In the final match, the French attack shredded the U.S. backline on repeated occasions and the Yanks’ attack—for the third time in three games—looked utterly bereft of ideas.
That pass and run ???? pic.twitter.com/uFcV39E3Th— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) March 8, 2017
Wonderful from France. pic.twitter.com/0MqO2zlzNK— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) March 8, 2017
On an individual level, no American put forth a noteworthy performance Tuesday. Allie Long, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Casey Short all struggled to keep the French attack in front of them and on the offensive side of the ball, two-time World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd failed to make an impact for the third straight match. The U.S. forwards remained uninvolved for long stretches, and the team rarely put together attacking combinations strong enough to challenge the French defense.
The one redeeming factor is that this loss comes at the best point possible in the World Cup cycle, more than two years before the team will head to France for the 2019 tournament. For all the hand-wringing about Ellis’ experimentation with a three-back defense, this remains the perfect time for such tinkering, and she must be given credit for sticking with it against such highly rated competition.
The coach instituted the new look following the loss to Sweden in last summer’s Olympics, precisely because the team’s 4-2-3-1 (which it adopted mid-tournament on its way to winning the 2015 World Cup) simply did not work against teams that looked to bunker against the Americans. None of the teams the U.S. played in the SheBelieves Cup tried bunkering, but that doesn’t mean Ellis' experiment was a waste.
Going forward, the team could—and probably should—adopt several different formations to be used against different teams in different situations. And getting the U.S. squad acclimated to those formations now, under pressure, is the right time to do it. The team could easily use its old 4-2-3-1 when playing against the top teams in the world, play compact defense through the middle, and look to counter when they can.
Then, against lower-ranked teams that attempt to sit back, Ellis could unleash the three-back and add the extra attacker to break down the bunkers.
Taking such a passive approach against teams like England, France, Germany, Japan, and Brazil might not smack of confidence, and the countering style might bother aesthetic purists, but no one can doubt it’s effectiveness or the fact that it fits the U.S.’ strengths very well.
Lopsided losses can be forgiven if they are earned in the pursuit of long-term development and answer questions that needed asking. And, no doubt, there is plenty the U.S. can learn from this tournament. Ultimately, Ellis will have plenty of time to figure it out—assuming the federation doesn’t intervene—with the Americans’ next opponent being lowly Russia for a two-game set in April.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.