Press Stars as USWNT Dominates Romania
November 10, 2016
In the first of two California friendlies, the United States women’s national team made short work of Romania on Thursday night in San Jose, dispatching their European opponent 8-1.
Christen Press (3), Tobin Heath, Morgan Brian, and Alex Morgan (2) all tallied for the Americans with the Romanians contributing an own goal in the 91st minute to bring the total to eight.
Here are the takeaways.
A NEWISH FORMATION
Last month, head coach Jill Ellis made a radical change to the U.S.’ formation, employing a 3-5-2 for the first time in her three-year tenure. The experiment—albeit against the overmatched and 15th-ranked Swiss—showed promise in both matches of the October camp, resulting in two lopsided wins.
On Thursday, Ellis trotted out a new variation of the three-back, this time going with four midfielders and three strikers in a 3-4-3.
The new look provided the U.S. with the benefit of numbers up in the wide positions on repeated occasions. As such, the Americans found no difficulty generating service from the flanks and used those chances to run up a wide lead before the halftime whistle even blew.
On the other hand, moving from a 3-5-2 to the 3-4-3 took away the major advantage of playing in a three-back, namely, the ability to play with three center midfielders and control the middle of the park while still being able to play with two front-runners.
Against Romania, despite the scoreline, the U.S. based its passing game much more on long passes rather than short, sharp passes in the midfield. It certainly worked well enough to obliterate the Romanians—how it will fare against even a mid-level team remains to be seen.
DEFENSE TOO SHAKY
It can certainly be difficult to maintain concentration in a blowout, but the U.S. defense has leaked far too many goals in recent games. On Thursday, the Americans gave up another—its sixth in the last eight matches—a disturbing trend.
None of this can be attributed to any single factor, despite those who have sought to blame it on the three-back, or the goalkeeper round robin in recent months. Four of the eight goals have come in the five games when Ellis played a four-back, while two have come in the three games in which the U.S. used a three-back. Three goals came in the two matches with Hope Solo in net, two goals in the three games with Ashlyn Harris between the posts, and one in the two games Alyssa Naeher has started.
In the Olympics, the U.S. struggled because it asked Becky Sauerbrunn to do too much on the left side of the defense. Recently, the Americans have struggled because of a combination of factors, including frequent lineup changes, testing out new tactical ideas, and individual errors.
On Thursday’s breakdown, Becky Sauerbrunn stepped far too high, giving Romania the space it needed to counter. Laura Rus split left back Casey Short and center back Allie Long and went in on Harris all alone. Rus rounded the goalkeeper and finished into the open net.
Last camp, Long—a converted midfielder—showed promise. And if Ellis truly believes Long is the answer at defense, the coach should stick with her and let her learn the position and adjust to playing next to new teammates. However, at some point, if the U.S. continues to concede goals against sub-par opponents, Ellis will have to admit that either Long can’t get the job done in the back and/or the three-back is not the way to go.
With two and a half years until the next major tournament, the U.S. doesn’t need to panic and this is the right time to experiment. If done right, Ellis will learn what works and—just as importantly—what doesn’t and the team will be better off for it in the long run.
The U.S.’ next match is against Romania on Sunday (9:30 ET, FS1) in Carson, California.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.