61514_isi_lerouxpress_uswntbs061414107 Brad Smith/isiphotos.com
U.S. Women's Team

Sydney Leroux Scores as U.S. Women Top France 1-0

While the men's team prepares to face Ghana, the U.S. women were in action on Saturday night, pulling out a 1-0 win over France. American Soccer Now's John D. Halloran has four thoughts on the contest.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
June 15, 2014
8:54 AM
IN THE FIRST OF TWO SCHEDULED FRIENDLIES, the United States women's national team escaped with a 1-0 win over France on Saturday night in Tampa, Florida.

The U.S.'s lone goal came from Sydney Leroux via Christen Press, and while it was enough for the win, the French missed several wide open chances to equalize and laid siege to the U.S. goal for the final 10 minutes of the game.

Here are four things we learned from the contest.

1. THE FORMATION CONUNDRUM REMAINS In the last four games, the United States women's national team has come out in a 4-3-3 formation. The switch from the U.S.'s traditional 4-4-2 seemed to make sense for a number of reasons, including the team's plethora of talent at forward and the desire to get both Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday into attacking midfield positions.

However, the U.S. setup on Saturday night disqualified one of those advantages immediately as the midfield triangle against France was reversed from its previous incarnations against Canada and China. In those games, Morgan Brian was deployed in a holding role while Lloyd and Holiday attacked. Against France, the U.S. deployed two holding midfielders (Lloyd and newcomer Allie Long) and played Holiday underneath the center forward, Leroux.

When she did get forward, Lloyd was effective, creating some great combinations in the attacking third and picking up the "hockey assist" on Leroux's goal. But Lloyd's effectiveness in the attack only emphasized the folly of starting her in a deeper position in the first place.

This was the same problem former coach Pia Sundhage faced in the 2012 Olympics when she deployed the Holiday/Lloyd center midfield combination. Lloyd was asked to hold back for the bulk of that tournament, but her best performance came in the final when she was unleashed and allowed to go forward because Shannon Boxx, a true holding midfielder, was started behind her.

While Holiday is a world-class attacking midfielder, so is Lloyd. And starting Lloyd deeper in the formation hinders the U.S. attack.

It was also interesting to note that on Saturday, when Holiday dropped deep to receive the ball, she had a number of "can-opener" passes to pull apart the French defense. That fact alone might make it worth experimenting with Holiday as the holding midfielder and allowing Lloyd to play higher up the field.

2. DOES THE U.S. NEED TO CHANGE? Early in the match, the 4-3-3 formation did give the U.S. a decisive advantage in possession, but that faded as the game wore on. The U.S.'s dominance in possession also caused several unintended problems. For one, it made it easier for France to stay compact which limited space for Sydney Leroux—and second-half substitute Alex Morgan—to run into, thereby negating those two players' greatest advantage—their speed.

The decisive advantage in possession also created issues for the U.S. defense. When possession was lost, the French were able to launch lightning quick counters as every U.S. player except the two center-backs had pushed forward. Without at least one fantastic save from Hope Solo and several flat-out wasted chances by the French attackers, the U.S. easily could have lost the game 3-1.

U.S. coaches should be applauded for attempting to make the U.S. a more possession-based team, but one must wonder if a tiki-taka system is the best way to go. The U.S. women were Olympic gold medalists in 2012 and were a penalty shootout away from winning the World Cup in 2011.

The U.S. has also been the No. 1 ranked team in the world for the past seven years. Whether or not the U.S. truly needs to evolve, or whether its coaches are trying to solve a problem that doesn't actually exist, is a question worth asking.

3. THE GOOD AND BAD OF THE DEFENSE The good news, defensively, from Saturday night's win over France, was the play of 38-year-old Christie Rampone. Many have questioned whether Rampone can still play at a high level heading into a World Cup year, but her performance on Saturday night should put those fears to rest for the time being.

Against France, Rampone repeatedly broke up French counterattacks, covered for beaten teammates, and cleaned up the messes.

The bad news, defensively, was the play of left back Stephanie Cox. Early in the game Cox's lack of speed was exposed and, especially in the second half, she repeatedly gave the ball away. Head coach Jill Ellis has also made some interesting decisions this camp regarding left back, electing to train Kelley O'Hara as a forward, despite the fact that O'Hara excelled as a left back in the 2012 Olympics.

The decision makes even less sense when one considers that if playing up top, O'Hara is competing with Morgan, Abby Wambach, Leroux, Press, and Amy Rodriguez for playing time. On Saturday, Ellis elected to not only start Cox, but also didn't roster O'Hara, Meghan Klingenberg, or Kristie Mewis—the three other players on the U.S. roster capable of playing on the left.

4. CHRISTEN PRESS DESERVES TO START In addition to assisting on the game-winning goal, Press was excellent in a number of other often-overlooked areas. Press helped start the U.S. attack all night long with her fantastic hold-up play, checking back for the ball and laying it off to overlapping midfielders. She also tracked back defensively on several occasions from her wide forward role.

Many have looked at Press as the "fourth forward" for the U.S., behind Morgan, Wambach, and Leroux. But Press's technical level and tactical understanding is superb and she should be in the running for a spot in the starting XI as the U.S. heads into World Cup qualifying this fall.

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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