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Match Report

U.S. Defeats China 2-0; Sermanni Axed After Match

Last night Tom Sermanni was relieved of his duties as United States women's national team coach, but before that happened, the U.S. defeated China in a new look 4-3-3 formation.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
April 07, 2014
10:37 AM
IN HIS FINAL MATCH as head coach of the United States women's national team, Tom Sermanni sent his troops out in a 4-3-3 formation that overwhelmed China on Sunday. Led by goal scorers Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe, the Americans outshot their opponents by a margin of 25-1 en route to a convincing 2-0 victory.

Or perhaps it wasn't convincing enough. A few hours after the contest the United States Soccer Federation announced that Sermanni had been fired after 24 matches at the helm. A press conference with U.S.S.F president Sunil Gulati is scheduled for 4:30 ET this afternoon, and we will have more on the ouster then.

The gamesmanship behind Sermanni's dismissal will have to wait. Here's a look at the game itself.

One of the stars of the match was youngster Morgan Brian, who Sermanni used as the holding midfielder. Brian, who has started six of the United States' eight matches in 2014, was fantastic in the role—a position left largely open over the past year since Shannon Boxx last saw action with the U.S.

Despite the fact that Brian normally plays as an attacking midfielder with the University of Virginia—yes, she’s still in college—she excelled in her defensive responsibilities, sitting in front of the center backs. Brian stayed home, as she was supposed to, delivered a number of key poke tackles, won the ball repeatedly in the air, and slowed down China’s counterattacks. Since Boxx left the team, the U.S. has been missing a “destroyer” and the back line has been under more pressure than usual. With Brian’s performance on Sunday, that role may now be filled.

Building from the back, Brian also directed possession for the U.S. and repeatedly switched the point of attack. And, even though China played a game of low pressure, Brian’s skill on the ball in tight space means she would likely do just as well against a team pressuring higher up the field.

With Brian protecting the back line, Carli Lloyd was free to do what she does best—attack. Lloyd flew into the attacking third over and over again, generating dangerous chances for both herself and her teammates. Had her colleagues been a little more efficient with their finishing, the game could have easily ended up 5-0. Rapinoe, who came on for Holiday in the second half, played more centrally than she normally does, and she seemed to thrive in the role, playing with creativity throughout.

Even better, had the U.S. been fielding its full “A” lineup, it’s likely the 4-3-3 would have done even more damage. Alex Morgan, who is still injured, would certainly not have been as wasteful in front of net as Sydney Leroux and Christen Press were on Sunday. The 4-3-3—and the deployment of a holding midfielder—also allowed Ali Krieger to bomb forward and put numerous dangerous crosses into the area from the right flank. Had Abby Wambach started the match, it’s not implausible to think one or two of those chances would have been deposited in the back of China’s net.

Meghan Klingenberg started at left back for the U.S. and while she didn’t play poorly, it’s almost a certainty that a fully fit Kelley O’Hara would have gotten forward more aggressively and more often. If that had been the case, O’Hara would have been delivering crosses from the left flank almost as consistently and as often as Krieger was doing on the right—creating even more chances for the U.S.

While any result against China has to be taken with a grain of salt—the team is not as bad as Russia, but certainly not world-beaters like Japan, Sweden, Germany or Brazil—Sunday’s match was an exciting sign that a 4-3-3 could help the U.S. achieve an even higher standard of play heading into World Cup qualifying later this year.

Of course, with Sermanni out, it's anybody's guess which direction the United States women's national team will head next. We'll be tracking the latest developments and sharing the news, and our analysis, right here.

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

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