Interim U.S. women's national team head coach Jill Ellis reportedly wants the full-time job but in order to secure it she'll have to improve on Thursday night's lackluster showing in Winnipeg.
John D. Halloran
THE UNITED STATES WOMEN'S
May 09, 2014
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national team played Canada to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly in Winnipeg Thursday night. The Canadians struck first and took the lead into the locker room at halftime before Sydney Leroux scored the equalizer in the 78th minute.
Although the match was just a friendly, it was another important step for the U.S. squad as it prepares for World Cup qualifying this fall. Here are four things we learned from the match.
The forwards had an off night
Starting the match for the third game in a row in a 4-3-3, the U.S. front line struggled to break down the Canadian defense. This was even more surprising considering the relative inexperience of the Canadian defenders and the fact that the home team started three teenagers in its back line.
Heather O'Reilly, who got the start on the right wing, had one good moment in the seventh minute when she cut the ball in to get off a solid left-footed shot, Canadian keeper Erin McLeod tipped the stiker over the crossbar. That moment aside, however, O'Reilly struggled to make a significant impact on the match and even missed a sitter from three yards out in the 66th minute when the U.S. was still chasing the game.
Abby Wambach got the start at center forward and she too struggled to make a difference the U.S. Although Wambach did have a few good moments holding up the ball for the Americans in transition— and delivered a trademark header on a free kick in the second half that could have resulted in a goal—she couldn't help the U.S. get on the board before being withdrawn in the 68th minute.
Leroux started on the left wing and, as usual, ran hard at opposing defenders. Like her teammates, though, she struggled to put in a good final ball or create chances for herself. Still, her finish on the game-tying goal was well taken and she proved once again to be the ultimate Canadian villain. Having represented Canada at the youth level, but then choosing to play for the U.S. at the senior level, Leroux has now scored against Canada in three straight matches.
The midfield didn't dominate
Even though the U.S. outshot Canada 14-4, there were more than a few stretches in which the Canadians controlled the middle third. The U.S. trio in the midfield—Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday—did not control the tempo of the match.
Holiday was the best of the bunch, having a terrific night. She put in a number of good tackles, repeatedly switched the point of attack, and held possession in traffic exceptionally well. Her shots certainly could have been better, but she was definitely the bright spot in the U.S. midfield on Thursday night.
Brian and Lloyd, it has to be said, did not play to their usual high standards. Lloyd, in particular, drifted in and out of the match far too often and was not her normal dominating self. Over the past few months, the 31-year-old New Jersey native has been one of the best U.S. players, so Thursday night was likely just an anomaly for the American midfielder.
The defensive battle
The U.S. started a back line of Ali Krieger, Whitney Engen, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Meghan Klingenberg. Although the Canadians did have a few moments on the attack, overall the back line held. The one goal that was conceded came off a corner kick just before the half when Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan outjumped Ali Krieger to head home the service.
In fact, U.S. interim coach Jill Ellis ultimately bears some responsibility for the Canadian goal as the U.S. decided not to put a player on the back post. As pointed out on the broadcast, if a U.S. defender had been positioned there, she would almost certainly have cleared Buchanan's header off the line.
One bright spot for the U.S. defense on Thursday night: the play of substitute Crystal Dunn, who returned to the national team after a long spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Dunn, as usual, got forward extremely well and provided the service that resulted in the U.S.'s lone goal.
The coaching situation
Since Tom Sermanni was fired last month, former assistant Jill Ellis has served as interim coach of the U.S. women's national team. This week it was reported that Ellis, who withdrew her name from consideration when Pia Sundhage stepped down, is interested in the full-time position.
However, current Tyreso coach Tony Gustavsson and former U.S. women's coach Tony DiCicco are reportedly both finalists for the position too. ASN will be keeping a close eye on this story in the weeks ahead.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.