USWNT Recap and Analysis
USWNT passes key test in an important World Cup tune-up win over Australia
April 05, 2019
Alex Morgan scored the first goal in the contest, before Lisa De Vanna got one back for the Australians and the teams entered the locker room tied 1-1. In the second half, the Americans fell behind briefly after Caitlin Foord scored to help the Matildas take the lead.
However, the U.S. came roaring back, picking up tallies from Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe, and Mallory Pugh (2) before Sam Kerr added one late for Australia to produce the final scoreline.
Here are three thoughts from the contest.
THE QUESTION AT RIGHT BACK
For the past two years, the U.S. has struggled to find an answer at right back in the face of repeated injuries to Kelley O’Hara. Head coach Jill Ellis has tried a variety of players, including Emily Fox, Taylor Smith, Casey Short, Merritt Mathias, Sofia Huerta, Crystal Dunn and Emily Sonnett.
All have struggled at times and, for this camp, the coach decided to give another look to longtime outcast Ali Krieger.
Still, in the match against Australia, the start went to Sonnett, who more often than not gets the call when O’Hara isn’t fit.
Playing out of her natural position at center back, Sonnett often fails to effectively defend pacey attackers 1 v. 1 in the wide spaces and lacks the attacking instincts to contribute much to the attack—a skill set that Ellis covets in her outside backs.
The former became obvious on Australia’s first goal as Sonnett’s poor positioning—and natural instinct to pinch in centrally—left too much space for De Vanna to get off a shot and get the Matildas on the board.
Emily Sonnett’s positioning on Australia’s goal. pic.twitter.com/W0tzuHdGLZ— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) April 5, 2019
However, on the other end of the ball, Sonnett’s attacking qualities proved excellent on Thursday. Early in the game, the defender’s positioning and passing of the back contributed to several nice combinations and in the second half, she added to the attack on two separate occasions with nice assists on the U.S.’ second and fourth goals.
66': Mallory Pugh comes on as a sub— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 5, 2019
67': Mallory Pugh scores
She puts the USWNT up by 2 ???????????? pic.twitter.com/uvnw4Wm9P7
OTHER QUESTIONS ON DEFENSE
Besides Sonnett’s positioning error on Australia’s first goal, the Americans made plenty of other errors which contributed to giving up three goals.
On the Matildas’ first tally, Alyssa Naeher positioned herself too close to the near post and left the entire far side of the goal wide open for De Vanna.
On Australia’s second goal, Caitlin Foord turned second-half substitute Sam Mewis just outside the box and center back Abby Dahlkemper only stepped halfway—not putting enough pressure on the shot.
Not the start to the second half the USWNT wanted ????— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 5, 2019
Caitlin Foord finds the back of the net and puts Australia up 2-1. pic.twitter.com/Pwy5pPoCs9
And on Australia’s third, Sam Kerr simply outjumped Dahlkemper and beat her to a lofted service.
Perhaps this final strike was simply a beautiful individual effort from Kerr—largely regarded as one of the top 2-3 strikers in the world—but it was also the final result of a number of defensive miscues which saw Kerr find space off Becky Sauerbrunn’s back shoulder for an open chance in the 33rd minute and space between the American center backs in the 39th minute.
The fact of the matter is that the U.S.’ defense is not, and quite likely will not be, the same force as it was in the 2015 World Cup when it carried the team deep into the tournament before the offense heated up.
AMERICAN SUCCESS ALL ON THE OFFENSE
If the United States is to make a deep run this summer in France, it will be on the back of its offense. Since switching to a 4-3-3 in 2017, the American offense has been exceptionally strong, with Heath and Rapinoe finding joy in the wide spaces and Morgan providing the hammer in the middle.
On Thursday, all three did their part to ensure victory.
Morgan contributed first, scoring her 100th career goal in the 14th minute of play. On the sequence, the forward bodied off defender Clare Polkinghorne, beat Alanna Kennedy on the dribble, and then finished with her weak foot past goalkeeper Lydia Williams. All three Australian players are well-regarded—Morgan dispatched all three with lethal effectiveness.
Heath contributed the second goal on the night, helping jumpstart the American comeback. It proved a simple enough sequence, with Heath leaping high to power home Sonnett’s lofted service from the wing.
Finally, Rapinoe delivered a brilliant individual effort on the U.S.’ third goal. Taking the ball near the top of the box, she carried the ball past a defender and hit a wicked dipping shot across her body and past Williams on the near post.
WHAT A GOAL BY RAPINOE ????????????— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 5, 2019
She puts ???????? back on ???? pic.twitter.com/jbHiZFdFh5
It may not be overly comforting to realize that American success in the 2019 World Cup will ultimately rest on the offense, but right now it’s the best plan they’ve got.
The U.S. takes on Belgium on Sunday in Los Angeles at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.