Sunday, March 15, 2015

Then Again ...

Did I overreact to the result of a friendly?


But examples of equal overreaction to the U.S. Women's win in the finals of the Algarve Cup abound as well.

Yes, the U.S. was missing Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux in its 2-0 loss in a friendly last month. But Rapinoe and Leroux made mere cameo appearance in its 2-0 win over France in the Algarve Cup final last week. Meanwhile, the French were missing five of their starters in the match in Portugal who had featured in the earlier game in Lorient (including both starting center backs, playmaker Louisa Nacib, and Elodie Thomis who torched the American defense repeatedly in their first meeting of the year).

What can we learn from the second match? First, as hard as it may be to admit, the team needs Solo. She is athletic and commanding in the box. She made a good save on the late penalty kick, but more importantly her presence seems to calm all of the U.S. defenders. And that unit also seems better equipped to handle fast, skilled players with Julie Johnston partnering with Becky Sauerbrunn in central defense.

Second, the team has a new star in Christen Press. While she may not have been able to shred France's Wendie Renard and Laura Georges the way she did their substitutes in the Final in Portugal, she is a dynamic player whose individual skill on the ball is going to be needed if Jill Ellis' team continues to play balls over the top to its forwards (whoever they will end up being between Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriquez, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, and Press) rather than possession soccer.

Press at the Algarve Cup (photo from

Which brings me to third, why I'm not sold on the team yet. It probably has more to do with the type of soccer that I like to watch than it does whether I believe the U.S. will win the Women's World Cup in Canada. It seems that Ellis is intent on playing with no true attacking wing midfielders, putting Press and Carli Lloyd out wide and letting Lauren Holiday (of whom everyone but me seems enamored as a playmaker) and Morgan Brian run the center of midfield.

Moving Press and Lloyd "out wide" means that they rarely play as out-and-out wingers, but more like additional center-mids, which is fine if you want to control possession and play a small-pass game. Which, puzzlingly, the U.S. has not done in any of the matches that it's played in that alignment. I've long expressed my admiration for the skills of Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, who excel at wing play (although Heath, like Press, is more adept at challenging players from the wing and cutting inside than Rapinoe, who sends in crosses with the best of them). If Ellis continues to use Press and Lloyd at outside mid, then the U.S. attack will be less varied, more predictable, and not nearly as entertaining as when Rapinoe and Heath play.

I don't expect that the exhibitions that the U.S. has scheduled over the next three months will tell us much about how the U.S. will fair in Canada. But they will very likely confirm what Ellis' plans are for the formation they will use and the players that she is counting to prove that Portugal, not Lorient, was the bell weather of what their chances of success are.

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