Photo by USA Today Sports Images
By CAITLIN MURRAY
The Jill Ellis era is off to a soaring start for the U.S. Women’s National Team, with the U.S. women posting a dominant victory against Switzerland on Wednesday night.
Ellis continued to put a new, somewhat experimental stamp on the team and the changes produced positive results, with the U.S. women beating Switzerland, 4-1, in the first meeting between the two national teams. Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press each scored goals in front of a sold-out crowd in Cary, N.C.
Ellis, perhaps showing her tenure will be more about new ideas than old ones, rearranged the midfield in her favored starting 4-3-3, with Sydney Leroux and Press flanking target forward Alex Morgan.
Normally a wide player, Rapinoe started as a central playmaker. The creativity that has made her such an unpredictable threat in her usual left flank spot appeared to translate well in the middle. She distributed adeptly and found teammates with threaded passes all over the field, setting up chances and half chances along the way.
It took Rapinoe just three minutes to hand the U.S. the lead, starting with Rapinoe forcing a turnover in the U.S.’s own half. After a long diagonal slip pass to Leroux, Rapinoe received the ball back at the top of the box and drove it low and wide past a diving goalkeeper Thalmann Gaëlle.
With three goals on penalty kicks, Press nabbed the other highlight reel-worthy goal of the night. Making up for whiffed one-on-one chance in front of goal the first half, Press scored off a neat volley in the 76th minute under a 4-4-2 shift to put the match out of reach for the Swiss, 3-1. After chesting down a loose ball, she volleyed it from 25 yards out, catching the underside of the crossbar before it went in.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo, on the brink of setting a new USWNT shutout record, saw her clean sheet slip away with a blatant Rapinoe handling call in the 72nd minute. Solo guessed to the wrong side and Ana-Maria Crnogorčević slotted it home. Solo will have to wait until September to try again to beat Briana Scurry’s current all-time team record of 71 shutouts.
Carli Lloyd, who had several on-frame shots denied, scored off a handling PK. Abby Wambach scored from the spot after being taken down in the box.
It was the first time the U.S. women have played Switzerland in their history, a rare uncharted challenge for the world’s top women’s team. The Swiss just qualified for their first World Cup, but the USWNT looked organized and cohesive throughout Wednesday’s match, syncing up and controlling the game’s rhythm.
Leroux and Rapinoe collaborated again for a near Lloyd goal in the 35th minute. Leroux muscled off a pair of Swiss players to capture a loose ball and passed to Rapinoe, who threaded a long, diagonal pass to the feet of Lloyd running onto it. Lloyd’s shot was cleared off the line with a sliding kick from defender Noëlle Maritz.
In June, Ellis said she was looking to settle on a back four quickly and Wednesday’s friendly will likely play a role in her decision-making process. Crystal Dunn started at left back Wednesday after not playing that position since last year and used her speed well, tamping down Swiss efforts along the flank.
Ellis also gave Julie Johnston her first cap since last April as a center back, when she started under former coach Tom Sermanni. Johnston is coming off a strong first professional year with the Chicago Red Stars, a team that narrowly missed the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs last week.
The U.S. defense wasn’t given much of a challenge – the U.S. recorded 15 shots on goal to Switzerland’s one – but held shape well and stymied the Swiss, with Becky Sauerbrunn stepping up as a leader for the back line alongside veteran Christie Rampone.
Up next, the USWNT plays Mexico for a two-game friendly set in September before CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home across three cities beginning Oct. 15.
Watch the match highlights below: