By CAITLIN MURRAY
The post-Tom Sermanni era of the U.S. Women’s National Team has begun and, for now, not much has changed – the USWNT still coasted past China, 3-0, on Thursday and interim coach Jill Ellis doled out minutes to veterans and rookies alike, using all of her substitutions.
Buoyed by two beautiful Carli Lloyd goals, the USWNT built upon their first 2-0 win in this two-game set against China – the previous match having been Sermanni’s last as head coach. But perhaps most importantly for the U.S. women, they have officially moved on and have produced the results they expect against a team like China.
Ellis, who appears to be a top contender for the permanent head coach job, started the team in the same 4-3-3 formation Sermanni used in his last game in charge. But Ellis put her own stamp on the system, fielding Lauren Holiday as the target forward, with Sydney Leroux and Heather O’Reilly working the flanks.
Before the match, Ellis told NBC that the 4-3-3 is another weapon the USWNT would like to have in their arsenal – and it was Lloyd who made the formation look better than it had under Sermanni.
In the 20th minute, an unmarked Lloyd caught a bounced pass from Holiday and volleyed it from inside the penalty area to the near post with a delicate, restrained touch to avoid over-hitting it. Three minutes later, Lloyd was at it again, blasting a sailing and then dipping rocket from some 20 yards out, bringing her hips around to get a left-footed shot inside the near post.
Leroux scored one of her own in the opening minute of the second half, racing onto a pass from Megan Rapinoe before finishing to the far post with a sliding finish, a sequence touched off by a long ball.
China played better than in the previous meeting between the sides, but still couldn’t manage a grasp on attacking the Americans. While the Chinese played a more aggressive style and forced Hope Solo to make an early lunging save, they were still out-shot 18-3.
MOVING ON WITH A NEW COACH
It was unlikely the USWNT would come away with anything other than a win against China, but the match was about notching that first win in an uncertain period without Sermanni.
With the shock of Sermanni’s dismissal wearing off and the team officially entering the next phase of the squad, the focus turns to who will be picked from U.S. Soccer’s short list of coach candidates. Ellis had been the interim coach after Pia Sundhage left for Sweden, but said she didn’t want the job. This time around, she hasn’t yet decided, she said Thursday.
Before Thursday’s match, O’Reilly hinted Sermanni may have been favoring younger players or changing the team’s style too much, or was instituting changes too quickly.
“I think that we need a coach that’s going to blend this team – blend the old, blend the new, blend an aggressive style, blend a possession-oriented style,” O’Reilly told NBC, “and we just need a coach that is going to have the right cultural fit for this group.”
“This team is special in terms of its athleticism and aggression towards goal, but we’re also looking to play a very possession-oriented style,” O’Reilly added. “I think in order to blend those two, you need a very concrete and clear vision of what that’s going to take. I guess U.S. Soccer just didn’t think that Tom Sermanni was bringing that clear vision to us.”
Hours after the announcement of his firing last Sunday, Sermanni told SBI he had no clue U.S. Soccer was unhappy with his coaching.
Speaking to NBC after the match, Lloyd said the next USWNT coach doesn’t need to change much.
“This team just needs someone to steer us in the right direction,” Lloyd said. “We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the depth.”
What did you think of the match? Think Ellis is off to a good start if this is her trial for the job? How did the performance compare to Sermanni’s match in this set against China?
Share your thoughts below.