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France 2, USWNT 0: The SBI Breakdown

Alex Morgan


If Sunday’s performance was any indication of what the U.S. Women’s National Team might have in store for the 2015 World Cup, they could be in for a long summer.

With the so-called Group of Death looming in Canada 2015, where the USWNT will have to fend off two Top 10 teams in the group stage, No. 3-ranked France was an important test that the Americans failed. They were outplayed Sunday by an organized French side, losing 2-0 in Lorient, France.

As coach Jill Ellis starts to settle on a strategy for the Women’s World Cup in June, there have been plenty of tweaks in recent months, and Sunday’s showing was no different. The return of the 4-4-2 from her favored 4-3-3 formation and some players in new positions were key changes that will give Ellis plenty to mull over after a rough loss.

What seemed like the biggest storylines going into the match — Hope Solo’s suspension or the absence of starters Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone — ended up as non-factors in the end. The most apparent lingering message is that the USWNT has a lot of work to do before the World Cup.

Here are SBI’s five key takeaways from the USWNT vs. France:


The USWNT conceded two goals and lost. That is a fact. But the match was lost in the midfield, not in backup goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ six-yard box.

By Sunday, everyone surely knew the big storyline heading into the match: Hope Solo had been suspended by U.S. Soccer for another lapse in judgment, which meant Harris, the No. 2 backup, would probably start. Harris had just four caps with the USWNT going into Sunday and questions certainly lingered over whether the USWNT faced a goalkeeper crisis of its own making.

Those are important questions, but Harris was not the reason the USWNT lost. France’s goals would’ve been a challenge for Solo to stop just as well and Harris held her own, making at least one impressive save that kept the USWNT in the match early.

The story from Sunday is that France outplayed the Americans all over the field, technically and tactically. The USWNT’s struggle with basic possession and ball movement allowed France to overrun the Americans, and any blame laid on Harris is misdirection.


If the USWNT is going to return to the 4-4-2, a formation that the team saw huge success with last cycle under Pia Sundhage, then the best-fitting personnel should be used accordingly — especially at fullback.

Ellis started a fullback duo of Meghan Klingenberg and Lori Chalupny, but neither looked prepared to mind both defensive and offensive duties, which is part of the job description in the USWNT’s 4-4-2. Both Klingenberg and Chalupny were caught out of position on several chances that France should’ve converted, and both defenders did little to help build the attack.

With Kelley O’Hara and Ali Kreiger on the bench, Ellis’ choice of starting outside backs was surprising. O’Hara and Krieger are both adept at building out the back and pushing up along the flanks to provide service through the midfield, something the USWNT could’ve used help with Sunday. Crystal Dunn is also an aggressive, speedy option in either wingback position and she might’ve handled France better than Klingenberg and Chalupny did.


Alex Morgan figured to have some rust. After being sidelined since World Cup qualifying in October, Ellis admitted the star striker’s finishing still needs some time to return.

And yet, Morgan showed impressive flashes of creating chances and finding seams to work through in some of the brightest moments for the USWNT, even as her finishing was off. Once her striking precision is back, she will be a game-changer for the Americans.

But perhaps even more encouraging was Morgan’s partnership with Christen Press. Often overshadowed by the likes of Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Abby Wambach, Press brings something different and more technically focused to the USWNT striker stable — and it showed against France.

Press had the vision to set up her teammates and find ways to stretch France’s back line, creating some of the best combinations for the Americans all night, and she worked well with Morgan. Although a Press-Morgan two-front is a rare occurrence, it may be one Ellis should explore more.


It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it rings true: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or to put it another way: If Carli Lloyd is raining down goals from the central midfield, don’t push her to the flank.

Lloyd was the top goalscorer for the USWNT in 2014, scoring 15 goals. She scored 10 goals in the team’s eight previous matches going into Sunday — and they were almost always scored from a central position. That’s why it was so surprising to see Lloyd pushed out to the left flank.

Part of why the USWNT was so jammed up in the midfield was a lack of a wide play. Everyone seemed to be playing toward the middle — a sharp contrast to France, which saw some of its best chances start from near the touchlines. The U.S. midfield could’ve used a boost from a player like Heather O’Reilly, who plays so comfortably along the right lane, or a pair of outside backs pushing high (see the second item on this list again).

Lloyd should be put where she plays her best and the players who are comfortable working the edges of the pitch should be spread out wide.


As the chances of advancing into the deep stages of the tournament look less certain for the USWNT after a performance like Sunday’s, the opposite is true for France.

France performed on another level and showed more tactical awareness on the day. They played off one another in tight spaces with crisp passing, they quickly cut out USWNT threats and they looked like a cohesive group. Perhaps the disjointed, choppy play of the Americans only made the French look better by comparison, but France has been on the rise, now No. 3 in the world, for a reason.

The difference under coach Philippe Bergeroo, who replaced the controversial Bruno Bini after the last Olympics, has become clear. The French entered Sunday with some very big recent results, including a win over No. 1-ranked Germany in October and a November win over Brazil, a side that beat the USWNT the following month. Les Bleues are playing with confidence and they looked more comfortable as a group than they had when the USWNT met them last summer for a pair of friendlies that ended in a draw and loss.

With teams like Germany, Japan and Sweden looking like early contenders, it’s awfully difficult not to toss France in with that group.


  1. Great assessment. The tactical choices of fullback was mindblogging especially if you account that they’ve played France recently and should have been aware of the speed of their forwards. For a 4-4-2 to be effective, the fullbacks have to be pushed forward to help the attack/forwards. They were both ill equipped or had an off game to build from the back which led to lots of long balls to forwards which then led to forwards being outnumbered in the attacking third. But then the fullbacks were exposed defensively because the MFers were a mess especially the left channel. Lloyd a clear cut CM was asked to play left winger but was roaming in the middle, leaving the left back w/ no help.
    I wonder if any journalists or nobodies like me get tired of repeating a comment that Jill continues to play players out of position. The midfield is a mess and it’s no surprise when you overload the MF with 3 or 4 naturally attacking CM, the NT has issues dictating play or width on the pitch. I’m all about experimenting or taking these losses to use as learning opportunities. However, USWNT have continued to have very similar issues over and over again. And also if Ellis is “experimenting” and developing depth, I don’t understand why you keep starting older veterans or bringing Abby in as a super sub. Let them play it through or ask another very quality forward to step up.
    Is 50% PK conversion rate an acceptable level for your primary PK taker? Does that mean Abby at 50% PK conversion rate is the best taker on the NT? That’s fairly depressing. From 2013, Abby made 3 out of 6 PKs taken for the NT and made 2 out of 4 PKs taken for club (don’t have stats for 2014 nwsl season)— YIKES! Is this acceptable? I get Abby and her teammates believe in her skill and why not she’s been clutch but when is enough, enough. This is two solid years of a 50/50 shot of converting a PK.

  2. Spot. On. 100 percent agree with your observations, especially when it comes to Harris. That cross turned goal would be impossible for just about anybody. And obviously both goals came from someone beating the same defender. But that said, we definitely had chances that just didn’t get in the net. Lloyd, Morgan, Wambach, there were three or four almost “sure” goals that sailed wide or high or ever so gently into the keeper’s arms. I’m worried about the defense, sure, but also feeling like we gave ourselves the chances and they just didn’t hit the mark. I was definitely worried after Brazil but feel, despite the loss, that we’re not as bad off as I thought at the start of the year. Anyway, great analysis.

  3. Typical sports fan overreaction. It was one game. It didn’t count. This is not the lineup that will play in the WC. These are not the starters. Rapinoe will be back and will raise hell on the flank. All of the players, especially Morgan, will be sharper coming off club season play. Leroux will dust defenders when she’s back. It would’ve been nice if the U.S. won this game anyway, but they will smash everyone in the group stage and win the tournament.

  4. I think this is a very big deal. France is the highest profile team we will face before the WC and they owned us. The worst part was the terrible lineup Jill concocted. Did we even have any close chances? Our defense looked lost. Jill had the deer in the headlight look on her face. I was reading it as “what do I do now”? I am raising a yellow flag to 1/2 mast. Anything but a convincing win against England will get it all the way up.

  5. Ellis is in way over her head. She can’t make meaningful lineup or tactical changes without stirring up trouble in the locker room. It’s obvious that she either needs to bench Lloyd or Holiday when facing a high quality midfield. They both can’t be on the field because neither one is willing to play defense. Lloyd has one talent and that is blasting the ball at the net. There is no finesse in her game at all. Holiday is a more complete player but she seems to have lost her mojo. Somehow, though, Ellis thought the answer was to pull Morgan Brian. It was a head scratching moment imho.

  6. In US’ defense they wanted to see if Chalupa was up to task and for now the answer is clearly no. She was muscled around the first half and then outright burned on both goals after the second half whistle.

    You pull her role out and it’s an even game. Even saying that is not what the US wants to hear, but the scoreline could have been even with different backs.

    I can’t slap them around for seeing if Chalupa was up to it, if she was it’s a veteran option. Better to learn that now.

  7. The women’s program is starting to remind me of England….forerunners and universally considered top teams that sat on their laurels too long and allowed other programs to overcome them tactically. Both outfits have relied on athleticism, power, and directness to defeat teams that didn’t have the infrastructure to compete, but failed to take notice when the other teams instead focused on outsmarting the opponent instead of out running them. Hopefully they make adjustments faster than England and return to the top, but right now I don’t see this team winning the next couple tournements without a intentional change in philosophy.

  8. Quality piece, Caitlin… hard to disagree with any of your assessments. I still think the job can be managed, but we are not favorites. We are among the group of teams that *can* win, and it will come down to the quality of the strategy/tactics in some ways… but more than anything, the players need to perform at a consistently high level. This has not happened in some time, unfortunately.


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