The U.S. Women’s national team’s run of six straight victories was halted when they returned to the site of their World Cup victory two years ago, drawing 1-1 with rivals Canada on Thursday night.
Though it was a friendly, the rivalry match had the field of one with much more on the line. While the U.S. ended the first half on top after frequent scorer Alex Morgan tallied another goal, Canada’s equalizer came early in the second half through Adriana Leon.
It was not a particularly even affair at many points, though, as Canada managed to control the game on home soil. The U.S. oftentimes was on the back foot as the Canadians, with a healthy mix of veterans and youngsters, ruled the day in many ways.
Here’s a look at some of the bigger points from Thursday’s match:
OFF NIGHT FOR CONSISTENT PLAYERS
The U.S. put out a lineup with few surprises, with players who had impressed throughout the calendar year for club and country. A few players Jill Ellis has relied on in 2017, though, did not shine as bright as they usually do.
Samantha Mewis, the only player to start every match for the U.S. this year, had a bad night for the first time this year on the international stage. She could not control the midfield and get the attack started like she has time and time again this year. Her defensive skills were not as effective this time around, making it fairly easy for Canada to get through the U.S. midfield. Her shift only lasted 65 minutes, coming off for Carli Lloyd as the team searched for a winner.
The same was the case for Lindsey Horan. The frequently reliable attacking midfielder also was not her sharpest on the night, not complementing the attacking pieces in front of her the way she usually does. Though she played 90 minutes as Ellis changed her midfield trio midway through the second half in a push to score again, she still was not at the top of her game.
For these two, fatigue after a long NWSL season that saw both play in the championship final might still be there, even with around a month’s rest in between the last U.S. friendlies and this pair.
TROUBLE AGAINST THE PRESS
Credit where it is due; the U.S. was lucky to get out of Vancouver without a loss, and that is down to Canada’s pressing game. The USWNT has not faced too many sides with a strong pressing game lately, making Canada a fascinating test for the U.S. team. The test, though, was not a success.
Canada’s high press provided pressure on many parts of the U.S. set up. The home side’s midfield trio of Jessie Fleming, Desiree Scott, and Christine Sinclair ran rampant, with the USWNT’ equivalent of Julie Ertz, Samantha Mewis, and Lindsey Horan finding it difficult to set the tempo. It led to Canada almost always being on the front foot, as they dominated in possession.
The defense also struggled against the potent Canadian attack. Meanwhile, the U.S. attack was not as active as it frequently is, despite a misleading 11-shot total.
As the clock kept going, it sometimes looked as if the U.S. was chasing the game and Canada were going to get the game winner to seal their first victory over their rivals since 2001. It was not meant to be, luckily for the USWNT.
DEFENSIVE UNIT REMAINS INCONSISTENT
For half of the back four, it was a strong night to back up impressive reputations. For the other half, it is still a work in progress.
The U.S. back four of Casey Short, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara seems to be Ellis’ first choice for the foreseeable future, but the chemistry is not there yet. Veterans Sauerbrunn and O’Hara put out fires all night as Canada’s attacking talent returned to the U.S. penalty area time after time. The match was a strong one for those two, but that was not the case for the less experienced members of the back line.
The space between Short and Dahlkemper on the right side of defense was exposed all night. This remained the case as Taylor Smith came on for Short in the 66th minute. This, combined with an effective press, led the U.S. to concede several of the 19 chances that they did, eight on target.
This quartet, which Ellis more or less settled on after over the summer, has not collectively faced this type of opposition in their short stint as the U.S.’ back line. For the likes of Dahlkemper and Short, the biggest test of their international careers thus far was not a successful one, though they have another opportunity in a few days’ time.
FIGURING OUT LLOYD’S ROLE
Since captain Carli Lloyd returned to the fold after missing September’s friendlies, she has not started a match. In the October games against South Korea, Lloyd came on a sub with little time on the clock and not much to do, the starters running up the score before her introduction. The case was different against Canada.
While she, again, did not start, she came on with 25 minutes to go and a clear role as the team searched for the winning goal. Lloyd inserted into a midfield that also had Andi Sullivan, who came on in the 74th minute, and starter Lindsey Horan, with more defensive options Julie Ertz and Samantha Mewis leaving.
The attack recorded some shots and ended up with some opportunities to score, but ultimately failed to provide the goal they were tasked to score. Canada’s press remained effective, especially in the end, when it looked like they would grab a game winner of their own, and that did not help matters for the U.S.
Regardless, even if Lloyd and company did not get the goal, it looks like that might be the role for the midfielder going forward. Super sub, with a bit more time, might be a role that now suits her.
WILLIAMS CONTINUES TO MAKE HER CASE
It was not all doom and gloom for the U.S. on Thursday, with Lynn Williams continuing to stake her claim as one of the two wide forwards for this team.
Williams’ speed on the left side of the pitch bothered Canada at times, particularly in the more even first half. She was able to back up the speed with some opportunities for herself and for her teammates, serving as nice accompaniment to Alex Morgan, a goalscorer on the night, and Megan Rapinoe, enjoying a strong year herself.
This comes on the back of a strong performance in the U.S.’ last game, against South Korea in October, in which she grabbed a goal. The opposition was certainly not as strong as Canada last time out, but she was able to build on a dominant show on that day as she competes for a spot currently empty as Mallory Pugh remains injured.