The U.S. Women’s National Team closed out 2017 with a victory over rivals Canada three days after being held to a 1-1 draw.
It was a night for the USWNT’s well-known veterans, with Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz getting on the scoresheet. Additionally, Megan Rapinoe and Morgan tallied assists on Sunday night.
It proved to be a contrasting match to that of Thursday’s encounter at BC Place, where the U.S. was chasing the game against a high-pressing Canadian side. The USWNT, though, were definitely the more dominant side at Avaya Stadium on Sunday, and genuinely ended the match on top in many respects. It was a strong finish to what has been a demanding year for the U.S. team.
Here’s a closer look at the match:
PERSONNEL MOSTLY STAYS THE SAME
Jill Ellis frequently rotates her team for the second friendly, considering the turnaround between a Thursday match and a Sunday match is a short turnaround time. However, the U.S. head coach put out a team that was almost identical to the one on Thursday, with only rotations at right back as Taylor Smith entered the lineup and Christen Press taking the right forward spot.
The point was to learn lessons from a disappointing effort on Thursday, with what has become Ellis’ first choice team. The message was seemingly received, as they came out of the gates fully in charge of the match. The first 25 minutes set the tone for the first half, a time period that saw Ertz score the game’s first goal. While things evened out a bit towards the end of the first half, the second half saw a strong reaction from the home side after Canada leveled the scoring in the 50th minute. From Morgan’s go ahead goal six minutes later, there was not much stopping the U.S.
In general, Canada’s press was not as useful as it was on Thursday, with the U.S. midfield putting on a much better performance on Sunday. Samantha Mewis and Lindsey Horan got their off night out of the way, putting in solid shifts for the second match.
Ellis was also giving certain substitutes another go to improve on Thursday’s performance, switching from a midfield trio of Ertz, Mewis, and Horan to a trio that included Horan, Andi Sullivan, and Lloyd in the 75th minute. The task was to start integrating Lloyd into the super sub role, which started slow on Thursday, but saw its intended outcome on Sunday, when Lloyd scored the game’s final goal.
VETERANS STAND OUT
Over the course of 2017, the team’s newer players have gotten a lot of attention. The attention is obviously deserved, as another crop of talented players join the side, but the year’s finale was all about players who were part of the World Cup winning side from two years ago.
All over the scoresheet, the names were those who had experience on the national team as Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe, Ertz and Press demonstrated their attacking prowess. Morgan herself is coming off a strong run of form, having scored seven goals in her last seven matches with the national team. The same is true for Rapinoe, who had a year to remember, being the team’s main option when it came to creating chances. Additionally, Ertz is enjoying a new chapter of her career, moving to the defensive midfield position she played frequently in her youth.
Though not appearing on the scoresheet, Kelley O’Hara enjoyed a strong match, three days after being one of team’s better players in Vancouver. Though she mostly put her defensive attributes on show in the first match, the second one saw her the versatile fullback flex her offensive muscles. The veterans, this time around, truly led the team to victory.
RIGHT BACK POSITION STILL SHORT’S TO LOSE
One of the two positions in which Ellis made a change was right back, with Smith coming in for Casey Short. The North Carolina Courage player was only just returning from an injury, and had impressed in the position before. That being said, Sunday night was not a strong one for Smith.
Defensively, she had a tough time handling the attack-minded Canadian team. The right side of defense proved an area Canada would visit, though not as frequently as they did on Thursday. Offensively, she did not provide much to aid the attackers in front of her, unlike her counterpart on the other side of the pitch O’Hara. Smith came off after a disappointing 66 minutes, with Short coming on in her place.
Short may still be regarded as primarily a center back, and is certainly high on the depth chart for that position, but no one else has been able to really stake a claim on it other than her thus far. That includes Sofia Huerta, who got a start back in October. A little under a year still remains before World Cup qualifying begins, so there’s still time, but this may be a position Ellis continues to visit over the next year.
PRESS PROVIDES ANOTHER OPTION AS WIDE FORWARD
While Ellis continues to figure out her first choice lineup, the front line has two cemented starters in Rapinoe on one flank and Morgan in the center. The third one has been a position rotated through frequently over the last several months, with Press being the latest to throw her hat in the ring.
It was not an easy 90 minutes for the forward, who missed some support from behind her in Smith. However, she managed to make an impact, particularly in the second half. She made the smart pass to Morgan for the team’s second goal, and pestered the opposition as the match went on, especially after the change at right back.
Ellis may be stuck with too many options to join Morgan and Rapinoe at this point. Lynn Williams, who started there on Thursday, is one, while Crystal Dunn, not released by Chelsea for these matches, and the injured Mallory Pugh and Tobin Heath can still fit into the picture.
LOOKING TO 2018
In a year full of problem solving, the U.S. team has done well to adjust to new players and a new style. While a lot of pieces are in place with plenty of time to spare, a few things could still use some work.
Defensively, the team is not as solid as they are further up the pitch, as several options in defense are still learning the international game. Chemistry is still being built, which provides for some mistakes along the way, as was the case when Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn both reacted poorly to Canada’s counterattack that led to their goal.
Additionally, the midfield is not functioning at full capacity. Horan’s role is not always a clear one, frequently staying back when she could be joining the attack more often as a supporting player.
In certain places, the team still needs some depth, such as center back, where the third and fourth choice options are Short and Ertz, starters elsewhere. Emily Sonnett was brought into the fold this time around, though she did not play a minute. Ellis did announce that Sonnett will be invited back for the team’s annual January camp.
The wholesale experimentation, though, seems to be complete, with a little bit of tinkering left to go.