The U.S. Women’s National Team are once again the winners of the SheBelieves Cup, beating England, 1-0, on Wednesday to claim the title.
The U.S. dominated possession for a majority of the match, though struggled to find a goal until a cross from Megan Rapinoe deflected off of England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley in the 58th minute. It was the only goal of the match, though both sides had their chances.
While the U.S. was in possession for long stretches of the match, the performance was not the team’s strongest of the tournament. They started with a commanding victory over Germany, though certain trouble areas began to reveal themselves as the tournament went on. The match against England was no exception.
Here is a closer look at what happened against England:
COMPETITION FOR STARTING ROLES HEATS UP
After a disappointing match against France, Jill Ellis made four changes to her lineup. That included dropping some of the players who struggled on Sunday.
The midfield trio was changed once again, with Allie Long taking Morgan Brian’s place in the lineup, while Carli Lloyd took the role she had against Germany, leaving Andi Sullivan on the bench. Additionally, Taylor Smith, who put in a dismal 42 minutes against France, was replaced by Emily Sonnett, who started for the first time since October of 2016. The final change was at left back, where Crystal Dunn started.
Those who worked their way into the lineup had mixed results. Sonnett did well, even after eventually switching to center back for the last 16 minutes. The same can be said for Dunn, who became a wingback at the end of the match. As for the newest midfield, it was another mixed day.
ANOTHER MIDFIELD TRIO STRUGGLES
Ellis began the match against England with a lineup that shocked many. She kept Lindsey Horan in the spot she had held all tournament long, but placed Long in the deepest position and Lloyd in the most advanced position. Lloyd returned to the lineup after being benched for the France game, but Wednesday’s match marked Long’s first start since a trip to Norway last June.
With more rotation for the U.S. midfield, though, came difficulties once again. It may be down to lack of familiarity with each other in these particular positions, but this particular trio had issues. They were having a tough time advancing the ball and creating fluid play from front to back, leaving the players ahead of them with little to do at times. Alex Morgan, in particular, looked somewhat inactive, waiting from service from the players behind her.
The problems in midfield may also be down to the roles Ellis assigned her players. Long was asked to play in front of the backline, a position that she has little familiarity with despite being thrown around the field in her time with the national team. Horan plays more advanced for the Portland Thorns and was previously a forward, and it is questionable that her talents are best suited for the role Ellis has given her. Lloyd is naturally a more advanced player and in a way, it makes sense to play the co-captain right behind the forwards. Yet, Ellis is asking a lot of the advanced midfielder that also may not suit Lloyd’s talents.
U.S. SHOWS FORMATION FLEXIBILITY
When Sofia Huerta came on for her first minutes of the SheBelieves Cup in the 78th minute, the fullbacks had new roles. They were now wingbacks, a role Ellis had not flirted with since last year’s SheBelieves Cup.
The change speaks to the type of players Ellis has in the wide defensive positions. Huerta, along with her partner Crystal Dunn, who started the match at left back, are well known for their attacking talents. The same goes for first-choice left back Kelley O’Hara, who has been a defender with the U.S. for several years now, but frequently shows off her attacking skills on the club level. The head coach clearly has a preference for players who can attack as well as defend, and would rather them learn the defensive side of their roles in the time remaining ahead of World Cup qualifiers.
Dunn, in particular, made her name at the youth levels as a right back for the U.S., and was first brought into the team as a defender. She eventually became an attacking standout and has been used by Ellis as an attacking option for the last two years and change. This may represent an adjustment to the depth chart, as Dunn was finding few minutes as a wide forward with the national team. It also may be a formational change that Ellis revisits a year after she abandoned it.
INJURIES CONTINUE TO PLAGUE THE U.S.
Injury-wise, the U.S. cannot catch a break. They came to the SheBelieves Cup without a group of starters, and they left with a few more on the injury list.
Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, and Tobin Heath missed the tournament with injury, and Julie Ertz only managed to play once during the tournament. She picked up a knock after a competitive match against Germany. The same happened to O’Hara, who picked up a knock against France, while Casey Short injured her ankle on Sunday.
The injury crisis led to many of Ellis’s lineup changes during the tournament. Her first choices at left back and defensive midfield were unavailable to start against England. Short’s injury meant the right back spot was free, and Sonnett slotted in after a disappointing showing against France. Luckily for Ellis and company, the injuries picked up during the SheBelieves Cup are not expected to be long term.
DEPTH LIMITED IN CERTAIN POSITIONS
Over the course of the three matches of the SheBelieves Cup, the U.S. has had to do a fair share of rotation. While goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson, and the front line of Mallory Pugh, Morgan, and Rapinoe stayed constant, as well as a consistent spot for Horan, starters came and went.
Some of it, as already noted, was out of necessity. Injuries going into the tournament meant Davidson kept her role, but as the tournament went on, other positions freed up. The performances varied, many of which needed work. Ellis was also forced into playing players out of position, showing that there are still a few areas where depth needs to be expanded.
In a genuine injury crisis, where the U.S. was down seven potential starters overall, it is a harsh criticism. At right back, for example, four different players got a chance, while Ellis has at her disposal a large number of attacking midfielders and options in the forward line. Yet, hardly anyone has shown herself to be a suitable backup to Ertz in front of the backline, and it is unclear whether or not Dunn is a legitimate backup to O’Hara or just a choice that was forced of Ellis. A few areas of improvement still exist.