The U.S. Women’s National Team got off to a winning start in the SheBelieves Cup, recording a 1-0 victory over Germany.
The task was not an easy one. The Germans, with the likes of Alexandra Popp and Sara Dabritz, are a young and dynamic team with talented attacking players. While this may have been the toughest test for the U.S., and particularly its backline, have faced in several months, the hosts did well collectively to shut out the Germans.
The match was more even during its beginning stages, even following Megan Rapinoe’s first half goal. The second half, though, saw a very strong team performance that really limited Germany. The conditions were not ideal, with heavy rain and winds hitting Columbus, and some parts of the match were sloppy, but the game remained entertaining.
Here is a closer look at the match:
PRESSING GAME LEADS USWNT TO VICTORY
The U.S. continued in the 4-3-3 that has been the the team’s preference since the summer, and the pressing aspect of their game probably had its best night against Germany.
Every member of the team did her job to make the press work. From back to front, each player did her part, and as a result, the chemistry of the team was undeniable. The press managed to keep out Germany for long stretches of the match, including the majority of the second half, making it one of the more impressive USWNT matches in the last several months.
Even though last year the U.S. recorded the same result to open the SheBelieves Cup before eventually finishing bottom of the four team table, this year marks a big departure already. Jill Ellis’ side has settled into this type of game while last year saw a failed experiment with a back three. Now, the team is starting to perfect its game.
INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES VARY
While the press was impressive, some players had better days than others.
Mallory Pugh was one of the highlight’s of the U.S. team, the brightest spot of a front three that has been impactful since Ellis put them together. She pestered the German defense all night, getting in good positions for her teammates and was close to scoring herself on a few occasions. Compliments can also be given to the likes of Rapinoe, who was similarly effective as part of the front three, including scoring the match’s lone goal. Julie Ertz also continues to put in strong performances, as her very important work in front of the backline kept the German attack out.
Others, though, struggled. Taylor Smith, who played on the right side of defense, had a tough time linking up with Pugh on the right side of the pitch. Lindsey Horan also had a bit of a reserved night herself, though the weather conditions were not helpful to any of the players.
LLOYD’S ROLE STILL TO BE DETERMINED
Carli Lloyd’s starting spot was hardly in question last summer. Then she sprained her ankle over the summer, and upon her return to the national team in October, she had been place on the bench. A super sub role looked to be Ellis’ role of preference for the co-captain, but in a surprising move, Lloyd was named to the starting lineup against Germany.
Lloyd made her first start since August in a formation the team has mostly perfected without her. With that being the case, she struggled a bit to keep up with some of her teammates, and was largely unseen for many parts of the night. Then again, Lloyd, with bad weather conditions and a new formation, might need more time to adjust.
Regardless, a spot in the starting lineup is still up for grabs for the co-captain when it seemed like Ellis had phased her out. In a tournament where Ellis plans to establish as close to a first choice lineup as she can find, this is an important pick in Lloyd’s favor.
DEFENSIVE UNIT REMAINS STABLE
Ellis started the same defensive group, including goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and defensive midfielder Ertz, against Germany as she did against Denmark, and they continued to get the job done.
Ertz was probably the most impressive of the group, as she really shut down the Germany attack in the second half. However, when the players behind her were asked to step up in the first half, they did just that. Naeher made some important stops early in the match, and commanded her box well as she begins to get comfortable with the starting role given to her around a year and a half ago.
Smith struggled, but center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson put in solid shifts. Davidson, in particular, performed well though it was only her second cap, while left back Kelley O’Hara was incredibly busy but dealt with Pop effectively.
STARTERS MIGHT BE SET
Ellis made one change to her starting lineup from Denmark, giving the advanced midfield role to Carli Lloyd against Germany after starting Andi Sullivan there in January. There may be little competition, at least within the current group of players, to take anyone else’s starting place.
The right side of the front three was up for grabs towards the end of last year, but that was only in Pugh’s absence. Since her return from injury, she has unquestionably been the best choice there, leaving contenders like Crystal Dunn and Lynn Williams on the bench. Similarly, right back has been a spot with questions surrounding it, but Smith seems to be Ellis’ first choice, at least for now.
Several players, like Tobin Heath and Rose Lavelle, have missed significant time with injury, meaning there might still be something to say before the CONCACAF Women’s Championships in October. That being said, it may be hard to displace some players by the time the injured contingent return.