It was another stab at the 3-4-3 for Jill Ellis and the USWNT as they took on Romania for the second time in their final friendly of 2016.
Available subs: Mewis, O'Hara, Johnston, Horan, Krieger, Morgan, Harris.
Not dressing for the game were Emily Menges, Kristen Edmonds, Megan Rapinoe, and Jessica McDonald. Abby Dahlkemper did not travel with the team to Los Angeles due to an injury.
There were no changes in the lineup except to rotate in Alyssa Naeher for Ashlyn Harris. Ellis has been switching off between the two of them for the past several games and probably no decisive comment about who between them will be #1 will come until 2017, although Naeher did serve as Hope Solo’s backup at the Rio Olympics while Harris was the alternate.
The first half was played almost exclusively in Romania’s defensive third, although Romania were able to transition from time to time and even managed to earn a free kick on the edge of the 18. But for the most part the US pushed so high they had seven or eight players ready to get into the box at any given time, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Casey Short ready to sweep up the flanks at a moment’s notice. At one point Sauerbrunn was so high up she was able to hit a ball into the 18 from right outside it after a run inside, her first of several on the night.
There was a lot of fluid interchangeability in the attack, with Dunn switching sides freely and Lynn Williams and Christen Press adjusting as needed. Dunn was the standout of the first half, creating tons of opportunities for the US and creating their first goal in the 21’ when she went classic Dunn and took the ball endline, then hit a sharp ball in front of the net. It deflected off a defender’s chest for an own goal.
Romania shored up their defenses and did their best to deal with US numbers, and to their credit held them to 1-0 nearly for the rest of the half. But Crystal Dunn struck once again in the first minute of stoppage off a beautiful ball played in from Christen Press, who didn’t even really look to know that Dunn was making her run.
The first half ended at 2-0. The US probably should have been good for another goal or two; the whole point of the 3-4-3 in these games was to give them numbers higher up the field and they certainly had them. But Romania also did a decent job of cluttering up the box and hitting a couple of counters as the three-back exposed plenty of space into which to play.
The second half started with a pack of subs, as has been Ellis’ habit while she calls in so many new and different players. Ali Krieger came in for Casey Short, Alex Morgan for Kealia Ohai, and Julie Johnston for Lynn Williams. Becky Sauerbrunn moved into the center of the three-back formation with Krieger left and Johnston right. Alex Morgan and Crystal Dunn stayed high while Press dropped behind them in the formation and took on more of a provider’s role at the tip of the midfield diamond. Allie Long pushed up from the back line, which also pushed Andi Sullivan higher.
The midfield looked much more coherent after the changeup, creating lots of good short possession. Christen Press made it 3-0 in the 55’, helping with the buildup by finding Tobin Heath wide, then finishing the ball that Heath cut back into the box. Press was able to run into a huge space right in front of the goal and finish, not the first time that night Romania left big gaps in coverage, especially as they focused heavily on Alex Morgan at times.
The US made another sub in the 61’ with Lindsey Horan for Crystal Dunn. The US was immediately missing Dunn’s hyperactivity on the flank and service into the box, though a now-wide Press did her best on the right. Krieger and Johnston pushed up in a line with Allie Long, but didn’t make quite as daring runs as Sauerbrunn had in the first half.
Two more subs came in the 71’ with Sam Mewis in for Allie Long and Kelley O’Hara in for Sauerbrunn. The backline shifted once again to O’Hara - Johnston - Krieger, though for all the shifting, in the second half they weren’t especially troubled by a tired-out Romania. Krieger and O’Hara also weren’t quite as high up as Short and Sauerbrunn and flank play subsided in favor of playing the ball through Sullivan and Horan. Krieger was also a bit rusty, having not played a game for the WNT since September 18 against the Netherlands.
Still the US managed to swing a few more balls across the face of goal and several times it seemed Alex Morgan was on the verge of pouncing. But the next goal opportunity was created by Press, who got the ball in traffic, drove out to find some space, and was able to turn and shoot. She hit a Romanian player and earned a penalty kick call, which Morgan Brian put away with little fuss to make it 4-0 in the 88’.
The last goal came just a few minutes later in stoppage starting with a corner kick played short. Kelley O’Hara whipped a ball into the box and Sam Mewis ran onto it looking very unbothered by the defenders around her. She nodded the ball down into the goal to finish things off at 5-0.
Crystal Dunn was the big standout in the game. She could have easily gone the full 90 and probably created at least one more goal. She showed great fluidity and versatility in positioning and play and showcased her abilities as creator and goalscorer in one.
Andi Sullivan also had a pretty good night, though once again she hasn’t been playing under the most intense pressure. She needs a good high-pressure game to see if she can keep making those good decisions at a much faster pace.
The back line was also more wary of Romania, hustling hard to shut down any whiff of a counter and prevent another situation like the one last game that resulted in Ashlyn Harris miles off her line and Romania sneaking one in.
The 3-4-3 in these two games was a success in that it certainly put numbers in the box. At nearly all times there were anywhere between five to eight players ready to push into the Romanian defensive end. Cries of “but this would never work against a better team” will hopefully be rendered moot as no sane coach would ever have a 3-4-3 with two of her three center backs pushed into the attacking third against, for example, Germany. This could be just another tool for the WNT to have in their box, to be used at the appropriate time in the appropriate situation.