Starting XI: Hope Solo; Kelley O'Hara, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn (c), Meghan Klingenberg; Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh; Alex Morgan.
Jill Ellis mostly stuck with her previous starting XI, swapping Emily Sonnett for regular center back Julie Johnston. It's not hard to see why Ellis would want her strongest possible CB pairing against France, a team that has traditionally caused a bit more trouble for the United States than England. But Ellis also started Kelley O'Hara, who she's been evaluating at right back in place of stalwart Ali Krieger, which may give some indication she's willing to consider a shakeup at that spot.
A shakeup was what the team needed throughout the first half, but they never got one. Instead they barely looked like they knew they could work together. Aside from a couple of decent-looking through balls and pressure that forced a handful of corner kicks that mostly went to waste, France definitely had the better of the attack.
The game looked like it might be exciting for a little stretch early on, with lots of hustle in the midfield (albeit to make up for some poor passing and possession), and in the 27' there was quite a good sequence of patient play from the back that eventually worked its way up the left and gave Alex Morgan a chance to beat French GK Sarah Bouhaddi. Unfortunately Morgan's first touch was slightly too heavy and her shot went into the side netting.
Meanwhile, France exposed the American back line on the left in particular, where Meghan Klingenberg couldn't keep up with the rangy Elodie Thomis. Becky Sauerbrunn made several uncharacteristic mistakes under pressure. France knocked several times - sometimes quite literally as the ball went off the post and the crossbar. The US used up most of its luck for this tournament in the 15' when Carli Lloyd made a bad clearance attempt and almost scored an own goal that thankfully hit the post instead; Hope Solo managed to recover in time to block the French rebound attempt.
It's slightly disheartening to say that a 17-year-old remaind the only bright spot for a team with this much individual talent, but it's the truth. Mallory Pugh as usual had several good moments connecting and attacking, and managed to work well with Kelley O'Hara here and there. Other than that, Carli Lloyd once again didn't do much and Alex Morgan was stuck on an island without good service, as well as cut off due to some tough defense from the likes of Laura Georges.
After a scoreless but entertaining first half, the second half had a few dull stretches to contend with. There were no changes to the lineup and not really any changes to the team's strategy. Pugh still did her best despite everyone around her. Lindsey Horan was perhaps more invisible than Lloyd, who at least managed to feed Alex Morgan some through balls. Tobin Heath did nothing with much ado.
The United States had another burst of pressure early in the half that came to nothing and play continued to feel disjointed, with pass strings getting cut off before they had a chance to coalesce into anything more solid. Their only saving grace was that France seemed to be laboring under a curse as their chances went wide or somehow flew across the face of goal with no one to capitalize.
The US only used three of six available subs as well, putting in Crystal Dunn and Christen Press in the 85' for Kelley O'Hara and Lindsey Horan, and then subbing Whitney Engen deep in stoppage for Pugh. Tobin Heath shifted into the right back spot and Dunn and Press moved into the midfield to help support Morgan. They did their best to move the ball up, but had barely seven whole minutes to change the flow of the game.
And then came the kind of last-gasp stuff that the US usually saves for knockout rounds of big tournaments: in stoppage time, Mal Pugh was able to take some space and feed the ball to Alex Morgan's feet. Morgan took the ball on the run, held off a defender, and calmly finished. The United States took the game 1-0, an unfortunate result for France who probably deserved to at least get a tie for their efforts.
Jill Ellis must surely be rethinking things after this cringeworthy game. Not only was this starting XI badly out of joint despite having played together in several games in a row previous to this, but her subbing patterns were questionable at best. It was clear that the team was struggling early in the second half; Press and Dunn only stepped up to the line after the 80'.
It's probably also time for the Horan experiment to end as well; against CONCACAF teams, Horan was able to successfully distribute the ball from deep, but against stiffer competition like England and France, her value as a deep-lying midfielder was all but negated. Let Horan move up and keep Morgan Brian in front of the back line; Brian is much better at passing under pressure and seeing the field. And for heaven's sake, give Crystal Dunn and Christen Press more than seven minutes to make an impact on the game.
The United States will close out the She Believes tournament against Germany on March 9 in Boca Raton, Florida.