The WNT just finished two friendlies against Colombia, winning them 7-0 and 3-0 on April 6 and April 10 respectively. Here are some of the takeaways from both games.
Jill Ellis is STILL not done experimenting
Ellis didn't change too much in the way of personnel between the two Colombia games, but she made a massive change in shifting Tobin Heath out of the midfield and into the backline because - well, because she could. Ellis told press that she wanted to simulate a situation where the United States was a goal down and she subbed an attacking player for a defender in order to press high on the right. So she did. And it didn't really prove anything, so Heath moved up again in the second half.
Was it a waste of 45 minutes that could have better served someone like Kelley O'Hara, who has struggled to make it off the bench recently? Or perhaps it could have been used to keep Ali Krieger in fighting trim? Who knows - but with four more probably friendlies and a lot of NWSL games before the Olympics, one half probably won't go amiss.
What did matter in terms of experimentation was Ellis playing Allie Long in the first game, and Long producing two goals. Perhaps Long gets squeezed out when Morgan Brian returns, but she does throw a wrench in the works if she continues to play well with her club (if you accept Ellis' statements about paying attention to NWSL at face value). Long had an okay 85% pass completion rate with 58/68 passes completed. She also had the most pass attempts and most shots in that game with six, followed by Carli Lloyd with four. So clearly Long was working hard at being that connective deep midfielder while also moving up into the box to present a scoring threat.
That's exactly what Ellis has wanted out of Lindsey Horan, who had 28/34 passes for 82% pass completion. (Long played the full game while Horan got 47 minutes). So if Long continues to called into camp, it's anyone's guess who's really going to the Olympics.
Tobin Heath might finally be delivering on some of her promise
Speaking of stats, Tobin Heath had a pretty good first game against Colombia, with 47/52 passes completed for a 90% completion rate. Heath additionally had 19 take ons in the game, winning 13 of them. She had over twice as many take ons as the next player in the game, Crystal Dunn, who had eight and won five of them. Advanced stats aren't up yet for the second Colombia game, but they're naturally going to be affected by Heath being switched all over the field. Even then, Heath was involved in two of three goals when she took the free kicks that Julie Johnston scored on.
Then again, over the course of She Believes, Heath had a 79% pass completion rate, and she had 13 take ons, winning six and losing seven.
Heath is one of the most frustrating American players currently in the game: capable of sublime moments of creation, but also capable of dribbling directly into three opposition players with no plan. You just never know which Heath you're going to get, but at this point her usefulness is outweighing her tendency to turn over possession.
This team is capable of beautiful play - sometimes
The first game against Colombia was nice to watch. The word "fluidity" has been dropped a lot since that game, as the United States worked the ball up the pitch, got lots of numbers in the box, and made incisive passes to runners or targets. Everything in the midfield was clicking for that game, with Samantha Mewis completing 43/45 passes over 48 minutes for a 96% pass completion rate. The center backs were on as well, with Engen, Sonnett, and Sauerbrunn all grabbing a 95% pass completion rate or higher.
The second game against Colombia was more stilted, with the midfield shifted around and Carli Lloyd not having a great game. Mallory Pugh was a bit quiet on the day as well - although it must be noted that the scorelines would have been more similar had Colombian GK Catalina Perez not made several huge saves.
And yet, they still won. If the goals didn't come from open play, then they came from set pieces. That's a common refrain with this team over the past couple of years - even if they don't look like a particularly good team on a given day, they're still a winning team. Of course, much of that rests on the solidity of the back line, which seems set at Klingenberg, Johnston, and Sauerbrunn so far. Right back is trickier, as Ali Krieger has been unusually absent from recent lineups, but between her and O'Hara, there's no reason to think the back line will really have any issues in the near future.
But this team has been evolving, even if in fits and starts. Jill Ellis has been experimenting, as opposed to getting stuck in a certain starting XI. So the difference between the two Colombia friendlies is perhaps not as much cause for concern as it is thoughtfulness. It's not so much a matter of "how will we win" as it is "we will win, but how." Ellis' post-game statements about wanting this Olympic roster to start the transition into the new cycle leading up to the 2019 Word Cup make it likely she's not anywhere near done experimenting, and that's fine.