The United States beat South Africa 1-0 on Saturday, a scoreline that doesn’t quite reflect the game’s imbalance. But for all that the US had the lion’s share of the attack, they still didn’t finish or get the ball into dangerous enough positions. Here’s a few things we learned from the game.
Jill Ellis seems to have a plan for non-ideal scenarios
Last night, Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian were both unavailable. Ellis started a central midfield of Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, and Christen Press, with Press free to move back and forth as needed in support of Alex Morgan. It almost paid early dividends from the very start, but for most of the game they were thwarted by South African pressure and their own bad passing.
As for the wings, that’s where Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh came in, and they were both right as rain in their assigned roles.
Even though the US couldn’t wring more than one goal out of this configuration, they certainly still managed to press into South Africa’s defensive third with it, making it a viable option in case of (knock on wood) injury or if Ellis just wants to rotate her roster.
Ellis prefers an overall attacking mindset as opposed to a more solid defensive line
Exhibit A: Kelley O’Hara starts over Ali Krieger.
Ellis wants her team to dig into games early, and that means lots of pushes up the flanks from both Meghan Klingenberg and Kelley O’Hara, overlapping with Dunn and Pugh (or Heath). Perhaps she feels she can do this because she has the security of anchors Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston staying at home, and to be fair, that’s one hell of a security system.
This close to the Olympics, there’s no more whiff of experimentation about it. O’Hara will be the starting right back in Brazil, and the team will come out of the gate at a fairly high tempo against the likes of Colombia, New Zealand, and France. Especially for the two teams that aren’t France, a little early shock and awe could make a huge difference for the US, allowing them to keep teams on the back heel instead of settling into the game.
Mallory Pugh, Christen Press, and Crystal Dunn are the present and future of this team
Never mind that Press is often pushed out of position to play support to Alex Morgan or other strikers, she still manages to create threats around the box, especially with her good first touches and interesting movement to create space for herself. Give Press half a chance anywhere inside the box, and she’ll bring the ball down either for herself or able to lay it off for someone with a shot.
Combine her with Dunn and Pugh, who are both so good at carrying the ball deep and then cutting in themselves or sending in service, and they paint a very exciting picture for the future of the USWNT front line. It’s not even that Pugh needs a little more seasoning (though surely she hasn’t peaked at all yet), she’s ready right now. And Dunn has been honing herself to a razor’s edge no doubt since last year’s World Cup roster disappointment, becoming not just a goalscorer herself but a creative attacking engine.
They might have all been just a bit off in the game against South Africa, but they’re certainly capable of more fluid interchange, and all that matters is that they peak together at the right time in August.