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USA goes down early but comes back to beat Netherlands 3-1

A shaky start but a strong finish for the WNT

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-Netherlands at USA Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

STARTING XI: Alyssa Naeher, Whitney Engen, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan

If the previous friendly against Thailand was, with apologies to Thailand, pretty much a cupcake game, then this game against the Netherlands was mostly the opposite. Not only did the Netherlands run out against the U.S. with a surprise second-minute goal and plenty of pace, but Jill Ellis also saw fit to use this game as a test for a different formation. She started with Sauerbrunn, Johnston, and Engen in a three-back and had Klingenberg push higher.

That decision caught the U.S. in a shaky moment in the 2’ when Shanice van de Sanden pounced on a quick ball up and beat both Klingenberg and Sauerbrunn to the box, where she placed the ball very well past Alyssa Naeher. That was a bit of a recurring theme until the defense adjusted, but the Netherlands for the most part didn’t stop looking to break out with speed, and did so several times.

The U.S. needed those first 20 minutes or so to really settle in, but once they did, they managed to pour on a lot of pressure. Morgan Brian did a great job holding up the ball and looking for the developing play while Lindsey Horan was able to get into the box more. Carli Lloyd also was quite mobile through the middle.

The U.S. equalized in the 35’ off a Lloyd goal; it started with Whitney Engen sending it long down the flank with the right pace for Tobin Heath. Heath beat her defender and centered it in the box, where Lloyd held her run and arrived into open space in front of goal with a nice finish.

Engen subbed off almost immediately in the 37, replaced by Ali Krieger in the three-back. Engen has been recovering from some hamstring issues picked up while playing for the Boston Breakers and apparently it began acting up again during teh game.

The rest of the half continued at a pretty fast pace; Tobin Heath did better when she passed off to runners, but got caught a few times in possession from the focused Netherlands team, who continued pressuring the ball to try and force turnovers. Quick ball movement was the name of the game and the U.S. was best when they managed their one- and two-touch passing through players like Brian, Heath, and Horan.

The second half started at 1-1 and two U.S. subs, Emily Sonnett in for Julie Johnston and Christen Press in for Alex Morgan. Sonnett went into the middle of the three-back and Press went high with Lloyd.

The U.S. resumed their intense attacking pressure and in the 50’ Christen Press helped create an own goal as she crossed the ball in front of goal and Tobin Heath bodied down a Netherlands defender who in turn bounced the ball into the net. Then Press hit the post in the 53’ as Allie Long’s deflected shot fell at Press’ feet.

That doesn’t mean the Netherlands didn’t continue pressing back, though. In the 58’ they almost ran onto Alyssa Naeher, who came off her line to clear out a back pass and ended up kicking it out under pressure. Then in the 63’ they almost pressured Sauerbrunn into a turnover and Emily Sonnett had step very quickly to recover the ball.

Two more subs came in the 65’ with Crystal Dunn on for Klingenberg and Megan Rapine on for Horan. Dunn moved into the attack on the right, ahead of Rapinoe, and managed a couple of good crosses into traffic, one of which just missed landing on Carli Lloyd’s foot. The U.S. worked hard to regain possession from every Netherlands offensive push and in the 77’ scored their third goal. Rapinoe floated in a nice ball to the far post, where Lloyd worked hard to win it with her head and put back across the face of goal. Allie Long pounced on it and popped it over the goalkeeper with her own header.

The Netherlands had a big chance in the 79’, but Alyssa Naeher was there with a quick hand out deflecting a ball shot from a very steep angle that looked like it was headed to the side netting. Naeher was very solid for most of the night and calmly collected a lot of the Netherlands’ admittedly hopeful attempts on goal.

The final U.S. sub was in the 85’ with Samantha Mewis on for Morgan Brian. The U.S. closed out the game professionally, having adjusted to the pace and managing to shut down most of the attacks down the wings.

It was a shaky start as the team didn’t quite seem to know what to do with itself in the three-back formation, but once they adjusted, they managed to play with good pace and high pressure. This could have been a one-off experiment from Ellis; we’ll see when the WNT returns to face Switzerland in two friendlies in October. Those games will also hopefully see new callups beyond the Olympic roster, giving Ellis more options no matter what formation she chooses.