The United States women’s national team worked through another pair of friendlies, this time beating South Korea in two games with an aggregate score of 9-1. That doesn’t mean there weren’t problems both on and off the field, especially as Mal Pugh had to come off in the first game due to a right hamstring injury. Here’s some of the things we learned from both friendlies.
The midfield continues to be fine without Carli Lloyd
Lloyd is just returning from an ankle injury and was eased into both games by Jill Ellis, coming on as a substitute in the second half each time. The team definitely lost coherence whenever she came on, although it wasn’t all her fault as there were plenty of subs mixing up the personnel between halves in both games. But in the first game, the midfield trio of Sam Mewis, Andi Sullivan, and Julie Ertz was a good way to block off access to the center backs while also giving the team options for distribution out of the middle. In the second game, Lloyd was pushed higher on the field at forward, which suited her fine and got her consistently in the box without having to come from deeper. Along with the anticipated return of Rose Lavelle, the USWNT now has a lot of tools to construct a stable-yet-fluid midfield capable of great central pressure and quick breakouts into the attacking third, all without Lloyd.
Alyssa Naeher is pretty much Ellis’ #1 but shouldn’t be starting
If the repeated consecutive starts didn’t convince you that Naeher is the #1 in the GK pool right now, this series with Naeher getting a full 90 while Ashlyn Harris and Jane Campbell split halves in the second game should. All this while Harris is probably healthier than Naeher, who has been dealing with injury for months now and just needs a rest. In this calendar year Naeher has had experience doing a double against New Zealand, playing through the entire Tournament of Nations, and starting in both away friendlies in Europe. If Ellis wants her to get a feel for the grind of tournament conditions or see her in consecutive starts, she’s gotten that and still has plenty of time to see more in 2018. Let Naeher rest; Harris is not going to lose you a game against South Korea. But now with Canada up next in just a couple of weeks and posing much stronger competition, will Ellis want to take a “risk” with Harris or ask Naeher to grind it out? Even if Harris isn’t as good an overall keeper as Naeher in Ellis’ mind, right now isn’t a healthy Harris actually better than a tired, injured Naeher?
Sofia Huerta needs a lot more work at fullback
It’s a tale as old as time: Sofia Huerta is a forward. Jill Ellis doesn’t have room in her forward pool right now. So now Sofia Huerta plays fullback for the USWNT. But she is not a fullback. South Korea was a good opponent to really get her more time at that position without exposing our defense too badly, but based on her Korea performance, Huerta may end up getting burned against Canada, who are much more physical and have more speed than Korea. Huerta can distribute out of the back, hitting players like Press with that long diagonal, but she doesn’t really click yet as speedy interconnected winger who can push up and send in the cross. Will she end up being a Kelley O’Hara, another player too talented to leave out of the roster but unable to break into a full attacking pool? O’Hara is now a great option at FB in Ellis’ style of play; she has a tireless engine, speed, and the ability to combine well up the flank. Or will Huerta end up like Dunn, who did her job as a fullback, but was ultimately much, much better as a forward?
Maybe listen to the women’s team more when it comes to venue selection
In the first game against South Korea, the WNT did not want to play in the Superdome in New Orleans. It was a bad venue with its visible gridiron lines, crummy turf, and huge seating capacity dwarfing the midweek crowd of 9,371 - not that USSF particularly advertised the game in New Orleans either. But the team specifically requested not to play at the Superdome per a New York Times article. USSF rejected all their alternate suggestions and Mallory Pugh subsequently got injured playing at the Superdome, pulling up with a right hamstring injury that ruled her out for the next six weeks. The ball took weird bounces and lost momentum on the Superdome carpet, which constantly impacted the flow of the game, and the audience did not look good on TV. Lose, lose, lose. You’d think right now USSF would be a little tired of losing.
Next up: a home-and-away series against perpetual underdog bruisers Canada. The United States will play November 9 at BC Place in Vancouver and November 12 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.