The United States defeated Germany 1-0 in their opening game of the SheBelieves Cup off of a Lynn Williams goal, deftly set up after a hell of a run from Christen Press.
That’s the kind of close scoreline you absolutely would expect from the #1 and #2 teams in the world, but the numbers don’t really reflect the reality of the game. Here’s three things we learned about where the WNT is at in its first game of the year:
The midfield still needs assembly
Last night started off with Morgan Brian and Samantha Mewis guarding the defensive line, with Tobin Heath and Crystal Dunn wide and Carli Lloyd in front of them. It was a pretty incoherent mess for most of the first half; there were maybe one or two actual sequences that successfully moved the ball forward together. The rest seemed to be hoping for a high press forcing a German error and turnover which, to their credit, they were able to do. But Carli Lloyd seemed to be searching more to get a pick off a player than actually working in concert with Mewis or Brian and when she couldn’t get involved the middle of the attack became a black hole of lost opportunities. With Mewis and Brian also not managing to get into the attack either - though they were a pretty solid shield for the back three - a lot fell to the wings. Casey Short and Crystal Dunn had an impressive workrate, but weren’t clicking well, and Tobin Heath disappeared for chunks of the game. They did their job swarming the Germans, but didn’t really make much for themselves with the fruits of their labor.
The three-back has potential
Our man Charles Olney took a deep look at how the WNT might deploy their three-back. So how did the US do? Once again defensively they managed not to get too overwhelmed, and the entire team was good about pulling back to keep too much space from getting exploited before they could regain possession. But the point of Allie Long in the middle of that three was as a deep-lying distributor, and we just didn’t see that from her last night. A lot of time was spent in sideways passes with Sauerbrunn and Short, trying to patiently wait out the Germans while they looked for a passing lane to exploit. There were some deeper balls hit on the diagonal - as usual for this game, danger came from width - but the game’s lone goal came as a result of extraordinary individual effort, not a good sequence that started out of the back. Still, Long also showed she wasn’t necessarily a liability back there against a strong team, and that’s not the worst foundation to build on.
The US got lucky that they could just wear Germany down
BUT - and there’s always a but - Germany definitely did not look like the Germany we’ve all come to know and fear. They couldn’t quite get their attack going either, despite coming hard at Short. Efforts to push into space get closed down or petered out without too many looks on goal, and they looked pretty tired as the second half wore on. Germany is a team that can generally hang with the US on fitness, so perhaps they were still acclimating after travel. Perhaps it was just one of those nights when things are off balance and everyone’s batteries drain faster, helped along by high-pressing Americans. But if Germany had been just a little more tactically astute, they might have punished the US for the three-back experiment, and indeed they almost managed to swerve one ball into the net but for a fantastic parry by Alyssa Naeher.
So the WNT has a little more data now for their 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 experiment. But it was an off night for both the United States and Germany, leaving us with only partial results.
Next experiment: USA vs England on March 4 at Red Bull Arena. England went down 2-1 to France earlier that day in rather heartbreaking fashion, taking the lead after a dominant first half, then falling to quick headers off balls into the box. It’s looking like USA vs England could turn into a bit of a midfield battle, which calls for Lloyd and Brian to step up. We’ll see if Mewis returns to the lineup, or if Ellis turns to plugging Lindsey Horan back into the position, or possibly capping Rose Lavelle or using Brianna Pinto as her 6, as she implied in an earlier interview with US Soccer.
USA vs England kicks off at 5 PM ET on Saturday and will air live on Fox.