As expected, the United States handed Russia a pretty definitive loss last night. The biggest surprise of all was Jill Ellis returning to a 4-4-2 after months of fiddling with a 3-4-1-2 with Allie Long as her center back. Here’s what we learned from the change up.
Rose Lavelle is the future
I mean, look at her.
It wasn’t just the fancy footwork. It was the great ball movement, the ability to control the center of the pitch and create connections with her teammates. It took about one minute for Lavelle to calmly find some space in the center, look up and pick out a runner into the box. She looked dynamic when combining with Kelley O’Hara as well when they worked the overlap on the right. Lavelle has shown that she is a very serious option for the team’s central glue, if only Jill Ellis would commit to letting her stay central instead of compensating for her drift inside with a high-pressing RB.
Which is good because...
Mal Pugh can’t singlehandedly drag this program to 2019
Let’s just say it. Mal Pugh didn’t have a great night. The kid is only 18 but she already has 21 caps under her belt and the WNT is pretty much banking on her being even better than she is now by 2019. But Pugh having an off night against Russia is fine, because an 18-year-old player should have room to make errors and grow. And with players like Lavelle joining her in the player pool, there’s much less pressure on Pugh to be good all the time right away. The WNT needs more Pughs more often and they’ll hopefully be getting them. And to be fair, even while Pugh was struggling, she was still clearly quite a dynamic player who created tons of movement in the attack. Her fatal flaw on the night was more holding on to the ball a few touches too long in an effort to do it all herself.
Allie Long is much better higher up the pitch
Seeing Allie Long back in the midfield was like realizing you’ve been hunching your shoulders for a while and finally sitting up straight and releasing all the tension out of your back: what a relief. Long was being stifled, stuck in the middle of the three back with minimal opportunity to press forward. Last night, pushing up ahead of Sam Mewis, the team had her, Pugh, Lavelle, Lloyd, Dunn, and a sprinkling of O’Hara all ranging in and around the box and the chances were not lacking.
Kelley O’Hara and Ali Krieger should be fighting for a RB spot, not semi-benched
O’Hara had a fine time partnering up with Lavelle. Krieger was similarly fine going into a combo with Amy Rodriguez once she was allowed to slot right instead of being kept central with Sauerbrunn. Whether three or four in the back, both of them are potent fullbacks with the speed to keep the space behind them covered. In a three, Elllis needs to stop pushing Sauerbrunn out of the center and asking her to cover the right. In a four, she has two good options who could be used depending on the situation. Either way, use these players more instead of creating a “can’t fit them into my system right now but they’re too good to be dropped” situation.
There’s no guarantee Ellis won’t go back to fiddling with her three back, and honestly, that’s fine. It’s a situational tool that’s good to have in her pocket when the time arises. But hopefully she looks at tonight, sees where her personnel are optimal, and stops trying to force the puzzle pieces together.