It was another disorganized start for the United States as they took on Norway in the second of two Scandinavian friendlies. The US was fresh off a 1-0 defeat of Sweden, but it was the kind of game where the result was more of a salvage job than a hard-earned close line. The USWNT would have to sharpen up a lot if they wanted a better result against Norway, a team hitting the crest of their preparations for Euro 2017. Alas, it was not to be.
Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short, Meghan Klingenberg, Samantha Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Allie Long, Crystal Dunn, Christen Press
The first half was a mess. What the team needed most for those first 20 minutes or so was for Beyoncé to magically appear in their midst and tell them to get in formation, because Jill Ellis certainly wasn’t. They defended in a four-back and pushed higher with three, but the midfield and forwards, in their attempt to execute a fluid shift, seemed discombobulated. Part of that can be attributed to the last-minute sub of Meghan Klingenberg for Mal Pugh, who picked up a mild injury in warmups. Klingenberg went in at left mid, which wasn’t the worst idea considering her ability to get forward and some of her weaknesses on defense. But the rest of their trouble came from working out a different formation with different players, most of whom continued the trends from the last game of bad passing and being too slow on the ball to avoid Norway’s pressure. If Ellis made some bad decisions tactically, they were compounded by a team that needed to take a deep breath and pull it together.
Norway exploited tons of space in the US defensive third and O’Hara had a hell of time sprinting back and forth trying to recover. It didn’t help that so much US attacking was about once again pulling wide, with not much going through the middle with Allie Long or Rose Lavelle. There really wasn’t a ton of support in Long-Mewis territory, which left Dunn and Press carrying a lot of offensive weight. When Klingenberg or O’Hara were holding the ball high on the wings, there just didn’t seem to be many options for either of them. More than once O’Hara was caught high surrounded by two or three Norwegians, not even a teammate to whom she could drop the ball.
And so the teams went into the second half at 0-0, the US having started to slowly cohere but still looking too frustrated to put together something substantial.
The second half started with one sub for the US with Lindsey Horan in and Klingenberg out. Horan pushed higher on the pitch with Press and Dunn switched over to the left side of the pitch. Ball movement improved, although Lavelle seemed a bit overeager to get on frame, resulting in several balls over the net and some heavy touches on the dribble that resulted in turnovers. But the US in general finally took hold of ball possession and looked much better for it, at least in moving the ball up the field. Getting the final pass to someone who could score was a different matter. Yes, the US had the ball, but what were they doing with it? Moving it around faster and more accurately, but not in really dangerous areas of the field.
The breakthrough came in the 60’ in very classic fashion, with Sauerbrunn hitting a long ball that dropped just right for Press, who got through a nice big gap between defenders and finished the ball through the keeper’s legs. “Long ball over the top for speedy forward” is certainly a useful tool, but it hearkened back to the days when it was the United States’ only tool, with how the rest of the game was going.
There was a bad moment in the 62’ when Abby Dahlkemper slammed the back of her head on the ground going into a tough tackle to cut out a Norway counter. She tried to walk it off but took a knee minutes later, eventually returning to the game after seeing the trainer. For a random away friendly, perhaps it would have been preferable to play it safe with concussion protocol and make a sub, but Ellis seemed determined to play this random away friendly under tournament conditions.
The team was still pressing up together decently through the midfield; Lavelle moved out right to start the half and looked useful there with her incredible acceleration and ability to put in good crosses. Still, even as the midfielders swept up into the forward line to put four or five players in the box at a time, chances were lacking and balls continued to go back to the defense to hold and look for options.
Ellis finally made her second sub in the 83’ with Julie Ertz on for Kelley O’Hara. The team didn’t have time to adjust at all as Rose Lavelle went down shortly after, clutching her left thigh. She was forced to sub off for Carli Lloyd in the 84’; Lloyd looked as though she was actually supposed to sit this game out, but went in higher up on the pitch.
The team seemed thrown by the last-minute injury; Ellis probably intended to play Lavelle for another full 90 minutes after she already went 90 against Sweden. Five minutes of stoppage went on the clock due to an earlier collision between Ingvild Landvik Isaksen and Lindsey Horan that had Isaksen leaving the field with a bloody head wound.
The US went into containment mode, just trying to remain stable and see out the result. Norway pressed harder but didn’t manage to find the equalizer, and full time ended at 1-0.
It was another messy game with a rescued result, although at least Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, and Short all looked very capable and kept at least one part of the pitch from being cause for worry. The rest was a group of talented players, some of whom were having bad games, while getting shifted all over the pitch by their coach.
That’s it for the United States in Europe this summer; the team returns home and players go back to their clubs to resume NWSL play, including Carli Lloyd, whose stint with Manchester City has concluded. NWSL returns on Saturday, June 17 with all 10 teams in action.