But the game overall was pretty incoherent. If the US managed to pull wide, it was mostly on one side, and no one could hit a cross or switch. If they tried to possess, they often turned the ball over with bad passing. To some extent, this is explainable with the team having traveled and come together for their first friendly since early April. But all of them are also either mid-season with their clubs or just coming off of a season and really should not be looking this dull. Maybe it was just one of those days; toast lands butter-side down, bus leaves just as you get to the stop, and passes get intercepted to start a counter.
Part of it was maybe the personnel Jill Ellis picked and how she arranged them. Here are three things we learned from USA vs Sweden.
Our defensive depth needs tweaking
Our entire defensive pool needs some reorganizing. Not like a take-everything-out-scrub-it-then-reorganize-it, but a thoughtful consideration of where we’re going, at least. Consider the roster for these friendlies: for fullbacks there’s Kelley O’Hara, Casey Short, and Meghan Klingenberg. Jaelene Hinkle would have also been on this list but for her withdrawal for personal reasons. Does anyone on that list immediately jump out at you as our right back of the future? Ali Krieger was that mainstay for the USWNT for so long without any real development behind her that now with her [honestly confusing] absence there’s a pretty big vacuum that Ellis really doesn’t seem interested in filling in a considered, methodical way. Sure, just plug human Swiss army knife Kelley O’Hara into the RB slot even though she’s way more effective as a midfielder. Meanwhile Short, Klingenberg, and Hinkle all play on the left and as we saw from the game, O’Hara definitely looked like someone who has not been playing RB for her club for several months.
Also, just as a side note, yesterday’s starting back four were Klingenberg - Short - Sauerbrunn - O’Hara, in that formation. What was the point of bringing three CBs in Sauerbrunn, Dahlkemper, and Ertz if you’re just going to fiddle around like that? Does Ellis want to see if she can use Short at CB in an emergency? Is that really more productive than just seeing if Dahlkemper can keep up for 90 minutes?
Ellis has restricted her own midfield
The United States had very little practical width against Sweden, and no wonder when you look at our midfield roster. Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long, and Samantha Mewis are all central players. If Morgan Brian had made it, she would have played central too. Ellis “solved” this by pushing Lavelle right but allowing her to pinch in as much as she wants. And to be fair, the United States’ one goal came with Lavelle drifted as wide as possible and then rounding her defender to pounce on Dunn’s pass. Lavelle definitely has the speed to take on wingers at their own game with or without the ball at her feet. But look left, and there’s only Megan Rapinoe, who like Krieger before her doesn’t seem to have anyone immediately lined up behind her. Mal Pugh sort of fills that role, but is she a permanent solution?
Yes, this was a limited roster. Ellis only took 21 initially, down to 19 with injuries and withdrawals, and surely she’ll call in at least 24 or 25 for the July games in the Tournament of Nations. But that just means there was nothing she really learned from Sweden, at least not in the midfield. If the team was going to have a three-game mini-tourney in July, USSF might have been better off just relaxing during this FIFA window and letting their players have some time off in the middle of a packed NWSL season.
The team is fine without Carli Lloyd
It was interesting to have Lloyd higher on the pitch and maybe she might have bagged a goal given a little more time to work and connect with the balls they were trying to put at her feet. But when Lloyd subbed off, the team looked better. That’s not to say her absence was the one thing that made everything come together; the second half was also sloppy and a bit frustrating. But the movement was better overall in the attacking third, and Dunn showed she can be great when you drop her in the space between lines and just let her work. The same goes for Christen Press, who has shown that versatility for the Chicago Red Stars this season and should probably be closer to a regular starting role than she is.
Now we see what the team has against Norway. It would be great if a little roster rotation got everyone some playing time, but honestly who knows.
USA vs Norway kicks off at 1 PM ET on Sunday, June 11 and will air live on Fox.