Jill Ellis addressed the Horan-shaped hole in her lineup against Scotland by moving Crystal Dunn up into her midfield spot and giving rookie Emily Fox her second-ever start at left fullback. Putting Dunn closer to the goal is usually a good thing, and it paid off in fits and starts against Scotland in the first half as the United States relied on their width and speedy movement along the flanks to avoid Scotland’s obstinate midfield clog.
The game started off a little bit back-and-forth, Scotland nearly going up early, but the US returned pressure for pressure and slowly corralled Scotland into their own half, although Scotland kept bursting out and attacking the US center backs. But the US had the bulk of forward movement, with Fox pushing Dunn high ahead of her on the left and Lavelle and Pugh leading an at-times merry chase along the right. Dunn and Lavelle switched off sides as well, looking to change the point of attack.
The US crosses were handled in fairly routine fashion by Scotland until the 39’, when Pugh served in a lovely ball and with Carli Lloyd occupying a defender, Alex Morgan was able to drop into the space and volley the ball past the goalkeeper, making it 1-0.
Pugh’s service wasn’t always that pinpoint accurate, nor was it that available, but she worked her way into the half and was able to touch and turn around her defenders more often. It wasn’t enough to really give Morgan or Lloyd better chances at gaol, though, and the half ended at 1-0.
There were no subs to start the second half. Ball movement picked up early on as the team tried to play nice and quick into Scotland’s defensive third, but Scotland held fast, occasionally resorting to a well-timed tactical foul to break up momentum. Ertz pressed higher, offering more pressure on Scotland’s back line, and did manage to force some mild turnovers, but wasn’t able to cleanly break through.
There was a great chance for Ertz in the 53’ as Pugh fed Lloyd in the box. Lloyd dropped a cheeky little touch into Morgan’s path, but she saw too much traffic in front of her and looked back to Ertz arriving late. Ertz’s low, hard shot was deflected away but it was a bright spot of team awareness in a game that was often felt like a slog.
Lloyd had the chance to double the lead in the 61’ when she tried to drop off a nice, soft forward pass for Pugh to put her in on goal and Pugh was taken down in the box. Lloyd stood over the penalty and promptly hammered it into the crossbar, then put her next chance wildly over.
The first sub was in the 68’ as Sonnett came off for Jess McDonald. McDonald went in at left forward, pushing Morgan back into her usual central role, dropping Lloyd into Dunn’s midfield spot, and dropping Dunn into left back, pushing Fox to right back. That wouldn’t be the end of the positional shuffling, though. Danny Colaprico came on for Fox in the 76’, sending Ertz to her old center back role and pushing Dahlkemper into Fox’s old spot.
Colaprico didn’t have as good a game as she did against Portugal, although obviously she had less time to work with against Scotland. But Scotland was able to physically challenge her more than they did Ertz, and she didn’t have Horan’s movement this time as an outlet, nor was Lavelle particularly doing a good job of being available.
The United States kind of picked at Scotland’s formation for the rest of the second half, ending with two late subs. Allie Long came on for Alex Morgan in the 88’ and Sam Mewis came on for Carli Lloyd in the 93’. By then, the US was content to take the ball to the corner and just ride out the clock, ending things at 1-0.
It was another closer-than-expected game for the United States, who once again appeared to be struggling with their own lack of cohesiveness as a separate issue to breaking down Scotland’s game plan. Credit to Scotland, who stayed tough and organized and attacked the US back line with gusto. They created some panicky moments for the US, especially as Ashlyn Harris had shaky moments in the first half before looking more confident in the second.
This was also a team without Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan, both of them key components of being able to play a fast and creative wide attacking style; if the US wasn’t going to be able to break through Scotland down the middle, they needed more width to either pull Scotland out of shape or create more chances from their crossing. On the other hand, they had Megan Rapinoe available on the bench, but why not let her rest when these games seemed to be more about seeing the effect of shifting tactics at various points and even a little bit about getting caps for some new players.
So the United States ends 2018 on a pair of wins, making them undefeated for the year, and now has a couple of months off before they start January camp, once again headed overseas, this time to play France on January 19. By then we may have Morgan Brian back in the midfield fold, as well as a better sense of field cohesion and ability to possess through high pressure.