After France kind of - how do you say - lost terribly to England, USA fans might have thought they’d get their own shot at racking up a demoralizing score against a top-rated WNT. Through a combination of France pulling it together and the United States not really knowing how to do what it wants in midfield, that scoreline never came to pass. Instead the French held stoutly to a 1-1 tie and even started to take it to the US as time ticked down. So how can the USWNT adjust before they face England, who aren’t going to be any easier to deal with than France?
It might be time to give Emily Sonnett a proper run out
In the lead up to SheBelieves, there were a lot of questions about how the back line would function without Becky Sauerbrunn combined with assumptions that it would be Abby Dahlkmeper who would guide that functioning. Dahlkemper held things together against Germany, but then looked unsteady against France. Meanwhile, Emily Sonnett is sitting there completely available as a center back. Tierna Davidson has proven that she is clearly ready to start working her way into regular lineups and it wouldn’t be as big of a risk as you think to pair her off with Sonnett, who has been working her butt off not just for Portland but in Australia as well for Sydney FC. Davidson has made mistakes, but what else do you expect from a 19-year-old who now has a grand total of three caps?
The link between goalkeepr and CB’s needs consistency, that’s true. But it’s important to be able to rotate your center backs too instead of having to rely on one pairing for 90 minutes several games in a row under tournament conditions. And shifting Julie Ertz back to CB in an emergency does not count as depth anymore, not when she’s proven how much better and more vital she is as a DM.
Ellis may need to stop relying on her fullbacks so much
It was somewhat apparent against Germany and very much apparent against France that Ellis is still, in some fashion, using a three-back formation to try and keep numbers in the midfield. Against France in particular she dropped Andi Sullivan between her CB’s and asked Kelley O’Hara and Taylor Smith to push up so the team could attack in a 3-4-3, using Sullivan to set up play out of the back. But O’Hara eventually got gassed (and seemed to still be carrying a bit of whatever had her signal to be subbed off against Germany) and Smith just wasn’t able to handle Le Sommer, which pretty much canceled out Ellis’ plans to use her fullbacks to supplement midfield width for the high press.
Ellis also admitted at the press conference after the game that she left Smith in too long, which is why she made that strange 43’ sub for Smith with Casey Short. But Short also had to sub out after she landed badly on her ankle, which has moved Sofia Huerta up as next in line on the depth chart on this roster if O’Hara is going to get any rest at all. (Or, well, there’s also Crystal Dunn, who got slotted in at left back in an emergency, but can we please not be relying on that as any kind of long-term strategy?)
Huerta does need more time in her new position - how can Ellis really convert her to a FB if she never gets to play there? - but even completely fresh off the bench, a Huerta who’s still learning the ropes won’t be the single key to unlocking England. That brings us to the midfield.
The midfield needs to wake up
Defensively, Morgan Brian and Andi Sullivan were okay, although it was clear this team was missing Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis. Brian and Sullivan certainly worked hard, although they didn’t always work smart. The same goes for Lindsey Horan and Savannah McCaskill. But no one was really able to break out of the midfield; it was all kind of a same-y mash of attempts at possession that ran into dead ends. (Get well soon, Rose Lavelle, this midfield needs you.) McCaskill at least was kind of interesting in some of her attempts to break that French back line and it’s clear that Ellis wants to find a position for her on this team, although at the post-game conference she said that McCaskill got shifted into midfield because there’s currently a lot of competition for that nine spot.
If McCaskill can make the adjustment into a fast-paced attacking mid who shuttles the ball forward well, that might be the kind of flavor that helps open up space for Alex Morgan and Mal Pugh. It’s kind of an exciting time for the midfield, with Brian healthy again and Ertz back in her most natural position, plus Tobin Heath waiting in the wings while she rehabs and kids like Sullivan and McCaskill trying to figure out their places. And if USSF can not mess up Rose Lavelle’s recovery this time - well! Watch out world.
In the meantime, let’s hope that Ellis figures out some kind of rotation to keep her players rested and healthy through the end of SheBelieves. Winning a friendly tournament is nice; not being out for most of your club season because of an exhaustion-related injury is even better.