It was a bit of a snoozer as the United States took on China on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. Jill Ellis came out with a semi-experimental lineup, asking her team to play three in the back and let Crystal Dunn push high out of her LB position, while Savannah McCaskill dropped more into the midfield on the right to try and work that side with Lindsey Horan. None of that worked very well, particularly with Becky Sauerbrunn pushed to RB. Sauerbrunn got exposed with space behind a couple of times, leading to a quick in-game adjustment rotating her back into the center with Abby Dahlkemper, moving Tierna Davidson left, and switching Dunn to the right.
Crystal Dunn was clearly the best player on the night, trying to drag the team along with her no matter where she was on the field. The midfield looked quite disjointed, unable to keep possession in tight space, turning over the ball far too easily. McCaskill looked unsure of herself while trying to move around Horan and the two of them weren’t able to really open up any space on the right side. McCall Zerboni was by far the most comfortable-looking midfielder in the first half (and the second, really), often pushing higher than Horan while Ertz sat defensively.
China had more chances early on, absorbing US pressure and then pouncing on turnovers and looking to quickly move forward. They poked at Alyssa Naeher from long range several times in the first half, and got a big opportunity in the 34’ when a well-put-together counter had them slipping smoothly through the midfield and finding a player in space on the left. Naeher had to come up big, throwing herself onto the close-range shot to keep it at 0-0.
With Dunn switched to right back, it looked like she and McCaskill might pay off as McCaskill’s feeds into space finally had a target, but Dunn’s crosses were all a bit off the mark. Megan Rapinoe had a great chance in the 44’ when she danced to the endline and found the space to turn and cross, but Alex Morgan’s connecting header went over.
Ellis made two changes before the second half, bringing in Sam Mewis for Horan and Sofia Huerta for McCaskill. Huerta went in at RB, allowing Dunn to jump up to RF. Dunn once again scrounged up the space to look for a delivery as she won a one-v-one in the 56’, clearly trying to put some zip into the attacking line. She did manage to pick up a foul, setting up a free kick. Rapinoe delivered it with inch-precision to Alex Morgan’s forehead and this time the ball went in to make it 1-0 in the 57’.
Alex Morgan puts the USWNT ahead thanks to a perfect ball from Megan Rapinoe! pic.twitter.com/7xC27wNeaX— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 8, 2018
Rapinoe continued to put in work, trying to whip in a variety of crosses until she subbed out in the 65’ as part of a trio of changes. Carli Lloyd came on for Rapinoe, Christen Press came on for Dahklemper, and Allie Long came on for Ertz. Zerboni dropped into a holding mid role to allow Long to try looking forward and Dunn once again went to LB, putting Press in the front line with Lloyd and Morgan.
Press’ sub was a decent spark as she brought some hustle into the attacking third. Zerboni was picking out targets from deep, helping the US run at the Chinese goal a little more, and the substitution of Amy Rodriguez for Alex Morgan in the 77’ added even more horsepower to the attacking engine. But China was still alert and defensively disciplined and once again scooped up a bad pass late in the game, creating a looping cross to the far post that went out thanks to Dunn throwing her body at the ball and her mark.
Lloyd had the last chance of the game in stoppage, once again a header off a free kick, but her bullet went right into the keeper’s gloves and the game ended 1-0.
It wasn’t the best outing from the United States. Playing three + Dunn in the back was kind of interesting, but Sauerbrunn was too much of a liability out of her center role for it to work properly. Maybe if McCaskill hadn’t looked so lost, especially whenever Horan wasn’t within range, there might have been more first-half opportunities, but as it was, the right side was where a lot attacks went to die until later in the game.
It’s good to remember, though, that this is a team with some new roster elements, coming together for the first time since early April. Let them work out what was good and what needs help, and let’s take a second stab at coherence in game two.
USA vs China, game 2
June 12, 7 PM ET
FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio