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USA vs Japan, Tournament of Nations: 4 things to think about

Why do you have to be so good at soccer, Crystal Dunn?

Soccer: Tournament of Nations Women’s Soccer-USA at Japan Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

The United States just beat Japan 4-2 in a friendly, which you might think was a pretty resounding win. In some ways it was; any time a player gets a hat trick, like Alex Morgan did on the night, there’s positives to be drawn from a game. In Morgan’s case, it’s that her teammates know how to find her and she is confidently finishing under all sorts of conditions. But there are plenty of questions that still need answering. Here’s a few of the things on our minds after the Tournament of Nations opener.

Crystal Dunn might be a left back again

This is the world we live in. Crystal Dunn is too good at soccer, because she can rack up goals, set up assists, and also function as a fullback, and so she’s going to get shuffled wherever Ellis needs her most. Against Japan she was pinned back probably a little bit more than Ellis hoped, but at the same time she did a good job tracking back and recovering whenever Japan tried to slip a player past her to set up the through ball. At the very least, while Kelley O’Hara is out, Crystal Dunn is a defender, and our forward pool is still deep enough to only kinda sorta miss her as opposed to needing her to live. That doesn’t make it suck any less that we don’t get to regularly see Dunn in a higher attacking position for a full 90 minutes.

Can we find some stability in midfield?

Jill Ellis played seven different players in midfield last night between Morgan Brian, McCall Zerboni, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, and Crystal Dunn. Yes Dunn was in midfield for basically 3 seconds but Ellis still wanted to try out a midfield with her in it.

And then of those seven players, none of them particularly stayed in one position throughout the game. As much as Ellis wants a fluid midfield with smart players capable of switching off positional responsibilities, that’s not what we got, and that’s also not the best use of the midfielders we currently have. Most of these midfielders clearly excel at one part of the equation, like holding or attacking, and are pretty good-to-okay at other parts. Why not allow them to specialize and really dominate at the parts they’re very good at? Or at the very least give them more structure. The lack of definition in roles had Morgan Brian and Lindsey Horan looking almost hesitant, with Julie Ertz often trying to compensate by playing more aggressively out of her DM role, which left the back line exposed from time to time.

McCall Zerboni should start

The game changed pretty much from the moment Zerboni stepped onto the field in the second half. Part of that is probably due to Morgan Brian still not being 100%. Will Brian ever truly be her 2015 self again? Is that a bet Ellis and USSF are willing to make with a World Cup on the line? Because at this point it’s hard to see how you leave a fit and in form Zerboni off the roster. It wasn’t just her ability to stifle movement through the midfield, it was also her vision to find players from a deeper position, as well as her ability to press and keep back lines from trying to creep high. Perhaps Ellis wants to use her as a rhythm changer - oh, you thought we were waltzing? actually, it’s time for death metal - but why not use her to set the tone right away?

Time to phase out Carli Lloyd?

Carli Lloyd came into the game against Japan in the 73’ as a center forward. It seems that’s the latest phase of her career, shifting into forward and acting as a late sub who can harass tired defenses, although she wasn’t that effective against Japan. Looking at the roster Ellis brought to Tournament of Nations, perhaps Lloyd is the best choice out of the forwards to fill that kind of role. Amy Rodriguez could potentially go into that kind of role too, or even Crystal Dunn could get shifted forward out of defense. But honestly, with the midfield moving into a new era without her, Lloyd as a power sub forward is kind of a luxury. If anyone in the WNT pool could be brought along to make defenses sweat in the last 15 minutes of a game, you could look to Lynn Williams. Let’s also remember that Mal Pugh has been injured, and with her return, there will be even more shuffling in the forward pool among starters, meaning Pugh or someone like Christen Press could suddenly become a sub option as well.

What do you think? What struck you from last night’s game against Japan, and what do you want to see from the USWNT throughout the rest of Tournament of Nations?