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United States still too reliant on set pieces in 4-0 win over Chile

Yes, they won 4-0. But it won’t be good enough against tougher teams.

Chile v United States Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Starting XI: Ashlyn Harris, Casey Short, Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara, McCall Zerboni, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh

There’s no way of knowing how this game would have gone had McCall Zerboni not have to sub off in the 5’ with an injury, but that’s what happened. Zerboni finally earned another start with the USWNT, only to have to leave and be replaced by Morgan Brian in the midfield.

Brian did a good job for most of the game. She picked up tons of balls and spurred movement forward. Ertz, Lavelle, and Heath all did this too with varying degrees of success as the US played quite a vertical game through midfield. In spite of that, they weren’t picking out Alex Morgan as a target very often, with most chances in the box from either Heath or Pugh slashing in.

Kelley O’Hara returned to a starting lineup after a long hamstring rehab and looked okay, considering it was her first game back. She seemed to be warming up to making connections with her teammates, but her execution wasn’t quite there, and she subbed off in the 30’ as planned. Crystal Dunn came on for O’Hara at left back, pushing Casey Short to the right. But much like the first game against Chile, Dunn was unable to push high, often going unused or losing out on battles.

Also much like the first game, the US looked most threatening on set pieces in the first half. Their first goal came from a penalty attempt; Pugh was knocked over - perhaps dubiously on the border of the 18-yard box - and earned the call. Alex Morgan stepped up to the spot and had her shot brilliantly saved, but Pugh was there to crash the net for the rebound to make it 1-0 in the 34’.

The US almost picked up a second goal minutes later when Heath pounced on a defensive error and fed Lavelle on the run, but Lavelle’s shot was smartly saved by the keeper once again.

The second US goal in the 38’ was a set play off a free kick. Brian appears to be the target on free kicks into the box; she managed to head it across the box, and with an assisting touch from Davidson, put it far post, where Heath slid into it and scored.

The US picked up on more defensive errors with their high pressure, but weren’t able to score again before the half, although Heath had a typical moment of brilliance winning duels all down the left flank to find space for a cross. The ball sailed just over Lavelle’s head, a pity after her nice darting run through the defense.

Carli Lloyd came on for Mal Pugh at the start of the second half and got in on the action right away. After being denied several goals in game 1, she pretty much immediately scored - say it with me, off a free kick. Heath served it in and Lloyd broke free of the defense for a diving header to make it 3-0 in the 47’.

Lloyd wasn’t quite as neat with the rest of her touches, though. In her position at center forward she had some bad touches on the ball and clunky giveaways whenever Heath tried to feed her in the final third. Still, she created a lot of consternation in Chile’s back line with her movement and presence, particularly once they reached the 61’.

Lavelle and Heath came off for Lindsey Horan and Amy Rodriguez; Ertz dropped into the back four, Davidson pushed wide left, and Dunn moved up into the midfield to the right of Brian in the center. Dunn was immediately 100% more threatening from her midfield position, the one she plays so well for North Carolina, and she fed Carli Lloyd a steady diet of forward balls.

Then in the 78’ Casey Short had to come off with an injury, leaving the US to play with 10 after having already used all six subs. Dunn dropped a little bit more into the right back role, although she still kept pushing high through midfield, A-Rod dropped along with her, and the US played on in a 4-3-2. The game slowed down a bit as the US tried to balance defending a player down with maintaining pressure. There was a nice ball over in the 86’ for Rodriguez, who beat the back line with pace, but her cutback for Lloyd went amiss.

Dunn and Rodriguez had a great bit of movement to set up a ball for Lloyd, whose hard long range shot was once again saved; it was a big night for Chile’s Christiane Endler, who showed her quality in goal for 90 minutes.

Lloyd didn’t stop hammering away at Endler though, and she made it 4-0 in the 93’ as she pounced on a dodgy pass to a defender, cutback on another defender, and shot low and hard far corner. Perhaps the safer bet would have been to pick out a completely open Alex Morgan across from her in the box, but at 3-0 up and no stoppage time left, Lloyd went for it and it paid off. The ref blew for full time shortly afterwards, making 4-0 the final scoreline.

We could see clearly in these two games that Ellis was trying to see how her midfielders engaged vertically, with much less contribution from high-pressing fullbacks. Width came from Heath and Pugh in this game, with Lavelle or Brian often feeding them. It was a very solid game from Brian, especially considering she was not expected to start. She held the midfield nicely for the US and was a calm distributor, complementing Lavelle’s higher-paced pushing at the back line.

The results of the experiment weren’t encouraging, though, as balls went awry way too often in the final third. Alex Morgan was once again not enough of a target, whether she was playing centrally, or when she pushed left after Lloyd’s sub. One of the best moments of attacking movement came late in the game, when the team was already down to 10, and Rodriguez darted across goal from to left, pulling her defender out of position and opening a shooting lane for Dunn as she drifted right.

Perhaps with a little bit of cleaning up and more time together in camp, the attack that Ellis envisioned will come together. Kelley O’Hara will hopefully be even further along in her recovery, adding a lot of pace and service from the right. We’ll see what happens during Concacaf World Cup qualifying in October.