The formation for Vlatko Andonovski’s first game as USWNT head coach might have been shown as the 4-3-3 we’ve all come to know and tolerate over the past year or so, but in reality he had his players arranged in a 4-1-4-1, with Carli Lloyd as his 9 and a rotating cast of attacker looking to break Sweden’s back line.
The United States started off very, very strong with a 6’ goal from Lloyd. Lindsey Horan set it up with her play out of pressure. Casey Short saw Christen Press making a run and fed her; Press in turn placed the ball on a dime for Lloyd, who tapped it in to make it 1-0.
Sweden tried to return the favor, repeatedly attacking the right side, trying to use Sofia Jakobsson and Kosovare Asllani in one-on-one confrontations with Short, but if Short wasn’t tackling them away, then the other defenders were picking up the remnants. Meanwhile, the line of four underneath Lloyd helped the USWNT set the line of confrontation high up the field and created some nice two-on-ones whenever Sweden’s outside backs tried to pinch higher, leaving their center backs at the mercy of US attacking pairs. At other times, any one of Horan, Lavelle, or Press would make a piercing run to try and break Sweden’s back line. At other times, the US would stay patient in small-sided possession, holding the ball along the flanks while they searched for the right run or channel. The US dominated centrally as well, playing up quickly through the middle as they saw opportunities to do so. Sweden’s defense looked sluggish, unable to handle Heath drifting inside or Lavelle taking off with the ball at her feet.
The second US goal came in the 28’ as Lloyd played Press in. Press ran at two defenders, cut them both, and dropped the ball into the goal to make it 2-0. That simple description doesn’t really do justice to how dirty the play was from Press; her speed and maneuverability had two field players and the goalkeeper totally bamboozled. Lloyd didn’t let Sweden rest for long, making it 3-0 in the 31’ with an even dirtier chip.
All in all it was a fantastic first half, with the team constantly piercing Sweden’s defensive lines with their on- and off-the-ball movement, even when Sweden sat back in two lines and put eight players in front of the goal.
The second half started off with two subs as Lynn Williams came on for Christen Press and Andi Sullivan came on for Julie Ertz. Sullivan took Ertz’s DM position and Williams went right in the line of four attackers underneath Lloyd. Things started brightly enough, with Lavelle seeming to really warm up and simply take over the midfield. Sweden didn’t seem to know how to stop her from gliding right past them, or were simply unable to do so. She set up Horan in the 51’, but Horan wasn’t quite able to turn under pressure and shoot on goal.
The next two subs came in the 61’ as Heath came out for Mal Pugh and Lavelle came out for Sam Mewis. The new line underneath Lloyd was Pugh - Horan - Mewis - Williams and for a while the US line of confrontation had Sweden compressed entirely into their own end, particularly with Short adding to the mix. Mewis was looking to continue the good times from the first half and quickly play in Lloyd out of midfield.
But Sweden fought their way back into the game. In one of their forays forward, the US didn’t find the clearance and were scrambling a little bit on defense. Becky Sauerbrunn stepped up to try and pressure the ball out along with Lindsey Horan, leaving a gap that Abby Dahlkemper didn’t tighten down. Anvegard was able to slip in and finish an Asllani assist to make it 3-1 in the 75’. Then, in a reversal of the US’ own quick two-goal bash, Sweden scored again in the 79’, this time as Sauerbrunn and Naeher had a catastrophic miscommunication and Sauerbrunn read the ball wrong while trying to screen a Swedish player so Naeher could come off her line to collect at the edge of the 18. Sweden scored again, this time on an empty net.
Casey Short gave the US a chance to solidify their lead again in the 81’ as she drove into the box and was fouled, earning a penalty. Carli Lloyd could have completed her hat trick, but evidently forgot to flick her switch back from American football to soccer, as she shot the ball neatly into field goal territory, well over the bar. It doesn’t erase just how good she was in the first half; the midfield was having its own problems cycling the ball out and making penetrating runs. Lloyd even had another chance late in the game, making a great angled run between defenders, but Pugh was late feeding her, and Lloyd ended up being offside.
The game ended at 3-2, the lead preserved to net Andonovski his first win in his debut. It wasn’t perfect by any means. There are clearly some defensive issues to tidy up, although neither goal was really a structural error. But the first half was a big flashing advertisement for what he brings to this team. The 4-1-4-1 that put so many of the USWNT’s incredible attacking players into position to break lines while allowing Lloyd to be her wrecking ball self as close to goal as possible was extremely fun to watch when executed well. Andi Sullivan is not Julie Ertz, but she’s got potential, and was certainly a defensive pest. Casey Short made a huge case for herself and made it look supremely wrongheaded that she was left off the World Cup roster. Some confusion was to be expected as Andonovski made subs into a new system, and so this game was definitely a net positive.
Next: USA vs Costa Rica
November 10, 8:00 PM ET
TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL
ESPN 2, TUDN