This sounds churlish, probably because it is, but the United States defeating South Africa 3-0 yesterday was an average performance. Passing to feet and opening up spaces with movement were lacking and while South Africa rarely broke out of their own half, they also helped keep Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath out of the game, for which the USWNT didn’t particularly have any answers. Three goals is great! And there were good things about those goals, which we’ll get into below, but there were also things that you hope are simply the result of the team wanting to stay low-key and not go completely fast and furious in a pre-World Cup friendly. Here are some takeaways from the game against South Africa:
Sam Mewis is good
Sam Mewis is not just good, she’s actually great, and should be a starter, if not the assumed off-the-bench midfield option behind Horan. Mewis knows how to open up those seams all over the field, like when women cut open the seams that sew their pants pockets closed because apparently the fashion industry decided women don’t want pockets to put things in, like their wallets or keys or cell phones, and instead want this sewn-shut abomination that may or may not actually be a pocket, because sometimes it’s the facade of a pocket on the outside, but there’s no actual pocket on the inside!!!
Wait, where was I.
Sam Mewis is a great midfielder. She can do the box-to-box work and she can win the ball and she can distribute well in the short- to medium-range and she can also get into the box where she’s a threat both on the ground and in the air. She was a huge contributor to the engine that drove the USWNT against South Africa and she’s shown that she can do that consistently at the club level and probably would have been consistent with it at the international level if she’d been given more starts.
You can’t stop Julie Ertz, for better or for worse
Julie Ertz spent part of the game at central defensive mid and part of it at center back with Becky Sauerbrunn after Allie Long subbed on. And yet Ertz was still often the one circulating the ball out of deeper while still managing to get up field, higher than Long. At this point it can’t just be that Julie Ertz doesn’t have positional discipline - no one with Ertz’s player intelligence presses forward like that without specifically being told to do so by her coach. And so we have to assume that Ellis specifically wants Ertz’s qualities as high as possible on the field whenever possible, which would seem to contraindicate her use on the back line while asking the actual DM (in the most recent case, Allie Long) to cover for her. True, the subs against South Africa seemed to be about making sure people got playing time in backup positions, or formation rotations that may be important in France, and Ertz having to drop to CB in an emergency is not out of the realm of possibility. But if she’s going to be a CB, then make her a CB and trust your actual defensive mid to do her job.
(Also do we know what happened with the mouth blood yet? I mean probably she just got bumped in the face from an errant collision, but I’m curious. It’s not relevant. Sorry guys. I’ll keep going.)
Four center backs = ???
At one point, the back line was, from left to right, Tierna Davidson, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Ertz, and Emily Sonnett. The only thing I really have to say to that is Casey Short, I’m so sorry you had to see that.
What’s the plan when Morgan and Heath get taken out of the game?
For large portions of the game, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath were largely ineffective, and Christen Press was giving her usual 150% effort, but without corresponding results. Sam Mewis and, to a certain extent, Rose Lavelle tried to move the pieces around from midfield, but the chance creation against a determined South Africa was anemic. The attack popped more when Megan Rapinoe came on, but there has to be a better way to react to your starting forward line getting taken out of the game than just waiting for a sub and hoping that she sparks. Possibly that’s switching Press and Heath, or shifting to get Morgan higher up and ready to slip off the shoulder of her defender, or letting both Dunn and O’Hara engage from the flank to put another dangerous piece in the attacking third. Whatever it is, everyone is going to be on the lookout for Morgan and Heath because everyone knows what they can do, which makes it incumbent to have a plan for when they’re being marked tighter than the packaging used for scissors.