If there was one thing that seemed clear about Jill Ellis after the game with Spain, it is that she is going to ride or die with the attack at all costs philosophy. Injured striker? Start her. Attacking midfielder seeming to be outmatched playing at left back? Start her. Central defender lost a step? Start her. Best midfielder on the team? Bench her. It would either lead the team to an incredible victory or honorable but crushing death in the “total shitshow circus” against France. Still a brace by Megan Rapinoe and some big saves by Alyssa Naeher gave the US a 2-1 win.
Overall, the Americans played an aggressive direct style . After going up a goal early the team was happy to let France have the ball and - not exactly hit on the counter, but possess and build to go forward at opportune moments. There were some nervy times defensively and the lineup decisions by Jill Ellis seemed to be more on the YOLO side than in-line with a specific tactical philosophy. In the end the US did enough to create more chaos than France could handle and two goals from Megan Rapinoe carried the day.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes
The first goal would come quickly in a theme that has emerged during the tournament. Alex Morgan was fouled, and in a nice change the ref called it. Megan Rapinoe took the free-kick and sliced it through the French defense and Sarah Bouhaddi waved at it while it bounced into the net.
The goal left no doubt that France would have to open the game up. The US took the space that the French forays forward opened and managed to use their possession to work passes to Alex Morgan who had more room to operate after a tough pair of physical games.
To the extent that France was able to provide any threat going forward, they were clearly focusing their attacks on the right. Kadidiatou Diani continually challenged Crystal Dunn and the left back managed to do enough to contain her, but had a shaky showing in the half. Otherwise, the team was left to take long range shots and failed to register a try on frame in the half.
For the US, some sloppy passing led to turnovers that limited their effectiveness in possession, though the French counterpressing deserves much credit for that also. The result was a few long range efforts, attacks that sputtered down the wings (Heath was especially ineffective) and the US failing to add to its 1-0 lead going into the half.
The US started the second 45 aggressively and went right down the center of the pitch - Sam Mewis took a shot that was blocked by Bouhaddi and the ensuing rebound was struck toward the goal by Tobin heath, but Bouhaddi made a kick save putting the ball out for a corner that led to another good chance for the US. France came right back pressuring the US and created a moment of doubt for the American backline.
Tactically, the US also made an adjustment moving to a three centerback look with Julie Ertz dropping between Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper.
The Coup of 18 Fructidor nearly came in the 58th minute for France as Naeher was pulled out of her goal on a dangerous cross from the right, she got lost in traffic with her defenders leaving the net open - luckily the shot by Eugenie Le Sommer was rushed and off the mark.
As the game reached the hour mark, Jill Ellis made her first change bringing Lindsey Horan in for Rose Lavelle after a quiet match for the Washington Spirit midfielder. On the re-start, a free kick by Le Sommer found Valerie Gauvin and her header looked sure to go in, but Naeher made a fantastic diving save to keep the score at 1-0.
But the US would have a chance of their own as - who else - but Megan Rapinoe got her second goal in the match. It came thanks to an absolutly perfect pass from Tobin Heath who played a ball behind the charging Sam Mews leaving Pinoe wide open to pick her shot.
It was at about the 75th minute and the introduction of Delphine Cascarino for Gauvin that France really began to apply pressure to the US as they tried to fight back into the game. Alyssa Naeher was up for the challenge though and made several impressive saves until the 81st minute.
That’s when a free kick found the flying French forehead of Wendie Renard who ran past the entire US backline nearly unmarked and smashed the ball into the net to make it 2-1.
The US would answer by inserting Carli Lloyd into the game in midfield for Sam Mewis - which was a... bold move considering that Lloyd is not exactly known for her defense. The change also shifted the shape of the team to a 5-4-1 with the US content to occupy the barricades rather than fight back to take control of the game. While barely holding onto a tenuous lead, the US would make another sub taking out Rapinoe for Christen Press.
France continued to push for a second goal, but the header by Renard was a mere whiff of grapeshot as the US came away with a win as they managed to calm the game down over the last few minutes to secure victory.
American Hero of the Night - Megan Rapinoe
After a week of boisterous statements, controversy, and hype leading up to the biggest match of the tournament so far, when it came time to pay the bill, Megan Rapinoe had her damn checkbook. She’s had the biggest impact for the US when it’s counted most and the goals she scored against France were moments of transcendence that the sport produces at its most thrilling.