Starting lineup: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara, Rose Lavelle, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Lynn Williams
Subs: Emily Sonnett, Sophia Smith, Tierna Davidson, Alex Morgan, Margaret Purce, Jane Campbell, Kristie Mewis, Jaelin Howell
Did not dress: Aubrey Bledsoe, Ashley Hatch, Alana Cook, Catarina Macario
If you thought the United States might have been recovering from their big turkey meal the night before playing the Netherlands, you would be hugely wrong. They came out in their usual search and destroy mode, perhaps to the surprise of the Netherlands, who spent the first half of this game looking extremely slow to respond to pressure or to challenge for the ball in the midfield.
The US set the tone in the second minute, with the extremely active Tobin Heath picking up the ball and crossing it low across the face of goal, where Lynn Williams was waiting but just a step off.
If it wasn’t Heath, though, it was Williams too, or Christen Press, or Rose Lavelle, or Sam Mewis. Lavelle kept the ball moving through the half spaces, playing off of Kelley O’Hara and making herself a great target for through ball play from the midfield, which sometimes included Press drifting deeper.
The 15’ saw another Heath setup, as she played it to Press, who held her own run and sucked in defenders while Mewis made a deep run out of midfield for the feeder from Press. Then a few minutes later came the deflected ball at Williasm’ feet, which she cut and tried to curl under the bar at the far corner. Williams was certainly playing merry havoc with the back line, but her accuracy left something to be desired. Still, the Netherland’s defense was constantly scrambling trying to keep up with her, opening up big spaces around the goal.
Press kept turning up the heat as the US settled in and began really taking it to the Netherlands after about 25 minutes. Press had a goal called back in the 29’ with a very tight offside call, but it wouldn’t be her last action by far. She was back in the 38’ with a chippy little shot trying to dink it past Sari van Veenendal, then again in the 41’ as she played in Lavelle with a lovely and deceptively simple ball into space. Lavelle ran onto the pass and delivered an absolute banger, eerily reminiscent of the goal she scored against the Dutch last summer in Lyon to seal their fate in the World Cup final. After the game, Vlatko Andonovski said that goal was no mistake, and was in fact a product of rehearsal from that exact spot during camp.
Press came off at the half to make way for Alex Morgan, returning to the pitch in a national team uniform for the first time since that very World Cup final.
Morgan looked rusty, but only a little, as she had a couple of touches go astray. But her instinct for runs and positioning were still there as she took Press’ place at the tip of the attacking spear. Where the US lacked a little bit with the sub was missing Press’ great work in the setup as she switched between making runs and drifting deeper to play in as two or three others slipped into the box. Morgan did do some playmaking, like in the 57’ when she played in Crystal Dunn with a long ball that Dunn raced to keep, but the final cross was lacking. The US wasn’t totally on it with their crosses today in general, but that was made up for by their ability to generally press together as well as collapse in an organized fashion, falling back in a 4-1-4-1 with Ertz in front of the back four, and two of the midfielders dropping as well as necessary.
In the 61’, Rose Lavelle came off for Kristie Mewis, reuniting her on the national team with sister Sam for the first time since 2014. Mewis didn’t playmake as much as Lavelle as the Netherlands adjusted to the pressure somewhat and began playing it out more. But in the 70’ Mewis pounced on a ball to take advantage of lackadaisical defending, split two players with her run, and was in on goal to make it 2-0.
More subs came in the 75’ as Emily Sonnett, Sophia Smith, and Midge Purce came on for Crystal Dunn, Tobin Heath, and Kelley O’Hara respectively. This was the first cap for Smith and it showed in her overeager challenges, but a lot can be forgiven for someone in their first cap looking to impress a coach so close to the Olympics.
The team kept pressing forward, looking to Sam Mewis to start play out of the deeper midfield. At this point in the 78’, the United States had 13 shots to Netherlands’ 0, which matched with the overall vibe of the Netherlands looking to play in only when the US was stretched a little too much and getting beat to balls or simply challenged off of the ball. Still, in the last 10 minutes they tried to counterpress more, and won back some balls that let them stay set in the midfield and look to the US goal.
In the end it wasn’t enough. The US almost made it 3-0 in the final moments of stoppage as Julie Ertz won the ball (again), Kristie Mewis picked it up and turned into space, and get Alex Morgan in front of goal with one defender in her way. Morgan managed some deft little touches to outmaneuver her defender then tap the ball right over van Veenendaal, but it was called back for offside. In the end, the final score was 2-0.
“One thing that will never change is the heart and the mind. I was so proud of these players, the way they stepped up and handled the game, considering some of them didn’t have a chance to train properly before this camp,” said Andonovski after the game. “We still have to do a little better in terms of defending in the middle block. I think we were incredible anywhere around our goal, around our box.”
When asked to elaborate on what he saw needed work about the mid block, Andonovski said, “In the mid block we were able initially to match their midfield, which I thought we did a good job. But when they dropped the false nine, I think that threw us off a little bit so there’s a little work that we need to do there and how we can overcome that. But once it came a little bit closer to our goal, because we did not have to worry so much about the space behind, obviously in a low block there’s no space behind us, then we were able with the center back to solve that issue. Again, if you look at the game, most of the possession that the opponent had was when we were in the mid block. Once we got into low block I don't think they were able to get more than a few times in our box, which made me very happy.”
Overall, it was a winner in several columns for the United States. With the team still looking fairly organized, that has to be a confidence booster heading into 2021, and there were new caps for young players who are poised to become important to the pool very soon, as well as a return for Alex Morgan. Tobin Heath, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, and Christen Press all look like regular training has been good for them, as they all heavily influenced this game. Not to mention the emotional catharsis of Kristie Mewis’ goal seven years after her last, confirmed by US Soccer as being the longest gaps between goals for any WNT player.
That’s it for the WNT in 2020. See you all in 2021!