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Match preview: USWNT vs France could promise thrills on the flanks

Her name is Sandy Baltimore and she might be real trouble for our RB.

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France v USA: Quarter Final - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images

So you just narrowly avoided losing to Sweden off a penalty kick and now you’re about to play France. What do you do? If you’re the United States, you’re probably about to take out your frustration on the field and score some goals. This is a team that has historically been pretty good about mentally rebounding from disappointing performances. But let’s rewind a little bit and consider some context.

France are themselves riding some momentum, having just defeated England 3-1 and looked pretty good doing it. England got on the board due to a penalty kick from Fran Kirby.

On the other hand, many key players are ineligible for the roster thanks to a COVID-19 breakout at Lyon, including Sarah Bouhaddi, Wendie Renard, Griedge Mbock, Sakina Karchaoui, Amandine Henry, Amel Majri, and Delphine Cascarino. France head coach Corinne Diacre did actually called up some Lyon players anyway, to the point that Lyon itself expressed public disapproval of the move. At the time she released her roster, there were 10 positive cases; in the ensuing days, total positive cases rose to 15. Here’s the roster that Diacre chose:

And here’s the actual roster that the United States will end up facing:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Solène Durand (Guingamp), Pauline Peyraud-Magnin (Atletico Madrid, ESP), Constance Picaud (Le Havre)

DEFENDERS (9): Estelle Cascarino (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Élisa de Almeida (Montpellier HSC), Océane Deslandes (Stade de Reims), Grace Kazadi (Atletico Madrid, ESP), Perle Morroni (Paris Saint-Germain), Ève Périsset (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Julie Thibaud (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Marion Torrent (Montpellier HSC), Aïssatou Tounkara (Atletico Madrid, ESP)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kenza Dali (West Ham United FC, ENG), Grace Geyoro (Paris Saint-Germain), Inès Jauréna (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Oriane Jean-François (Paris FC), Léa Khelifi (Paris Saint-Germain), Ella Palis (FC Girondins de Bordeaux)

FORWARDS (7): Viviane Asseyi (FC Bayern Munich), Sandy Baltimore (Paris Saint-Germain), Kadidiatou Diani (Paris Saint-Germain), Louise Fleury (Guingamp), Valérie Gauvin (Everton), Marie-Antoinette Katoto (Paris Saint-Germain), Eugénie le Sommer (Olympique Lyonnais)

The fun matchup for this game will probably be Sandy Baltimore vs. whoever ends up at that right fullback position. For Sweden, it was Kelley O’Hara, who didn’t have the greatest defensive game. But you can’t switch Dunn over to the right, because that could leave the left flank open for Kadidiatou Diani; the formation the French used against England with Diani, Geyoro, and Katoto as a triangle on the right, if employed again, is going to strongly test the connection between Dunn and the LCB, whether that’s Tierna Davidson or Abby Dahlkemper or maybe even Alana Cook. Diani can also switch the point quickly, looking for Baltimore across the field, so this could be quite a test of how players recover in the high press.

The last time the United States played France, they did beat them 2-1 in Paris during the 2019 World Cup. Before that, they actually lost to France 3-1 in Le Havre earlier that year in January. But both that Le Havre and that World Cup roster have been gutted by both roster shakeups (please read this timeline of Diacre’s clashes with her players) and this recent COVID outbreak. For all that, they still had the capacity to be a fun, animated team against England.

Hopefully, the Americans won’t be quite so dire at defending (looking at you, English defenders bamboozled by Katoto on the third goal), forcing France to do a little more hunting from way outside the box instead of making themselves very tasty targets right in front of goal. On that end, the US could be okay, given that against Sweden they seemed fairly organized in their defensive withdrawals (and assuming they tighten up their set piece defending). The real problem against Sweden was the scoring, and if the US can get comfortable keeping Baltimore pinned back, the French left side could be a nice lane of attack. Regardless, this is absolutely critical experience for a US team that has yet to truly experience a setback under Andonovski. Entering a major tournament without ever having dealt with big disappointment probably isn’t a good idea, and while you hate to see the team struggle, that’s how they’ll improve. Now they just have to...improve.

USA vs France

Tuesday, April 13
3:00 PM ET / 12 PM PT
Live on ESPN2