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USA defeats lackluster France 2-0

USA tightened up after a rough game against Sweden, but also faced a weaker opponent.

France v United States - International women friendly match Photo by Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Christen Press, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe

The United States got an early momentum swing in this game as they picked up a penalty call in the 4’ for a takedown on Alex Morgan. But despite Megan Rapinoe calmly burying the ball to make it 1-0 early on, by no means did the US completely dominate the field, even with an understrength French roster facing them. They also had a lower line of confrontation at times, dropping off and picking their fights in the midfield. Andonovski could be heard at times asking them to step harder to try and expose a leaky back line.

And indeed, Alex Morgan looked like she’d picked up a step since previous outings, playing the target forward at times, getting behind the defenders easily (though sometimes while offside). Morgan got the second goal for her efforts in the 19’. Christen Press dropped her a lovely through ball and Morgan simply slipped both her defenders to run on and finish.

France had their own chance in response in the 22’, forcing a diving fingertip save from Alyssa Naeher. They weren’t making a lot of big shots on target, but they were able at times to give as good as they got against Crystal Dunn and force errors from her. Dunn also had some unforced errors with her passing, but she also had an incredible recovery and drive at goal in the 35’ with a hard shot on target to force the save. Then another chance from wide, this time from Kelley O’Hara on the right, making the cross for Rapinoe, who darted in from behind the defender. Her touch wasn’t quite enough to make it past the goalkeeeper.

The game felt more erratic as the first half wound down, with not a ton of urgency from the Americans, who seemed content to run it out at 2-0.

France tried to change it up in the second half, bringing in Sandy Baltimore as a sub, and for a while that channel on the pitch was pretty lively. The French also tried pulling the game wide right as well while looking for the switch to an open Baltimore to set her up for a cross or shot, but that wasn’t fruitful.

The US tried working into the box playing off each other through the halfspaces on both sides of the field, with Rapinoe, Mewis, and Lavelle are playing each other in and making runs, but these plays often didn’t result in a shot on target.

In the 63’ Rapinoe subbed off for Lindsey Horan, which, very interestingly, pushed Lavelle closer to a right forward position. Press went to left forward. Lavelle helped counteract Baltimore on the right side a bit, giving them more options to carry the ball out of pressure there. Horan at times drifted so high as to look like she was in a two-front with Morgan, trying to get numbers up and pressure the French CBs together.

The US made two more subs in the 75’, with Carli Lloyd replacing Morgan in a like-for-like, and and Sophia Smith replacing Press at LF as well. Smith looked a little bit tentative out there at times, particularly when teeing up in front of goal. She was a target for Horan, who was extremely active in that left channel, forcing the ball to the touchline and looking up at who was int he box.

There was a nervy moment in the 80’ when a Baltimore cross in front of goal missed Naeher and Dunn’s attempt to clear almost looked like it might have created an own goal, but she managed to get the ball away. After that, the last 10 minutes plus stoppage were a holding pattern, the US not pushing too hard, and France seemingly sitting back and waiting for their fate to arrive. The game ended at 2-0.

As much as fans might have been looking for some kind of response to the US having to chase Sweden for so much of their previous game, this wasn’t the most emphatic response. Part of it might have been the opponent, a rotated French team with lots of off-the-bench players. The most interesting thing to happen was honestly the use of so many midfielders, not pulling Lavelle when Horan came on. With Vlatko Andonovski often committed to the 4-3-3, it’s been quite a conundrum having such an incredible midfield and only having three of them on at a time.

After the game, Andonovski said this was something he was trying as a way to create overloads in the middle, particularly with Lavelle’s ability to come inside, giving them a 4-on-3 advantage. And it worked at times, as the US was able to clog up a lot of the midfield and limit France’s ability to look forward, while also giving Lavelle yet another area of the field in which to create trouble. Of course, any tinkering with the system needs time to gel, and so we’ll see if this experiment continues in the next round of pre-Olympic friendlies.