Even if it were a clear, warm summer night, the USA were going to have a tough challenge against Germany last night. As it happens, this is March. In Columbus.
The wind, the cold, the snow and freezing rain, all combined to make for a truly uphill climb as the USWNT fought to start the SheBelieves Cup right. Add to that a strong German side who showed up to play and not accept a bad result, and the resulting 90 minutes made for one of the tougher contests for the Americans in any competition.
But the Stars & Stripes came out on top in Columbus. An early goal from Megan Rapinoe was all the US needed to grab all three points and make a strong statement at the start of the tournament.
Here’s a few things we learned from last night’s win.
The USA Remain Formidable
I mean, obviously. But the manner in which they won last night matters here.
Beating South Korea 6-0 in okay conditions is one thing. The Americans faced off against a strong and determined German team, who drifting them in the FIFA rankings at #2 and eager to knock them off their perch. Between tough and motivated opposition and a late winter storm that left the players raw at the end of 90 minutes.
It would’ve been so easy to drop points last night. The game probably should’ve ended 0-0, and a single defensive lapse could have handed the game to Germany. But the USA got the job done, under nearly unworkable conditions. No excuses.
It’s one game with not a whole lot on the line. But last night’s result, and how they got it, says a lot about how much the USWNT still has in the tank.
The Veterans Have Still Got It
A number of younger players got some quality minutes last night. This is a good thing— the USA’s aging vets are firmly in One Last Ride mode, and the likes of Mallory Pugh and Abby Dahlkemper need to get blooded in now if they’re going to become the new support beams for the team.
But for all the importance of getting youth into this side and having them contribute, the difference maker for this game was one of the tribal elders. Megan Rapinoe provided the game’s only goal, running onto a flicked pass and hitting the afterburners before slotting home.
Rapinoe made the difference between one point and three. If the USA get to the World Cup next year and make it all the way to the Final, Rapinoe could line up for that game having celebrated her 34th birthday just two days before. And for all we know, and for all the promising young talents who could get their day in the sun next summer in France, it may well be Rapinoe making the difference between lifting the trophy and not.
This Team Knows Its Weaknesses
One thing that struck me about the game was how fast and sharp it was in the first 15-20 minutes. At first I thought that both teams were just trying to draw first blood and establish a position of strength early on.
But as the minutes ticked on, both teams seemed to run into some mud. They got slower. Their passes less sharp. Their defending more shaky.
Blame it on the weather. Blame it on fatigue. Blame it on whatever you want. But the best soccer in this game— for certain values of “best,” if you’re not a fan of Leeroy Jenkins soccer like I am— was played in the first 20 minutes.
I’m not sure it just happened like this. I wonder if the team (and/or Jill Ellis) knew that the game was going to be a slog, and that if they were going to make something happen it needed to be as early as possible.
Am I indulging in a little correspondence bias here? Maybe. But I can’t help but think that the Americans are more self-aware than they let on.
The central defense partnership of Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper is, uh. Let’s just say it’s been a work in progress. A lot of the problems that have emerged from this tandem have been attributed to deficiencies in Dahlkemper’s game.
But Broon sat out last night while Dahlkemper kept her spot. And Dahlkemper put in a pretty solid performance. Keeping a clean sheet against Germany in that weather is a tall order, and Dahlkemper kept it together long enough to get the job done.
Correlation isn’t causation, of course. But if I’m Jill Ellis, I’m keeping a closer eye on my centerback pairing— and maybe rethinking what’s not working about Broon-Dahlkemper.
First We Take Manhattan…
Finally, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Germany based on last night.
They were up against tough opposition on hostile ground in horrible weather. That they kept the scoreline as close as they did, and managed to deny the Americans a moment’s peace all night, is a testament to their strength as a team. I’d even go so far as to say that they were hard done by the result, and likely deserved at least a draw.
The Germans are no doubt disappointed not to get a better result. But this is one relatively minor battle in a much longer war. Don’t take your eyes off them.