The USWNT throttled Belgium Sunday night 6-0 at the beautiful Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, in a game that taught us nothing much at all.
Oh, it was nice to be reminded that Carli Lloyd is still Carli Freakin’ Lloyd, and the former FIFA Player of the Year reminded us of that with two goals in a determined display.
And with an astounding five (!!!!!) headed goals out of six U.S. tallies, we also learned that the U.S can still rely on the “Abby Wambach Route 1” approach if need be. What we did not learn is if the American defense can be trusted against upper echelon teams in France this June at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Effective line-up changes hard to evaluate given the competition
Last week’s 5-3 win over Australia raised some doubts about that defense that clobbering Belgium simply could not assuage. Against Belgium, coach Jill Ellis reverted to playing Julie Ertz at center-back next to her 2015 World Cup partner Becky Sauerbrunn. Ellis surprisingly shifted prospective center-back Tierna Davidson to left-back, a move that allowed Crystal Dunn to trade her by now usual fullback role for the relative freedom of the midfield.
Sam Mewis subbed in for late scratch Rose Lavelle, and Ellis played a second string front three consisting of Lloyd flanked by Christen Press and Mallory Pugh. This is an amazing second choice trio and an embarrassment of attacking riches, but no one is unseating a healthy Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Megan Rapinoe front line.
It took Lloyd 14 minutes to head home a Davidson cross (0:24 in the below video). Less than five minutes later, Lloyd nodded home again from brilliant work by Dunn (0:55 in the below vid).
By the time Lindsey Horan and Mewis added headed goals of their own the Yanks led 4-0 and Ellis had undone all her lineup changes sending Davison to center back, Ertz to the midfield, and Dunn back into defense.
What had Ellis learned in that half an hour that she did not in the past three years? That Ertz, then Julie Johnston, who made the 2015 World Cup All Star Team and was shortlisted for the Golden Ball, can play defense?
That Dunn a former NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner as a striker can flourish further up the pitch? These would seem to be knowns. And what does a hat-trick of assists versus Belgium really tell us about Christen Press?
Ellis has noted that Press can be an effective distributor, but that playmaking has primarily come from a wide role for Press. Press did see some minutes recently at the number 10 spot but Ellis is seeming locked in on Lavelle for that role. Perhaps the coach could have tried Press centrally a bit more often these past three years?
Any U.S. Women’s national Team Coach would have faced the same challenges that Ellis has has since that historic flameout versus Sweden in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. There had to be turnover, there had to be experimentation. There is the feeling in some quarters, this being one, that answers should have been found by now for some of these questions.
And before we get to the most obvious position in need of clarity, center-back, let’s talk briefly about the one position the Ellis was reluctant to experiment with these past three years: goalkeeper.
Ellis gave Ashlyn Harris a bit of a look, and Jane Campbell and Adrianna Franch were briefly considered but Ellis seemed to lock in on Alyssa Naeher to replace Hope Solo and it never seemed to be a genuinely open competition.
Naeher has been good, can she be great? Could one of the others?
But back to the center of the U.S. defense, center-back. 33 year-old Becky Sauerbrunn remains entrenched in one spot, deservedly. But Ellis’ temptation to return to Ertz can be read as a lack of confidence in her other options, 20 year-old Tierna Davidson and 25 year-old Abby Dahlkemper.
When Ertz was moved forward to the defensive midfielder role in 2017, she was considered both a revelation and a solution. Partnered with Horan and Mewis, the midfield was secured. Looking for a bit more offensive ability, Ellis would work Lavelle into the number 10 role at the expense of Mewis, although Mewis continues to impress when called upon.
Time is running out to find the right answers
Just three friendlies remain before the USWNT begin World Cup play on June 11 versus Thailand. With all due respect, Ellis could put out any number of lineups and beat Thailand. The same holds for Chile five days later.
The next real test for the U.S comes versus old friend Pia Sundhage and Sweden. It is a chance to avenge Brazil 2016, it is a chance for Ellis to even the score with her former boss, but most importantly it could be a step on the road to a World Cup Championship.
Then, and only then, is when we will find out if Ellis got it right with all of her tinkering.
U.S. Women’s National Team Match Report
Match: U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Belgium
Date: April 7, 2019
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Banc of California Stadium; Los Angeles, Calif.
Kickoff: 6 p.m. PT
Weather: 70 degrees; Partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 4 2 6
BEL 0 0 0
USA – Carli Lloyd (Tierna Davidson) 14th minute
USA – Carli Lloyd (Crystal Dunn) 19
USA – Lindsey Horan (Christen Press) 26
USA – Samantha Mewis (Christen Press) 33
USA – Alex Morgan (Carli Lloyd) 52
USA – Jessica McDonald (Christen Press) 90+1
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher (24-Ashlyn Harris, 46); 11-Ali Krieger, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Ertz (7-Abby Dahlkemper, 46), 12-Tierna Davidson; 9-Lindsey Horan (20-Allie Long, 60), 19-Crystal Dunn (13-Alex Morgan, 46), 3-Samantha Mewis (25-McCall Zerboni, 73); 22-Mallory Pugh (26-Jessica McDonald, 61), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 23-Christen Press
Substitutes not used: 2-Emily Sonnett, 17-Tobin Heath
Head coach: Jill Ellis
BEL: 21-Nicky Evrard; 2-Davina Philtjens (5-Shari Van Belle, 59), 4-Heleen Jaques (17-Maud Coutereels, 59), 6-Tine De Caigny (3-Ella Van Kerkhoven, 80), 9-Tessa Wullaert (capt.), 11-Janice Cayman, 18-Laura De Neve, 19-Chloé Vande Velde (13-Elena Dhont, 46), 20-Julie Biesmans, 22-Laura Deloose (16-Sarah Wijnants, 85), 23-Kassandra Missipo (8-Lenie Onzia, 86)
Substitutes not used: 1-Justien Odeurs, 12-Lisa Lichtfus, 14-Davinia Vanmechelen
Head coach: Ives Serneels
Stats Summary: USA / BEL
Shots: 17 / 4
Shots on Goal: 8 / 0
Saves: 0 / 2
Corner Kicks: 4 / 2
Fouls: 6 / 10
Offside: 1 / 2
USA – Carli Lloyd (caution) 64th minute
BEL – Maud Coutereels (caution) 90
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Kathryn Nesbitt (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Felisha Mariscal (USA)
4th Official: Karen Abt (USA)
Woman of the Match: Carli Lloyd