The Rematch: USWNT take on France for the Algarve Cup Final

uswnt algarve

By MC Bousquette
Staff Writer

This Wednesday in the Algarve Cup Final, the United States Women’s National Team has a shot at revenge against France, who defeated the US 2-0 a month ago.

After a very lackluster draw to 20th ranked Iceland on Monday, the United States is looking to come back with a force. This draw came to a squad they absolutely should have beaten.  That isn’t just simple conjecture.  Even Iceland coach Frey Alexandersson shared, “We forced them to play the long ball since after watching their first two games, we saw that when they get under pressure they tend to resort to the long ball. I don’t understand it because they can play the ball on the grass. I would expect a team 20 seeds (ahead of us in the world rankings) would trash us.’’

Needless to say, the United States squad will come out looking to prove themselves on Wednesday.

Given both the end result and the criticism afterwards, it is very doubtful that Coach Jill Ellis will try the long ball approach again — even if France do play as aggressively as Iceland, who had 18 fouls in Monday’s match.

As the United States learned back in February, third-ranked France is no easy opponent. The French have won each of their Algarve Cup matches to clinch their position in the Algarve Cup Championship. Their tactically intelligent and aggressive offense is a threat to any team. Strikers Eugénie Le Sommer and Gaetene Thiney, who netted the three goals against Japan, are amongst the best in the world at their positions, and have been considerable contributors to France’s wave of success in the Algarve Cup.

Overtaking the French defense, led by experienced Jessica Houara, will be no easy task either.  The French have been consistently effective in shutting down their opponents, allowing only two goals, versus the eight that France has scored throughout the tournament.

Despite Monday’s disappointing result, the US team is very clearly different from the squad that faced France only a month ago. The lineup has solidified significantly from the first counter.  All injured players, save for Christie Rampone, have returned, and the US has found a defensive groove. Hope Solo is also back at keeper, and has proven her worth with a slew of saves that demonstrate just why she is the best at her job.

Iceland was a blip in a winning streak throughout which the United States has incrementally improved with each match. A significant contributor to the results of the match against Iceland was that Ellis allowed players who have had little playing time this year to get into the game, giving them important minutes before the World Cup. Kelley O’Hara, Rachel Van Hollebeke, Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath all had their first starts against Iceland.

The most worrisome component of match against Iceland is that the US had numerous opportunities off dangerous approaches and crosses, but failed to finish. The key to victory tomorrow will be the ability of the US offense to convert chances into goals, as the US defense is significantly more stable since the last face-off against France. Though Monday involved a very different backline, there is little reason to believe Ellis would not return to the balance found in the combination of Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger.

Although there are visible improvements in the US offense throughout the Algarve Cup, Ellis has yet to find a perfect balance between her forward line and midfield. As in all prior matches, she has a number of choices. Amy Rodriguez, Christen Press, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan have all been creative and meaningful contributors to the squad throughout the Algarve Cup, and the recent return of Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux from injury only give her additional opportunity to build a lethal approach.

The clock is ticking on Ellis to determine just what that approach is, and tomorrow will be the most important test yet for the United States women, as they take on one of the top teams in the world. Expect to see a close match, with both squads out to prove a major point as the World Cup rapidly approaches.

The United States play France this Wednesday, March 11th, at 12pm EST on Fox Sports 1.

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