Just In Time: Why the USWNT Victory Against China Matters

Reuters

By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

The USWNT stunned with a significantly improved performance on Friday, taking down China 1-0. The squad emerged in a form not yet seen during this tournament, dominating possession in both halves with a visible fire throughout the match.

While it was easy to sense a difference, it’s not quite as simple to pinpoint what changed. So I’ve broken down just what it is that differentiates the USWNT’s form on Friday from that in all prior matches – and what needs to continue for the US to make it through the semifinals.

Top Trio of Takeaways:

The US doesn’t need Abby Wambach. While Carli Lloyd’s goal came off a header Wambach-style, the major source of the US’ offensive success against China’s notoriously bunkered defense was the use of a more complex, technical U.S. approach. The US moved the ball seamlessly from wing to wing, beat Chinese defenders with agile maneuvering, and patiently passed until a valuable opportunity presented itself. Nearly gone were the long-bomb serves hoping to find a US head. All US players were involved in all components of the match. For instance, the cross that Lloyd buried came from Julie Johnston, the US’ 23-year-old center back. The US is capable of playing at the highest level, and has many options to do so without the outdated, direct, single player-oriented approach that Wambach needs to succeed.

The midfield isn’t permanently broken. It took the absence of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday (yellow card suspensions) for Coach Jill Ellis to alter her lineup. While it may seem risky to try new starters and a new strategy so deep into the tournament, Ellis’ experimentation on Friday paid off. Morgan Brian, the youngest member of the squad, stepped in for Holiday at midfield. Brian proved herself a phenomenal asset to the squad on both offense and defense, visibly plugging the gap that’s loomed at midfield since the tournament’s start. Lloyd notched the match’s lone goal, appearing more confident than usual as she was more free to move on offense (although she still appears to be off her passing game). Kelley O’Hara garnered her first start of the tournament, taking over at right wing, and gave Ellis a lot to think about as she served to relentlessly dodge Chinese defenders and penetrate the final third. Much to her (quite visible) dismay, O’Hara’s fierce showing ended before the full 90 minutes were up, as she was removed with a bloody nose after being headbutted.

If nothing else, Friday proved that Ellis has the personnel to fix the midfield – she barely even saw Heather O’Reilly and Christen Press, two other solid options, against China. Ellis can fix this problem, and it’s time for her to go ahead and do so.

Kelley O'Hara, refusing to find her chill. (Photo Credit: US Soccer)

Kelley O’Hara, refusing to find her chill. (Photo Credit: US Soccer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, and Hope Solo are the key for the US’ survival into the semifinals. There are few, if any, who would deny the incredible significance of the back line’s performance this World Cup. The back line was so in its groove against China that Solo barely even touched the ball — although Solo has had numerous world-class saves throughout the prior matches. The defense’s ongoing efforts aren’t just reserved for the US’ half. From Johnston’s assist on Lloyd’s goal to the bullet of a shot Krieger sent into the Chinese crossbar, the defenders are a vital downfield presence as well. The back five’s mentality is perhaps best exemplified by Sauerbrunn’s statement after the match on Friday, as she said, “if they don’t score, we can’t lose.”

The Unanswered Question

What is the US’ front line solution? Alex Morgan and Amy Rodriguez underwhelmed as a pair at the forefront of the US’ attack. Whereas Rodriguez had poor shots but created tremendous opportunities and movement for her teammates, Morgan came away from the match with little to show for it. Morgan appeared easily beaten, and possibly still injured. Speculation surrounding Morgan is generally that she will only improve with time, but time has most recently proven that she is injured easily and often. Wambach rode the bench throughout most of the match, and rightfully so. No other forward has inspired during the tournament, with lackluster performances from Sydney Leroux and, surprisingly, an in-position Press. As the US enters the semifinals, the front line must start producing.

The US’ victory over China on Friday inspired confidence that the Americans belong in the semifinals. That said, there will be little room for error against Germany. The USWNT needs to prove that Friday is the new rule, rather than the fluke exception.

The USA takes on Germany in the World Cup semifinals this Tuesday, June 30th at 7pm EST in Montreal (FOX).