Three takeaways from France-USA

By Mike Woitalla

The good news from the U.S. friendly in France: Attack-minded, dynamic, often quite skillful soccer provided a good teaser for next summer's Women’s World Cup in Canada.

The bad news, for the USA: More of the good stuff game from the French, who thoroughly deserved their 2-0 win over the Americans on Sunday.

Here are three takeaways from the USA’s first game of this Women’s World Cup year.

1. On playing without Hope.

With Hope Solo suspended by U.S. Soccer, Ashlyn Harris played her fifth game in goal for the USA. The 29-year-old passed her first-half tests, tipping over the crossbar shots from Laura Georges and Amandine Henry. But keepers never look good when beaten on headers from within the goal area, which is how Eugenie Le Sommer gave the French a 1-0 lead. The second goal was a fluke, a mis-hit cross from Jessica Houara that banged off the inside of the far post and into the net.

It’s difficult to speculate whether Solo could have stopped either -- the Elodie Thomis cross on the first goal came from near distance, not allowing Harris much time to anticipate – but goalkeeping wasn’t the problem.

At issue was French midfield dominance and the USA’s reliance on counterattacks and its forwards' inability finish them.

2. Alex Morgan’s recovery will be key.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis won’t be happy with her team getting shut out two games in a row, having played Brazil to a scoreless tie in December in Brasilia. But the successful if not fruitful return of Alex Morgan is something for Ellis to be pleased about.

Morgan played her first game, and went 90 minutes, after sitting out for three and a half months with an injury to the ankle that also kept her out for the first half of 2014. She created several chances for herself -- pulled off a highlight reel back-heel nutmegged -- and some of the shots she missed will surely hit the net when she’s fully game-fit.

Morgan partnered up front with Christen Press, who squandered a couple chances. Abby Wambach entered in the 63rd minute and drew a penalty kick that was debatable on two fronts: whether she was actually fouled and that the contact occurred outside the area. Regardless, she shot weakly and the kick was saved by goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.

3. France is a World Cup favorite.

The Americans, missing injured Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Christie Rampone, can take solace that the loss came against a formidable foe. The French female game has made great strides in recent years at both the club and national team level. They beat Brazil and Germany in 2014, and faced the USA in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

Only solid central defensive play by Whitney Engen and Becky Sauerbrunn kept the French at bay in the first half. Should these teams meet again in Canada, more much will be needed from the U.S. midfield, which never found its rhythm in Lorient, and from its defenders, who didn't join the attack nearly as much as their French counterparts did.

TRIVIA: The win was France’s first ever over the USA in 17 meetings. France lost to the USA, 3-1, in the semifinals of the 2011 Women's World Cup and, 4-2, in the opening game of the 2012 London Olympics.

Feb. 8 in Lorient, France
France 2 USA 0. Goals: Le Sommer 50, Houara 51.
France -- Bouhaddi; Houara, Georges, Renard, Majri; Thomis (Lavogez, 74), Abily (Hamaroui, 82), Henry, Necib (Dali, 40); Thiney (Delie, 87), Le Sommer (Bussaglia, 74).
USA -- Harris; Klingenberg, Engen, Sauerbrunn, Chalupny (Krieger, 55); Heath (Rodriguez, 77), Brian (Wambach, 63), Holiday, Lloyd; Press, Morgan.
Referee: Pernilla Larsson (Sweden).
Att.: 15,663.

8 comments about "Three takeaways from France-USA".
  1. Lou vulovich, February 8, 2015 at 4:02 p.m.

    20 years ago I was amazed by the skill level and the overall game the US Women played, I could not understand how the women's technical level was so much higher then the US Men's and at that time I thought whatever the women were doing the men should follow. Instead I watched through the years the Women's teams resembling the men's sadly. While we continue to look for athletes the other countries are resembling the USWNT of the old days.

  2. James Madison, February 8, 2015 at 7:14 p.m.

    Amen, Lou, amen! France looked clearly superior to the US technically. Chalupny, for example, looked not even close to national team caliber. And Harris cannot be faulted for either goal. The first goal scorer, Le Sommer, made an excellent run through from distance. If anyone is "at fault," blame the defender who should have picked her up.

  3. Bruce Gowan, February 8, 2015 at 8:23 p.m.

    I already knew that Chalupney was not Nat team quality. I also knew that Brian was not yet ready for world class duty. I was surprised that Holiday played so poorly. I suspect that her lack of speed was a major factor. I have always liked the play of Heath but I am growing tired of her cheap giveaways. I question why the US Nat teams, men and women, use games on TV to test players and systems of play.

  4. Purity Marklund, February 9, 2015 at 12:52 a.m.

    I feel bad for Ashlyn Harris cause she has had so many set backs, but she is not at fault here in this game. That first goal was well placed and that second goal is a tough one to judge. And I say that being that I grew up playing keeper. And TBH as good as hope solo is I don't think she could have saved those either. So goalkeeping was def not the issue here and I hope coach lets her play against England. Ashlyn Harris is a really good goalkeeper and I hope she can show coach what she can really do. She has great heart and has worked so hard. Hope Solo really needs to clean her act up too. As much as I can't stand her, she is needed as well.

  5. Barry Ulrich, February 9, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    Agree with Lou Vulovich's comments. The WNT seems to have regressed in their backfield skills. How many times did we see one of the deep US defenders simply boot the ball upfield to no teammate, only to have the ball easily controlled by the defense and recommence their attack. Where was our ball control?

  6. , February 9, 2015 at 3:59 p.m.

    The game analysis in the article is similar to that from Ian Darke and Julie Foudy on TV: the French were far better technically than the US. The analysis is on point but leaves unaddressed the reason for the discrepancy. The implication that it will all get better once injured players return masks the real underlying problem: our development "system" (women & men) is woefully inadequate and is not producing players of the quality of the French.

  7. Chris J, February 10, 2015 at 1:54 p.m.

    And the one player who has chosen to play in France and develop professionally there is largely criticized, or worse, left off of rosters and out of camps, by this US Soccer coaching staff for making that choice!

  8. James Froehlich, February 11, 2015 at 9:16 p.m.

    Based on this column and the comments, is it possible that the US-centric arrogance that has infected the US men's development for years/decades has ALSO affected the women's development BUT has been hidden by the advantage that US women's soccer gained from the early acceptance of women's team sports in the US??? If the rest of the world's women's teams are beginning to leverage their much older soccer cultures, then it's time for US Women's organizations to do some in-depth evaluation of their own player development--just like the men!!!

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