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).