Scouting Report: How USA must break down China

Next up for the U.S. women is a rematch of the epic 1999 World Cup final in which they beat China to recapture the title.

The  styles and philosophies are very different, yet both the USA and China didn't overly impress while winning their games in the round of 16. The Americans scored twice and failed to convert a penalty kick in a 2-0 defeat of stubborn Colombia, and China absorbed a lot of pressure before prevailing against Cameroon, 1-0.

1. China can counter with pace and precision.

China played a tight, rather conservative game after taking an early lead over Cameroon, yet a more aggressive approach yielded a 2-2 tie with New Zealand in their last group game. A terrible handball call provided China a penalty kick that Lisi Wang converted for its first goal, and a courageous header by Wang Shenshen notched China’s second.

It’s unlikely either team wants to play an open game, yet China displayed against New Zealand an attacking prowess that could come into play. Against Cameroon, China retreated, with five midfielders shielding the back four, and though counterattacks were few they did feature pace and precision.

“They don’t give much away,” said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis during a press conference Thursday. “They’re a very organized team, probably one of the best-organized teams in the tournament. They make it very, very hard for you to break down.”

Centerbacks Li Dongna and Zhao Rong played solidly against Cameroon. They were aided greatly by the coordinated work of central mids Ren Giuxin and Tan Ruyin, who dropped quickly into passing lanes or dove into double-teams to win the ball. A tendency to give balls away after they’d won possession plagued the Chinese midfielders at times, yet they also used an unusual tactic to get downfield quickly.

Wang Shenshen didn’t often win the long balls aimed in her direction, but many of the headed half-clearances fell to Tang Jiali or one of the other midfielders as they pressed through the middle third. Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn have been two of the best U.S. players at this World Cup and will need to be cognizant of where their clearances are going. Their teammates must also react quickly to these second balls to deter the Chinese from winning them and running at the back four with numbers.

2. Ellis: 'It’s not about changing the shape.'

Suspensions to Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday deprive the Americans of savvy, skill, flair and experience. Morgan Brian, who started against Colombia, is expected to take one of the slots and probably play in the middle. Tobin Heath has started the last two matches and showed enough improvement in the defeat of Colombia to keep her place. Alex Morgan is getting sharper and more dangerous as the tournament unfolds, yet by now she will have been well-scouted by China, which has a quick and smart back line and several tenacious midfielders.

As the most experienced central midfielder, this will be the most critical game of the tournament for Carli Lloyd. She must not only play her own game but help direct her teammates against an opponent that has shown tenacity and organization in three of its four matches.

Lloyd scored the goal in December as the Americans tied China, 1-1, during their trip to Brazil. Ellis played a 4-3-3 in that game yet despite comments from fans and pundits to step away from her preferred 4-4-2 alignment she doesn’t sound like change is in the offing.

‘At this point, it’s not about changing the shape,” said Ellis. “A lineup is just an alignment of players; it’s how you play within any shape. It’s really about now mobile we are, it’s really about how we commit to how we want to play. It’s about selecting the right tools that we think will be beneficial in this match.”

3. USA must vary its methods of attack.

Ellis didn’t commit as to whether Abby Wambach will keep her starting spot. The decision to start her against Colombia was based on certain factors and Ellis reiterated the strategy for China could be quite different.

“I look at what an opponent presents,” said Ellis. “Abby has some unique tools and the decision against Colombia is we felt on set pieces and defending blocks we had a very good chance in the air with her presence. I’ll look at China and what they present and what tools we have to be successful and break them down. That’s kind of how I approach it. I think she’d be ready to go for 90 minutes if asked.”

Against Cameroon, China conceded space on the flanks, relying on their quick-reacting defenders to clear the crosses. The Americans need not only get the ball wide but also vary their methods of attack: early balls, combination play, and dribbling to the endline to draw an additional defender can all work if there’s variety in those situations.

The players profess they are not distracted by sidebars such as media questioning of tactical and personnel decisions, or the comments of Wambach about playing surfaces and refereeing decisions that she has subsequently clarified. All of the Americans remember vividly the epic 1999 final in which the Americans beat China on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl to win the title, but it is their own destiny that is yet to be decided.

“It’s just controlling what we can control,” said Sauerbrunn. ‘That’s not only the game plan that is given to us by our staff, that’s how we approach the game: the mentality of staying positive with one another.

“We know we haven’t played our best. We’re working through that, I think it’s gotten better each game. I think when it finally does click, we’re going to be very fearsome.”

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), 21-Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), 1-Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (8): 16-Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), 6-Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), 19-Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), 22-Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), 11-Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), 5-Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), 3- Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), 4- Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): 7-Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), 14-Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 12-Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 9-Heather O'Reilly (FC Kansas City), 15- Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (5): 2-Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), 13-Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), 23-Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 8-Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), 20- Abby Wambach (unattached).

China Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Zhang Yue (Beijing Chengjian), 12-Wang Fei (FFC Turbine Potsdam, Germany), 22-Zhao Lina (Shanghai Women)
DEFENDERS (5): 2-Liu Shanshan (Hebei), 4-Li Jiayue (Shanghai Women), 5-Wu Haiyan (Shandong Huangming), 6-Li Dongna (Suwon FMC, South Korea), 9-Wang Shanshan (Tianjin Huisen)
MIDFIELDERS (11): 3-Pang Fengyue (Dalian Shide), 7-Xu Yanlu (Jiangsu Huatai), 8-Ma Jun (Daejeon Sportstoto WFC, South Korea), 11-Wang Shuang (Wuhan Jaingda Univ.), 13-Tang Jiali (Shanghai Women), 15-Lei Jiahui (Henan Jianye FC), 18-Peng Han (Tianjin Juisen), 19-Tan Ruyin (Guangdong FC), 20-Zhang Rui (Army Club), 21-Wang Lisi (Jiangsu Huatai), 23-Ren Guixin (Changchun Zhuoyue)
FORWARDS (4): 10-Li Ying (Shandong Huangming), 14-Zhao Rong (Beijing Baxy), 16-Lou Jiahui (Henan Jianye FC), 17-Gu Yahsa (Beijing Chengjian)
46 comments about "Scouting Report: How USA must break down China".
  1. Kyle Mahlan, June 26, 2015 at 8:54 a.m.

    Make sure you have your facts right. Brian didn't start against Colombia. She came in later in the game.

  2. John Soares, June 26, 2015 at 2:26 p.m.

    IF the USA can get their offence "together" this is a very winnable game. As good as Ropinoe and Holiday have been playing. We have very capable back-ups, O'Reilly and Press Brian and Boxx. It's the final third that has not been playing to the best of their ability!?

  3. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 2:44 p.m.

    It was Amazing to see how Many LONG Direct passes the Chinese were able to connect on...They will be dangerous on the Counter... USA must Press High and not give their Mids and Defenders Time and Space to Deliver Accurate Long Passes.

  4. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 2:45 p.m.

    If we could play a 3-4-3, That would Close them down...

  5. beautiful game, June 26, 2015 at 2:57 p.m.

    Coach Ellis lacks flexibility with the far very little has worked and she won't adjust. As for blogger comments, typical wishful comments; it's up to the team to play simple, quick, and with efficacy...their reliance on long balls shows lack of patience.

  6. John Soares, June 26, 2015 at 3:06 p.m.

    Thank you I w for giving us the facts and not just comments/opinions:)

  7. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 3:20 p.m.

    Both USA and China playing Direct, China Does it better. If we don't get Width and Service/Finish/Terminate, They will Counter us..To Elimination...

  8. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 3:21 p.m.

    Yes, Coach Jill says she won't change Shape...Coach Speak for "I know what I'm doing, so Shut the F up"

  9. Robert Heinrich, June 26, 2015 at 5:31 p.m.

    It will be interesting to see which team "wants" the ball. It was a US counter that broke open the Colombia game, i.e. Alex Morgan finding space behind a high (and misshapen) back line. This team doesn't have the technical ability to break down an organized defense that is sitting in. The US's best chances will be from transition.

  10. Bob Ashpole, June 26, 2015 at 6:21 p.m.

    IMO the US does have the technical ability to break down defenses. The failure has been in off-the-ball support and decision making. Coach Ellis is correct that the problem has been "how" they play, especially the lack of mobility. Changing players and systems means nothing if "how" the team plays does not change. The coach not only has to figure out the game plan for the next match, but also have to determine how the opponent will play in the match. I would be not be surprised if China played a higher line and pressed aggressively to get an early goal.

  11. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:10 p.m.

    Amy Rodriguez???.... Amy Rodriguez......... You gotta be joking me..... That's how far our program has sunk

  12. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:12 p.m.

    This is coach Jill, saying I play her during the first game so I'm going to play her in the this game, just to show that I'm in control

  13. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:16 p.m.

    No way Abby could play 120 minutes...but, Amy ???.. why not Heather??? Pig Headed Coach

  14. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:24 p.m.

    Nice intro.... American Exceptionalism... Go USA!!!

  15. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:25 p.m.

    That's right you Chinese women.... Sing or die

  16. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:27 p.m.

    Land of the free and home of the brave.... We believe that we can win!!!

  17. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:32 p.m.

    Why is LaRue not starting???... Because coach is pig headed and will start Amy...OMG... see Amy choked already

  18. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:33 p.m.

    If we lose I'm blaming it on the yellow socks.... Nike Sucks

  19. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:39 p.m.

    O'WhoRa. ??.. Never Heard of her???

  20. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:40 p.m.

    Heath... Made three mistakes already she's flaked out.... We are playing with 9 players

  21. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:44 p.m.

    Lloyd...Too slow with the ball.... Let's hope she doesn't melt down also

  22. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:45 p.m.

    O'WhoRa... Beaten twice Physically already

  23. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:46 p.m.

    Come on Krieger..... Put the ball on her feet..... Not on her crotch

  24. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:50 p.m.

    Rodriguez another turnover.... Lloyd unforced turnover..... Alex unforced turnover... No rhythm.... No synchronization

  25. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:58 p.m.

    O'WhoRa has Missed 2 chances...

  26. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 7:59 p.m.

    China sucks worse than I thought.... We should be up 3-0

  27. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:06 p.m.

    Lloyd... Rodriguez..
    Stinking it up..O'WhoRa, Long ball to nowhere....

  28. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:07 p.m.

    Morgan Brian.... Our best player so far

  29. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:08 p.m.

    Uh oh.... Alex Morgan ankle shot

  30. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:10 p.m.

    Give Amy credit.. She is high pressing well

  31. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:11 p.m.

    Heath has settled down.... Playing better

  32. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:13 p.m.

    Rodriguez still no touch.... Dribble the ball out of bounds

  33. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:14 p.m.

    Lloyd is trying to be creative.... But Its just not happening for her

  34. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:15 p.m.

    I don't think alex Morgan nose what team high pressure is.... To much of a princess to pressure

  35. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:16 p.m.

    Alex Morgan.... Looking really slow footed

  36. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:26 p.m.

    HALF time.. Wambach for O'WhoRa. .. Rodriguez - right wing.... Morgan Brian to right mid

  37. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:29 p.m.

    0-0.. Anyone surprised.... Not me

  38. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:31 p.m.

    If the score continues like this.... O'Reilly must come in at right wing

  39. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:33 p.m.

    Heath.. Another turnover.... It takes her fifteen minutes to get into a half

  40. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:35 p.m.

    Rodriguez.... Another shot, for almost a throw in... She can press and she can run but she can't play

  41. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:39 p.m.

    Lloyd.... Lloyd.... Lloyd!!!.... She's a flake,, but she's our flake

  42. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:43 p.m.

    Morgan Brian another good play.... O'WhoRa, another turnover

  43. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:44 p.m.

    Centre-backs are playing excellently

  44. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:45 p.m.

    7 minutes for a nosebleed to stop.... Sub her now!!!

  45. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 8:48 p.m.

    Princess Alex is not into this game

  46. Santiago 1314, June 26, 2015 at 9:58 p.m.

    I stopped Posting, because I was SO Disgusted...Any Questions???...We Suck... One Goal versus a Crappy Chinese Team... I Called it Right...(And France, should have won 3-2)...***Santiago 1314
    commented on: June 24, 2015 at 10:01 p.m...***Now is When the Fun Begins...Predictions; ???... Ger(2)-France(3)...USA(1)-China(0)...Canada(1)-England(0)...Australia(1)-Japan(0) ...
    6-26-15,,,JUST WIN BABY, WIN !!!

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