Three takeaways from USA-China

A comfortable if close 1-0 victory over China Friday advanced the USA into the Women’s World Cup semifinals. The USA plays Germany Tuesday.

Carli Lloyd’s header in the 51st minute was all the separated the teams on the scoreboard, but the Americans dominated play for long stretches and keeper Hope Solo wasn’t severely tested. Personnel changes raised the energy level and a more aggressive approach all over field bottled up China for most of the game.

Here are three takeaways from the best USA performance in most categories at this World Cup: 

1. A-Rod revives sluggish attack.

Deprived of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday because of accumulated yellow cards, and mindful of Abby Wambach’s mediocre form, Coach Jill Ellis switched up three players and each move paid off big. Amy Rodriguez took over as a target striker, Kelly O’Hara took up one wide midfield slot, and Morgan Brian got her first Women’s World Cup start in the middle.

Though she fluffed a great chance in the second minute, scuffing a shot badly when put clean through by captain Carli Lloyd, Rodriguez sweated through her shoes until she came off in the 86th minute. She collected balls crisply and efficiently in the final third and pulled defenders all over the place with her dribbles and angled runs. When China won the ball she pressured relentlessly and helped force so many turnovers rarely did the Chinese complete a pass over the midfield line.

Having played only 32 minutes -- as a sub for Brian in the second group match, a frustrating 0-0 tie with Sweden -- previously in the tournament, a well-rested Rodriguez fired out of the blocks full of energy and slackened only slightly before being replaced. Her range and work rate typified a raised level of intensity displayed by the U.S., which outshot China, 17-6, and smothered just about attempt of its opponents to build out of the back.

2. JJ is A-1.

Facing an entire team of World Cup rookies, centerback Julie Johnston outclassed just about everyone on the other team in her fifth straight WWC 90-minute performance. Once again, she was a force all over the field.

During a scramble, she put a shot on goal that beat the keeper but was cleared. Her lobbed diagonal ball from midfield, after left back Meghan Klingenberg cleverly switched the ball to her side on a free kick, curled perfectly for Lloyd to crash into the net. Occasionally, she lofted a long ball out of the back, more often she delivered a crisp pass to one of her outside backs or into a teammate’s feet in midfield.

Often she played the role of sweeper, leaving centerback partner Becky Sauerbrunn to contest the aerial balls aimed at Chinese striker Wang Shenshen. Both of them stepped forward at times to cut out entry passes with an aggressive header or sharp slide tackle, and twice Johnston got in a vital tackle or clearance when a momentary gap appeared in the back line.

3. The other Morgan played a blinder.

Brian started against Sweden on the right side of midfield and while playing pretty well couldn’t use her array of talents fully. To thwart China, Brian roamed in front of the back four, enabling Lloyd to get into the attack frequently and O’Hara and Tobin Heath to go at people from wide positions. O’Hara and right back Ali Krieger dominated their flank by working combinations and overlaps and stifling China with high pressure.

By chasing down errant passes and vacuuming up second balls, Brian smothered China in the middle third. She ranged from side to side effectively and blindsided China several times on double-teams. While Lloyd played a solid game and scored a spectacular goal, she occasionally gave the ball away but Brian was usually there to help win it back.

Busy, fluid, and dynamic midfield play against China contrasted sharply with rather stagnant displays in the first four games, and gives Ellis a great problem to have heading into an epic semifinal against Germany; how to fix six or seven talented midfielders -- Heather O’Reilly also got her first taste of the tournament as a late sub -- into four slots? 

10 comments about "Three takeaways from USA-China".
  1. Garrett Isacco, June 27, 2015 at 8:42 a.m.

    Rapinoe should definitely be back, but O'Hara & Brian made strong cases for themselves, not to mention Arod up top. what a defense!

  2. William Anderson, June 27, 2015 at 8:54 a.m.

    China were the least talented team we've played at this tournament. We defeated them 1-0. We did look better. We didn't make enough progress to have a chance against Germany. Our world cup run is ending on Tuesday.

  3. Santiago 1314, June 27, 2015 at 6:38 p.m.

    @William,... Not Over, if they get the players together and play that Pre-Game Intro piece and The Nike commercial for them..Made me want to get the Boots out of Mothballs, Lace em Up and go Kick some A $$...See Germans can't be that Out Right Belligerant and Extrovert... People will accuse them of being Nazis...We On the Other hand, are the "Ugly Jingoistic Americans"... And we Don't give a Shhhh... Wind em up and Kic A $$... Sad we have to do it that way, but it's the World Cup... JUST WIN BABY, WIN!!!

  4. Stuart d. Warner, June 29, 2015 at 9:53 a.m.

    Rapinoe will surely play, but she takes far too many touches for my taste. In a certain way, she embodies the maxim that nothing fails like success: her two goals against Australia have ruined her for the rest of the tournament. ARod made great runs and put great pressure on China, the latter of which she will not be able to do against Germany. I only hope she starts; and I dearly hope Wambach does not, for all she does these days is drift. As crazyas it sounds, I'd rather see Brian instead of Holiday, because Brian is better than Holiday is tight spaces and building out of the back rather than playing direct, but that won't happen. We need Heath to play and to play with great confidence if we are to win.

  5. Greg Clader, June 29, 2015 at 11:03 a.m.

    German pressure on the ball will result in the US back four flighting hopeful balls forward over and over again. The dye has been cast;we have to live with the fact that we can not build an attack through our midfielders linking more than 3-4 passes before giving the ball away. It is what it is. We will now see if we can grind out a win using tenacity, fitness, depth, and an individual "moment of magic". Meanwhile, the Germans will circulate the ball all over the pitch with combination play, 1 and 2 touch passing, and triangle positioning. The US will try to dribble through the pressure when on the attack, while the Germans will try to pass through the pressure. Two very different styles and philosophies on how to play the game.

  6. James e Chandler, June 29, 2015 at 12:14 p.m.

    That glossed over way of describing "boot, and chase" doesn't make it a playing philosophy, but a last resort due to the inability to control the ball, or in other words, to "put the ball on the ground, pass to feet, play the way your're facing, play away from pressure, play defense goal-side, play offense ball-side."
    It's not rocket science. If these U.S. women can't figure out how to do that, they don't deserve to win. I will not celebrate a victory if it's merely the result of an ugly smash it into the penalty area, get by with knocking someone down so the ball caroms in off of someone.

    What's wrong with Sydney Leroux? I have to wonder what she'd have done with the ball ARod scuffed. On the other hand, change one player, maybe that pass isn't delivered. Still Leroux deserves a cap.

    In any event, Wambach, and Holiday need to learn to enjoy watching world-class soccer.

  7. Tom Symonds, June 29, 2015 at 12:15 p.m.

    As Gary Lineker once said, "Football is a simple game; 22 players chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win."

  8. Raymond Weigand, June 29, 2015 at 1:28 p.m.

    hah! ... and the German's win. I like that one. The USA seems to be holding back and let some of the surprise out early against China. This is a wonderfully quick and agile team with great fitness ... it seems that we should expect some more surprises - and the one I am hoping for is some of those quick one-two and combo passes finding the same rhythm as the game. There is going to be some open field transition opportunities and we have the fitness and the technique to really make it entertaining.

  9. Bob Ashpole, June 29, 2015 at 11:55 p.m.

    A mild surprise for me was how strong and solid Tobin Heath has been playing. She looks better every match. I also would look for Sydney Leroux to come in off the bench when we need goals, but the team hasn't been in that position. Forwards often score in streaks. What you hope for is for one of the forwards to be on a streak. As for the next match, what you want is a team peaking at the right time. This team hasn't played its best game yet.

  10. Lee Katterman, July 1, 2015 at 12:20 p.m.

    It's fun to read the above "insights" now that the US-Germany game is over...

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