Commentary

Dispatch from Paris: Near flawless USA has us gasping for the 'real' World Cup

A beautiful, warm spring evening in Paris. A boisterous 45,000 crowd almost completely made up of U.S. fans. A team brimming with spirit and confidence after winning its opening game by 13 goals. What could possibly go wrong? As it happened, absolutely nothing at all, unless you count a missed penalty-kick and a couple of cautions.
 
The United States continued its group phase warm-up for the coming "real" World Cup by picking up three more points, three more goals, and another clean sheet. For the game against Chile, coach Jill Ellis made seven changes to the team that started against Thailand, and yet the transition was seamless. If anything, this apparent second string played even better than the team that hammered Thailand.
 
This poses the nicest of problems for Ellis. Christen Press, Mallory Pugh, Ali Krieger, Carli Lloyd and – in particular – Tierna Davidsonall played outstanding games and would, in almost any other team, have strong claims on a starting spot. The toughest task facing Ellis right now is to decide which XI will be best suited to retaining the World Cup.


 

After using all three substitutes, Ellis has now given playing time to all 20 outfield players after just two games. The draw and the schedule have fortuitously allowed her this luxury. Watching this team, though, it’s hard not to become impatient. Yes, they are moving the ball quickly, and they are constantly running into space for each other. They are creating chance after chance, and good chances too, with irresistible build-up play. But please, please, can we get to the part of the tournament when that’s really going to count? Can we see how this striking team matches up against another world-class opponent?
 
The South American champions offered more resistance than Thailand, mainly in the form of their goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who made several reflex saves in the second half – most notably from a ferocious Press volley, and from a well-placed header from the same player, who really deserved a goal. Chile did, however, offer the USA far too much space in the final third of the field, especially in the first half. And this despite pulling all 10 outfield players back to defend.
 
The USA enjoyed something else that they didn’t really need, and that was a measure of luck. Davidson’s corner that lead to the second U.S. goal – a text-book header from Julie Ertz – was awarded after the ball had clearly gone out of play, and should have been a goal kick. It was visible from the press-box, and also to the frustrated Chilean players, but it’s not within the remit of the VAR to intervene in such cases. So, FIFA hasn’t eradicated injustice from soccer after all.
 
The USA was also fortunate to escape a couple of minutes before that second goal when Carla Guerrero stole in behind the defense on a free-kick and touched the ball past Alyssa Naeher, only to be correctly ruled offside. It would be harsh to even breathe on the alarm bells by citing one offside incident that’s been the only single threat to the U.S. goal over the course of two games. It does, however, accentuate the obvious point that this back line has yet to face any meaningful offensive threat.  
 
You can’t criticize a team for such dominance, though. Any time the USA lost possession, Ertz and the superb Lindsey Horan immediately harried the red shirts and recovered the ball within seconds. Pugh was also very busy at covering back, and both she and Press presented a constant danger down the wings. This team also looks mighty dangerous on set-pieces. Not only did they score twice direct from Davidson’s corner-kicks, but every free-kick seemed to herald a novel execution. Even throw-ins posed a threat. On 72 minutes, substitute Jessica McDonald’s long, low throw was headed on to Lloyd, who in turn headed against the underside of the crossbar.
 
On top of all this, the USA used its strength to knock a physically slighter team off any rhythm it was probing to establish. It was nothing approaching brutal, but Horan and substitute Allie Long – the only player who didn’t settle into today’s game – both saw yellow cards, and Pugh should have taken one too for flattening Francisca Lara early on. Yet again, the officiating erred on the lenient side. Long was cautioned in the 88th. minute, but then committed two more fouls and was lucky not to be sent off.
 
So, a highly satisfactory U.S. performance, but much as expected. Now we’re all rubbing our hands. The start has been tantalizing, and everything’s gone according to plan. Next there’s the inconvenience of a third group game against Sweden when U.S. fans are already looking at the remainder of the field – teams like France, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Italy, Brazil – and wondering again, just how good are we?

4 comments about "Dispatch from Paris: Near flawless USA has us gasping for the 'real' World Cup".
  1. Bob Ashpole, June 16, 2019 at 6:42 p.m.

    Ellis has the team totally focused on winning the next match. I expect nothing less from Sweden as well. Both nations will be playing both for pride and to send a message to the other teams.  

    Interestingly, the US has now faced 2 teams that bunkered the entire match. I expect that Sweden will bunker as well. (The difference being Sweden is rated a top ten team and will have an effective counter attack.) So in essence these two matches have presented valuable practice in beaking down packed defenses. 

    Looking forward to the challenge presented by Sweden. 

  2. R2 Dad, June 17, 2019 at 7:48 a.m.

    The last two matches have merely exposed the divide between the top 5 and everyone else. No matter how good she looked against a toothless opposition, Davidson has seen her last match at outside back barring injury to CD. If she plays against Sweden she will be targeted on the counter as the slow and lumbering centerback she is. Pugh should be taking corners and Davidson trying to score—that conversion rate on corners was weak. I think Long is done for the tournament as well. Other than that, they look strong and hungry and will be a handful. Ellis will start to earn her paycheck once the knock-out rounds begin. Are we ready, once we concede?

  3. beautiful game, June 17, 2019 at 4:56 p.m.

    I would suggest placing more TV cameras on the pitch in order to get more close-ups of players after the play is over, and corner or a free kick. Facial bouncing is becoming a sport in itself. When the center of gravity is the area of the ball and players, the viewers get a constant interruption of game flow. It's the movement of immediate and secondary players around the ball that gives visual perspective; instead, i.e, ground level closeups are an insult to the game.

  4. James Madison, June 17, 2019 at 10:15 p.m.

     R2Dad may be right that Tierna will not play again unless CD is hurt, as CD is more dangerous going forward than Davidson is at present. Nevertheless, the furture is for Dunn to play wing and TD to play LB.  While Davidson still is a bit timid on 1 v. 1 defense, she has all the speed anyone can ask for and her CKs and DFKs are the most consistently well-placed of anyone on the team.  

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