Jill Ellis’ squad faced off against Japan today in the United States’ first match of the Tournament of Nations. While at times during the Yanks’ 4-2 victory the Americans looked like the best team in the world, at others they looked like a wholly flawed and exposed team.
The Americans’ offense is incredible. There’s no doubt in that. Alex Morgan and her hat trick are perfect in every way. Words don’t describe the relationship between Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. They’re just incredible. The magnetism they seem to have with each other, how they always seem to know where the other is, just wow. It would have been nice to see them get Christen Press more involved, but the offense was designed to move up the left flank starting with Crystal Dunn, going through Morgan Bryan, culminating with ‘Pinoe getting the ball on the flank and sending in a cross to Alex Morgan.
The Japanese were soundly beat, but they did expose major red flags within the United States’ game plan. There is a huge hole in the middle of the pitch. And that was expected, but for some odd reason, Jill Ellis ignored that fact and focused on the wings. It worked against a team like Japan that’s structured and disciplined, but what about teams that are more free and spontaneous? A team like Brazil comes to mind. Marta is going to have a damn field day against this American midfield.
While the central midfield was a problem area, the entire middle of the pitch, from the central defense until Alex Morgan, struggled to positively affect the game. The center backs, Tierna Davidson and Abby Dahlkemper, had spacing issues throughout the match that led to threatening runs by the Japanese forwards. The halfbacks also couldn’t build up any sort of attack. Julie Ertz was forced to drop too far back, and there was no one in front of her to combine with. Ertz couldn’t do anything with a ball that she received with her back to the US’s attacking goal. She also struggled with her spacing with both Davidson and Dahlkemper. Was she a center back? Was she a central defensive midfielder? Who knows.
The center of the pitch wasn’t the Americans’ only problem. All three players up the right side of the pitch in the starting XI were non-factors. Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan failed to impact the match at all and Christen Press only received the ball when she drifted far to the center, around the top of the box. That was fine, because no one else was claiming that space, but it wasn’t until Tobin Heath subbed on that any formidable attack came from the right side of the field.
This American side is incredibly, incredibly talented. There’s no team in the world that should beat them, but if the US continues to expose themselves, they’ll be vulnerable to upsets. Remember that Sweden game in London? This team is susceptible to something like that. They’ll struggle against trigger-happy teams that build through the midfield.
Alright enough with the negatives. ALEX FREAKIN MORGAN, THO. She now has 89 career goals, and I’ll bet you that she hits triple digits by the end of this year. And Tobin Heath? That move on her assist made my head spin.
The United States Women’s National Team is really damn good. They’re the best team in the world for a reason, and the fact that they have so much room to improve is annoying, because, like, they should be perfect, right? But it’s also exciting. As of game day, there are 316 days until the 2019 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Paris. They are going to get a lot better between now and then. I’m excited for the ride, and you should be too.