On paper, Tuesday night’s match-up between the United States and France appeared to suggest that the game would be close, with two of the top teams in the world facing off for the SheBelieves title. But instead, what transpired at RFK stadium in Washington, D.C. was anything but close.
From the opening kickoff, France controlled the game and never let up. It would take just over ten minutes for the French to take a two-nothing lead and establish a stronghold on at the top of the table that would inevitably prove impossible for the US to break down. The first strike came in the 8’ of the match, when a bad first-touch from Morgan Brian on a quick restart led to a breakaway by France’s Eugénie Le Sommer. US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was forced to come out and ultimately tripped Le Sommer right in front of the goal box, which gave France a penalty. Naeher received a yellow card and France sent Camile Abily to the spot, where she deposited the penalty kick to give France the early 1-0 lead.
Just one minute later, French defender Wendie Renard played a long ball over the US backline and Le Sommer beat Allie Long to double the French lead. Both teams settled in after that, with neither team scoring again before the half. The best chance of the game for the US came in the 24’ when midfielder Tobin Heath’s free kick bounced off of the wet grass and over everyone’s heads. The ball was eventually cleared off of the line by midfielder Amandine Henry of France.
The second half was a little more even with neither team garnering any good chances on goal. Still, Abily would net her second goal of the game in the 63’, ultimately putting the game out of reach for the Americans. Another defensive blunder by the US allowed Abily to slot home Eve Perisset’s cross, securing the trophy for France head coach Olivier Echouafni’s side.
United States head coach Jill Ellis went with the three-back of Becky Sauerbrunn, Allie Long and Casey Short for the second time in the tournament, after starting them in game one against Germany, and it did not go well. Echouafni lined up three attacking players along the backline of the United States, placing more pressure on the three back than ever before.
“They put three pacy players up across out backline. So yeah, it was different in terms of what I expected,” Ellis said. “It was obviously the most pressure we’ve had to deal with in terms of pace of pressure and how fast it was coming. They basically matched three up on our three in terms of us trying to play out. Now the adjustment we make is trying to get more players down to the ball to be able to find those outlets.”
The three back has been something that Ellis has been working on since late October 2016. She has shown commitment to playing Allie Long at center back and Becky Sauerbrunn out wide, despite those not being their natural positions.
“We are all kind of playing in new positions,” Sauerbrunn added. “We are all considered center backs, but Allie hasn’t played center back before, Casey [Short] can be a center back or left back when she plays. There is going to be a learning curve and you’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to build chemistry.”
With the loss on Tuesday night, the United States finished in fourth place, going from champions of last year’s tournament to last place this year. This was the first time since February 2000 that the US lost two consecutive home matches.
“It’s disappointing. I mean we came in fourth place, we scored one goal,” US captain Carli Lloyd said after the game. “I think that we’ve got some great players on this team, we obviously want to win, but I think long gone are the days of always winning.”