The US will make their final 2017 She Believes appearance this evening, playing in a match against France. Coming out of the second round of games, France leads the table, with a 2-1 win over England and a 0-0 draw with Germany to earn them 4 points and a +1 goal differential. The US, on the other hand, earned 3 points with their 1-0 win over Germany but lost 1-0 to England on Sunday, leaving them vying for second place in the standings. At three points each and +0 goal differential, the US women and their English opponents are neck and neck, with Germany falling securely in last place with a single point.
I don’t know if anyone knows what to expect tonight. One could say that France has the momentum coming in, but they were unable to break down Germany and score to secure the win on Sunday. On the other hand, it could be said that the US has the upper hand, but they lost to England that same day, unable to defend against a last-second set piece from a desperate-to-score English squad. If there is a team on an upswing right now, it has to be England, who have a definite chance at the title if they win or draw against Germany this afternoon.
One thing is certain though, the US must win this match if they want the title. Regardless of what happens in the earlier match, if they simply draw the French, it will not be enough to see the Cup stay with the home team.
But a win against France will not be easy. Foremost, perhaps, France’s experienced players must be taken into consideration. With players like Le Sommer, Thiney, Bussaglia, Abily, and Georges—all likely see time on the pitch tonight—France has over 700 caps-worth of experience to call upon when they take the field. More than experience, however, the US needs to worry about 6’1″ centerback Wendie Renard, whose height and head could prove deadly in set-pieces in the box for the shorter American team. On defense, too, Renard is a formidable opponent for the US’s attacking game, and as much as I hate to admit it, if the outcome of the game comes down to defense, France’s backline is stronger, better organized, and simply performing at a higher level than Jill Ellis’s experimental 3-back right now.
What can the US do to win? They’re going to need to be organized. The midfield needs to be locked down, taken in hand by someone with a Lauren Holiday or Shannon Boxx style of leadership—calm and steady. They need some stability, and time to build partnerships and chemistry. But right now, with players being swapped left and right and Ellis seemingly undecided on the shape she wants in that section of the pitch, the midfield looks antsy and uncertain of their strategic value. And maybe no one more than Carli Lloyd, who continues to play back even when her coach urges her to move forward.
The forwards will need to be faster, and the passes from the line or the midfield need to be made with surgical precision tonight, letting a fewer balls roll out of play than we’ve seen over the past two games. Whoever starts in an attacking position tonight needs to make cutting runs into the box, supported by powerful and accurate crosses from the wings. The kind of crosses Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara can send into the box in their sleep. I know Krieger has said recently that she likes the 3-back specifically because she can focus on defending, but honestly? The US needs her support in the attack, making those long sideline runs on the right to set up scoring opportunities for Press, for Pugh, for Williams, for whomever can cut into a scoring opportunity.
The ultimate question, of course, is whether the US can win against France tonight. And they can. It can be done. But they’re going to have to come out looking a hell of a lot different than we’ve seen over the past two matches. And that includes personnel as well. Ellis is shaking things up in her Starting XIs, that is undeniable, but is she shaking the right things? Maybe it’s time for some players to sit down. Lloyd, Morgan, even Long, if you asked me. Because with the first two, the team plays to them specifically. The US plays a different type of soccer when Lloyd is on the field, or Morgan. They play soccer built around those players’ styles. And it’s not working anymore.
The best player of Saturday’s match was Rose Lavelle, earning her first cap and Player of the Match on the same night. Lavelle was a driving force against England, honestly, I’d take her over Allie Long anywhere on the pitch, any day of the week. (Yes, even at CB. Please don’t put Lavelle at CB.) The best player of the match before that? Lynn Williams, and no, not just because she scored the winning goal, but because she brings a kind of innovation to the field that is sorely needed.