You know that saying “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish?” Well that certainly was the case for the United States against Australia on Thursday night in Seattle in front of a cool 15,748 people. The first 15 minutes were solid from the Americans, showing wave after wave of pressure on the Matildas, with veteran midfielder Megan Rapinoe leading the effort.
The next 60 minutes, however, were a different story.
I will admit, I thought Australia put out a better lineup and they had the right personnel on the field. And though the Americans are ranked #1 in the world, their performance was far from it. Every position was make-shift; starting with the defense consisting of Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short, and newcomer Taylor Smith. While they were solid for most of the night, the eventual game winner to Tameka Butt for the Aussies was from two poor attempts at clearing the ball. Mishaps we don’t often see from a United States backline.
I noticed we were passing it back to keeper Alyssa Naeher quite a bit. Several passing combinations between the keeper and the backline had fans gasping for a breath with the uncertainty if it was going to cost us a goal or not. Luckily it did not, but it could’ve easily produced a goal or two with how close the always-dangerous Aussie Sam Kerr was getting.
The midfield was an area that really struggled to find cohesion and rhythm all night. The lone bright spot was Rapinoe, who was racing up and down the flanks, creating opportunities for herself and the team alike and pressuring when she thought necessary. It was a relief in my eyes to see her bring her NWSL form to the National team after a spell away. Her fellow mids sprayed a few passes here and there but for long periods of time I forgot who was on the field in the midfield. Sam Mewis, Allie Long, and Mallory had a few quality moments throughout but for the majority it was disappointing.
Up top for the USWNT were Christen Press and Lindsey Horan, two players who are playing quite well for their respective NWSL clubs, Chicago and Portland. But they couldn’t find the right chemistry and when they did, Australian keeper Lydia Williams was up for the task.
Watching this American team on Thursday night, it was no secret there was some disconnect but Jill Ellis is still in her experimenting stage so in the future it could be something that works. I don’t want to take one game and use that as the sample size because that would not be fair. But at some point, when do we figure it out? I thought that point would be the SheBelieves Cup back in March, but here we are at the end of July and once again, we’re on the bottom of the table.
When Jill Ellis started bringing on the substitutes, I thought maybe our tactics would change, (you know, building an attack from the back, putting more players in the box) but I was wrong. Now in the last 10 minutes, sure, we showed some serious quality in our movement but that was due to being down and having that dreaded sense of urgency on home soil. Carli Lloyd, Kelley O’Hara, Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, and Alex Morgan all arrived later in the second half. Lloyd almost found an equalizer but once again Williams stood tall in goal against her Houston Dash teammate. Morgan and Dunn made their presence felt, pressuring the backline and pushing the ball forward with great pace but nothing to show for either.
Overall it was a lackluster performance from a team that continues to struggle at home, now having lost a total of three matches this year compared to three matches from 2001-2016. While we may be experimenting in nearly every position, it’s not pretty to watch. With this caliber of players, the talent we have in this country, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we continue to lose in tournaments and something doesn’t give before the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Tournament of Nations? More like Tournament of What-Ifs for the United States.