U.S. Women's National Team
Press, Dunn Score as U.S. Women Defeat China, 2-0
December 14, 2015
IN THE PENULTIMATE GAME of its World Cup Victory Tour, the United States women’s national team downed China 2-0 in front of 19,000 fans in Glendale, Ariz.
The Americans took a 1-0 lead into the break after Crystal Dunn struck from just inside the box five minutes before the halftime whistle. Then, in the second stanza, Christen Press added a late insurance goal with a terrific left-footed effort from distance.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
WHY ISN’T PRESS GETTING MORE TIME?
For two games in a row, Christen Press has been a sparkplug for the United States.
On Thursday against Trinidad and Tobago, she came off the bench and pulled off a hat trick in just 23 minutes—scoring her first goal just one minute after entering the match. On Sunday, Press tallied two minutes into her substitute appearance.
So why isn’t she getting more playing time?
The biggest reason is the U.S.’ switch to a one-striker set, a decision that goes back to this summer’s World Cup. The move put Carli Lloyd in a more offensive role, unleashed the U.S. attack, and led the team to a championship. But this move has also made it that much harder for any of the U.S.’ five rostered strikers to get on the field.
Since Canada, head coach Jill Ellis has preferred Alex Morgan as the single striker in the U.S.’s 4-2-3-1 set-up, despite the fact that Morgan has suffered through a goal-scoring funk for much of 2014 and 2015. However, Morgan has recently started to return to form, scoring a nice goal against Brazil in October and hitting the back of the net against Trinidad and Tobago midweek.
Morgan also should have had a goal against China, touching a nice little chip over the Chinese goalkeeper in the first half, but the assistant referee incorrectly ruled Morgan offside when Dunn played the pass in behind the Chinese defense.
For her part, Press hasn’t started any of the U.S.’ last five matches—a stretch that goes all the way back to September. But Press is making that decision harder on Ellis with her recent goal-scoring form.
The question is: How can Ellis get Press on the field?
The simplest answer would be to bench Morgan, but that seems unlikely and, at this point, the decision wouldn’t be wholly warranted. Some have suggested that Press should tuck into the No. 10 role, but Lloyd seemed to prove definitely in the World Cup that the position should be hers. The last option, and one that few are fond of, is to push Press into one of the wide roles, where she played on multiple occasions before the World Cup.
Playing Press wide may not be the best solution, but it gets her onto the field and right now she’s the hot hand for the U.S.
NO CLEAR ANSWER AT CENTER MIDFIELD
Against China, Ellis once again started Lindsey Horan alongside Morgan Brian in the center of the U.S. midfield, repeating the experiment of Thursday night when the Americans played Trinidad and Tobago.
On Thursday Horan excelled, distributing well from a deep-lying position, switching the point of attack, and picking up two assists. On Sunday, however, against the much more competent Chinese, Horan failed to repeat her performance.
While she did have some good challenges and a few nice combinations, Horan struggled with her back to pressure and gave the ball away on several occasions due to a heavy touch. Neither of those skill sets are negotiable as a center midfielder on the international level.
It’s still too early to decide whether the Horan as a No. 8 experiment will work or not—she has played as a forward with her club and the youth national teams—but her performance against China lacked quality.
In both December friendlies, Ellis has used Emily Sonnett as her center midfield substitute. The coach also has three natural center midfielders on the roster that she has declined to use in the last two friendlies: Samantha Mewis, Danielle Colaprico, and Rose Lavelle.
With one friendly left before the U.S. heads into its January camp and Olympic qualifying, Ellis might want to see what some of her other players can do before putting all of her eggs into Horan’s basket.
INTERESTING QUESTION AT GOALKEEPER
Heading into Sunday’s game Hope Solo had started 21 of the previous 22 games in net for the U.S. Against China, backup Alyssa Naeher earned the start.
Before Sunday’s match, the team had played 24 matches in 2015 and, of the three matches Solo didn’t start, Ashlyn Harris started all three. That included the matches against France and England to start off the year (when U.S. Soccer had suspended Solo) along with one friendly in August against Costa Rica.
Ellis’ decision to sit Solo on Sunday wasn’t wholly surprising, as she indicated after the match against Trinidad that she would be giving Solo a rest. However it was surprising to see Naeher rather than Harris.
For the Olympic roster the U.S. will only be allowed to bring two goalkeepers, rather than the three mandated for World Cup rosters. Assuming Solo stays the team’s No. 1, Ellis will have to pick between Naeher and Harris for the final spot.
Perhaps Harris will start the final game against China on Wednesday, but if she doesn’t it would seem to be an indication that Naeher has passed her on the U.S. depth chart for the time being.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.