U.S. Women's National Team
Press Shines and Williams Scores in U.S. Victory
March 02, 2017
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team picked up a 1-0 win over Germany on Wednesday night in the opening match of the 2017 SheBelieves Cup in Chester, Pa. Lynn Williams tallied the game-winning goal in the contest with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher notching the shutout for the Americans.
Here are some thoughts on the contest.
The Three-Back Proved Its Mettle
In addition to beginning the process of reshaping the U.S. roster this fall, head coach Jill Ellis also made a fairly radical change to the American’s formation, switching the team out of its traditional flat four defense and into a three-back system.
And while the U.S. did notch four wins with the new look in October and November—two against Switzerland and two against Romania—many fans and pundits still wondered how it would do against a top international team.
On Wednesday, those doubters got their answer, with Becky Sauerbrunn and Casey Short flanking Allie Long in the back and the U.S. defense shutting out Germany—the defending Olympic champions.
While one win certainly doesn’t provide a definitive answer to questions about the American’s new defense, the quality of the U.S.’ defensive play on Wednesday night should go a long way in assuaging fears about the system. The Germans failed to create any sustained pressure on the American backline, generated few chances of any kind, and could not find a way to break down the U.S. defense.
Furthermore, Long—a converted midfielder who many had raised doubts about as a defender—had a strong night, keeping her backline organized and possessing well out of the back.
U.S. Offense Hit and Miss
With Germany pressing the U.S. high for most of the match, American center midfielders Sam Mewis and Morgan Brian had precious little time and space on the ball. In the past, when teams have pressured the U.S. in this way, the Americans usually resort to simply lobbing the ball upfield toward their forwards and hoping to create chances through their athleticism.
To the U.S.’ credit, however, it didn’t panic against Germany’s high press on Wednesday and instead calmly worked the ball from side to side looking for passing lanes with Long marshaling the possession game from her center back position.
The Americans’ patience eventually paid off, with the Germans looking particularly weary in the second half and the U.S. gaining firm control of the match.
The game-winner for the U.S. came via Lynn Williams, in only her fifth cap. In the 56th minute, Christen Press dispossessed a German defender and beat two more on the dribble before firing a shot off the crossbar. That hit resulted in loose ball scramble in the box with Williams getting the last touch and slotting home for the decisive goal.
Overall, Williams did not have the best game, despite the goal and a superb turn later on in the match. Whether due to the nerves of playing such a big opponent, or the fact that the Americans hadn’t played a competitive game in four months, Williams struggled with her touch for much of the match and clearly didn’t look relaxed in possession.
This turn ???? pic.twitter.com/HgZCVBbDJP— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) March 2, 2017
On the other hand, Press had a particularly strong game despite not ending up on the final scoresheet. In addition to creating the U.S.’ lone goal, her pressure high up the field troubled the German defense all night and her work rate remained impressive the entire contest.
Over the past two years, some have begun to question whether or not Press can get the job done for the U.S. against top-ranked teams. Her performance on Wednesday seemed to provide a definite yes.
The U.S. next takes on England on Saturday in Harrison, New Jersey (5pm ET, Fox)
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.