Three Thoughts on the USWNT win over Denmark
The USWNT opened up its busy 2018 schedule with a comfortable win over Denmark in San Diego. Here are three thoughts on the game from ASN's John Halloran
BY John Halloran PostedThe United States women’s national team opened up its 2018 campaign on Sunday night, beating Denmark 5-1 in front of 17,526 fans in San Diego.
January 22, 2018
January 22, 2018
The Danes struck first in the contest, making the most of an early corner kick to go ahead 1-0 in the 13th minute, but it didn’t take the Americans long to respond. Alex Morgan put away a chance from close range only four minutes later and Julie Ertz added another before the halftime break to make it 2-1 for the U.S.
In the second stanza, youngster Mallory Pugh added two more and Crystal Dunn finished off the scoring to create the final result.
Here are three thoughts from the match.
JULIE ERTZ REMAINS THE LYNCHPIN
No move affected the fortunes of the U.S. women more in 2017 than Jill Ellis’ decision to move Julie Ertz into the No. 6 position.
Coming off the team’s third home loss last July, Ellis decided to move Ertz into the defensive midfield spot in the second half against Brazil. The U.S.’s fortunes changed almost instantaneously, as Ertz scored the game-winning goal in the contest, helping lead the team back from a 3-1 deficit. The team has gone unbeaten in eight contests since.
On Sunday, Ertz once again proved her worth and, again, she scored the game-winning goal, redirecting a loose header into the net midway through the first half.
Since the position change, the U.S. offense has exploded, not only because of Ertz’ ability to score, but also because her cover in front of the center backs has also given positional freedom to so many others. With Ertz holding, the American outside backs are able to attack with abandon and the two other center midfielders in the U.S.’ 4-3-3 are free to move forward at will.
Against Denmark, Ertz’ tackling broke up nearly every promising counter the Danes mustered and allowed the American attackers to play a high-pressure style which their opponents simply could not match.
The move six months ago seemed to come largely out of desperation on Ellis’ part, but it has proved to be well worth the gamble.
A DEBUT FOR THE TEENAGER
For the past six months, Ellis has depended exclusively on a center back pairing of Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper. However, with Sauerbrunn out injured on Sunday, the opportunity existed for another player to step up.
Most predicted the responsibility to replace Sauerbrunn would fall to Casey Short—who has played center back numerous times for the U.S. over the past year—or Emily Sonnett, whom Ellis recently recalled to the team after an outstanding club season in 2017.
However, the coach went with the riskier choice and started 19-year-old Tierna Davidson.
On the night, Davidson played a solid match, displaying an ability to feather 40-yard passes up to the wingers with a precision not often seen among defenders. She also displayed a surprising confidence on the ball for a player making her national team debut.
And while the 12th-ranked Danes might not be among the world’s elite, they do boast an attacking tandem that includes Nadia Nadim and Pernille Harder—two of the most respected strikers in the women’s game.
Davidson handled the occasion with aplomb.
In the last 18 months, the coach has moved on from other center back options like Whitney Engen and Ali Krieger, and significantly reduced the role Sonnett played in previous years. Going forward, Ellis still needs to decide who her third and fourth center backs are after Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper—perhaps Davidson will work her way into that role in the 18 months before the 2019 World Cup.
MALLORY PUGH BACK TO FORM
After debuting for the national team in early 2016, a then 17-year-old Pugh made a late run at the Olympic roster that year and earned a place in Brazil. It was obvious from the beginning that the young winger had a wide skill set, combining incredible quickness with the refined touch and tactical understanding of a more seasoned veteran.
However, Pugh hasn’t yet managed a consistent run of form at this early stage in her career. She failed to make much of a notable impact in Brazil and, in 2017, only scored twice in 12 caps.
It is, of course, harsh to put such expectations on a teenager of limited experience, but at the same time, much is expected of everyone starting on the No. 1 team in the world, especially when a player pushes more experienced and accomplished veterans out of the way for her place.
On Sunday, Pugh again displayed the promise of her immense talents, as she delivered the assist on Morgan’s opening goal and scored twice herself. All three contributions came as a result of the Americans’ high-pressure and Pugh’s ability to make the most of intercepted passes in the Danish defensive third.
The two goals, in particular, also appeared to show a renewed confidence on Pugh’s part. On both plays, the starlet not only won the ball, but beat her defender cleanly on the dribble and finished the play with expertly placed shots. With her skill set, the sky’s the limit for Pugh, and American fans will be hoping that Sunday’s match is just the start she needs to have a monster campaign in 2018.
The U.S. next plays Germany on March 1 in Columbus, Ohio to open up the SheBelieves Cup (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).