The No.1-ranked U.S. women's national team made quick work of Mexico Saturday night, and it did so with a traditional 4-4-2 setup that could signal that Jill Ellis is done experimenting with a 4-3-3.
John D. Halloran
IN THE FIRST
September 14, 2014
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of two warm-up matches before World Cup qualifying begins next month, the United States women’s national team beat Mexico 8-0 on Saturday night in Sandy, Utah. Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach each tallied twice for the U.S., with additional goals coming from Whitney Engen, Sydney Leroux, Heather O’Reilly, and an own goal from Mexico.
Here are three things we learned from the match.
4-4-2 for Life
Leading up to Saturday night’s game, the U.S. had lined up in a 4-3-3 in each of its last five matches. The move away from the team’s traditional 4-4-2 actually began in the last game of the Tom Sermanni era—a 2-0 win over China in April—and continued under new coach Jill Ellis through her first four matches in charge.
On Saturday against Mexico, that trend seemed set to continue as U.S. Soccer tweeted out its starting lineup with the players set-up once again in a 4-3-3 formation.
However, very early in the first half, it became obvious that the U.S. was indeed back to playing a 4-4-2 as Megan Rapinoe was clearly camped out on the left side of the American midfield and Morgan was playing as a center forward alongside traditional strike partner Wambach.
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Back in the 4-4-2, the U.S. ran rampant on Mexico, scoring four goals in the first 45 minutes and adding another four in the second stanza. In the first 45 minutes, the Morgan-Wambach tandem accounted for all four of the U.S.’s goals.
While a lopsided win over 25th-ranked Mexico can’t be considered definitive proof of anything, the U.S. has looked uneasy in the 4-3-3 over the past few months and looked far more comfortable back in its two-striker set—the same formation that the U.S. used to finish second in the 2011 World Cup and win gold in the 2012 Olympics.
Following the 2011 World Cup, former head coach Pia Sundhage toyed with a 4-2-3-1, before eventually returning to the 4-4-2. Perhaps this lopsided win over Mexico will help Ellis come to the same realization and embrace the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Individual Performances
Considering the U.S.’s competition on Saturday night, it’s important not to overstate any player’s individual effort, but there were some noteworthy performances.
Lauren Holiday once again took on most of the holding responsibilities for the U.S., something she also did in the U.S.’s last match against Switzerland. This new role for Holiday represents a significant change and the exact opposite of what Sundhage had done in the 2012 Olympics when Lloyd was asked to sit in front of the center backs so Holiday could be given the freedom to go forward.
In the 2014 NWSL playoffs, Holiday, playing as an attacking midfielder, led FC Kansas City to the league title. Of FCKC’s four goals in the playoffs, Holiday scored one and assisted on the other three. That fact alone made many (including me) question the wisdom of Ellis using Holiday in the holding role while on national team duty.
However, on Saturday night, Holiday did well sitting deep, especially with a number of superb through balls to her teammates. The problem for Ellis, who seems unwilling to use a true holding midfielder, is that both of the U.S.’s best center midfielders (Lloyd and Holiday), happen to be natural attackers and two of the best in the world in that role. Trying to pigeonhole one of them into the holding role in the absence of a healthy and in-form Shannon Boxx has been a problem for the U.S. for two years running.
Meghan Klingenberg also played well at right back in the absence of the injured Ali Krieger. Throughout the match Klingenberg provided solid service from the flank, as the U.S.’s right-back in the first half and playing at left-back in the second half when Crystal Dunn replaced Stephanie Cox and Klingenberg switched sides. While she’s not likely to displace Krieger any time soon, and may even face a battle to make the final 23-player roster for World Cup qualifying, it was an encouraging performance from Klingenberg.
Hope Solo’s Record
It was a bit anti-climactic considering Mexico’s flaccid attack, but Hope Solo set the shutout record for the U.S. women on Saturday night, surpassing the previous total set by Briana Scurry.
The record is a worthy accomplishment for the talented Solo, who may be the best goalkeeper the women’s game has ever seen. But Solo has also been in the news in recent months for all the wrong reasons and still has a November court date hanging over her head stemming from a domestic violence arrest in June.
With domestic violence being a topic of increased attention in the wake of the Ray Rice video being released earlier this week, Solo’s status with the U.S. headed into a World Cup year could be in jeopardy should she be found guilty of the charges.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.