The U.S. women’s national team won their first game of the Concacaf W Championship on Monday, beating Haiti 3-0 in a group stage game. Let’s take a look at three plays that tell the story from the USWNT’s most recent game.
1. USING BRUTE FORCE, MORGAN COMES THROUGH
The USWNT loves to brute-force their way into goals, don’t they?
That’s been maybe the biggest tactical theme of Vlatko Andonovski’s time in charge of the national team. There’s so much quality in the U.S. player pool – and there was so much quality in the U.S.’s starting XI on Monday – but it seems like this team always comes back to playing hopeful balls into the box as their primary chance creation method.
All three of the USWNT’s goals on Monday came from crosses or from lofted balls into the box. This cross from Mallory Pugh to Alex Morgan created the United States’ first goal of the game.
At times, the U.S.’s reliance on crossing lowers their attacking ceiling. In the play up above, though, I actually don’t mind the choice from Pugh to pick out Morgan at the corner of the six-yard box. Morgan had plenty of space to simply stop and wait for service and Pugh delivered a ball into just the right spot. Even before this tournament, it was pretty clear that Morgan still has the quality to score goals on the international stage. After her brace against Haiti, there’s simply no doubt about it.
Morgan’s ability to punish defenders in the box with her movement and her athleticism makes her a good option to help the U.S. brute-force goals. When the cross is on, Morgan will be there to connect with it.
2. SOPHIA SMITH’S PROBLEMS ARE THE USWNT’S PROBLEMS
A big issue for the U.S. under Andonovski is imprecise attacking play that leads to turnovers and missed opportunities. We saw plenty of that on Monday.
The USWNT circulated possession from left to right, forcing Haiti’s narrow 4-4-2 block to shift from one side of the field to the other. Once the ball was on the right side – often with Sophia Smith in the first half – much of the danger evaporated.
Take this play as an example. Ball circulation? Check. Good pass out wide to the right? Check. Smart run into the outer channel of the box? Check. Rose Lavelle made that backline-breaking run, which is one that doesn’t happen nearly often enough for the United States, but Smith never played that bending ball in behind for Lavelle.
Smith struggled against Haiti before Andonovski subbed on Midge Purce in her place at halftime. The 21-year-old winger had part of her leg wrapped up before the game, so it’s possible that she was dealing with some sort of injury. Whatever the cause, the USWNT really couldn’t attack through Smith. They also had a hard time combining the right run with the right pass with the right timing to create chances outside of their crosses into the box.
There were some nice moments in the second half, particularly one in the 62nd minute when Pugh, Morgan, and Ashley Sanchez created a dangerous chance. And let’s not forget: the U.S. scored three goals and secured all three points in a key qualifier. But we’re still waiting on a more complete attacking performance from the USWNT.
3. SAUERBRUNN NEEDS BETTER COVER
With a group of players who can cover ground and defend in space, the USWNT has plenty of defensive ability.
At this point in her career, Becky Sauerbrunn isn’t one of those players. She was exposed defensively a couple of times in the first half on Monday, giving up a shot in the 37th minute (which you can see down below) and letting an attacker get by her in the 40th minute, which led to a penalty for Haiti.
Sauerbrunn simply should’ve done better in the 40th minute to avoid losing her mark in midfield. But I hesitate to put much blame on her for the 37th minute sequence up above. Yes, she is beaten in the box. But zooming out, the fact that Sauerbrunn was defending one-v-one in the back for the U.S. is a problem.
The battle is already lost when the United States is in that position.
Going forward, Alana Cook (or whoever is partnering Sauerbrunn in the back) needs to do more to help the 37-year-old in those defensive recovery moments. That’s a relatively simple fix that we should see by the U.S.’s next game on Thursday against Jamaica.