Given that Lindsey Horan started on the bench during the United States Women’s National Team’s Round of 16 victory over Spain, it’s likely that Jill Ellis is going to change her lineup for the quarterfinal against France on Friday.
Here’s what I’d like to see.
Pour one out for Becky Sauerbrunn
This is a Respect Becky Sauerbrunn Zone, so I will not accept any slander of her on this page. She’s one of the best USWNT players ever, and she should have won the 2015 World Cup Golden Ball and FIFA Ballon d’Or. But she looked a step slower than the best version of herself against Sweden, then made an error leading directly to a goal against Spain. Whether due to age, injury, or just a rough patch of form, Sauerbrunn looks like she can’t make her body do the correct things as fast as her brain thinks of them.
It’s hard to make judgments about any players from a 13-0 win over Thailand, but Julie Ertz and Abby Dahlkemper looked like a comfortable central defense pairing in that match. The USWNT has chopped and changed its center backs repeatedly over the past three years, so there’s not really any established chemistry to mess up. And it might hurt to lose Sauerbrunn’s leadership, but if her experience couldn’t prevent this goal from happening, the USWNT should just get its best athletes on the field.
Alex Morgan rules, but ...
Morgan was substituted at halftime against Sweden, with Ellis calling the move precautionary. She said that Morgan would be “fine” for the Round of 16, and Morgan did start against Spain. Unfortunately, she spent more time on the ground than involved in attack. Spain played Morgan ultra-physically and the referee wasn’t interested in calling fouls. Morgan ended the match with zero shot attempts.
A healthy Morgan is the best striker in the pool, but the gap between her and the players behind her on the depth chart isn’t much. All of them have outperformed Morgan at club level over the last year as well.
I’ve picked Christen Press for her speed and clean first touch, but you can’t go wrong with Carli Lloyd’s ability to create goals from nothing or Jessica McDonald’s superhuman work rate. Morgan is a more complete player than all of them when she’s at her best, but as a result of getting kicked repeatedly, she’s nowhere near that at the moment.
Uhh no DM against France? Really?
Well, this team doesn’t have a defensive midfielder anyway. Even when Julie Ertz plays that role, she closes down ultra-aggressively to win the ball high up the field, leaving a massive gap between midfield and defense when she fails to make tackles. Horan is a much more traditionally attacking player, but in a DM role, she occupies space between the midfield and defensive lines much more than Ertz does, making it difficult to counter-attack through the center.
If you tried to call Horan a defensive midfielder she’d probably yell at you, but she’s probably a better one than Ertz against a team that’s good at keeping the ball and passing it through the middle. It sounds like some real galaxy brain stuff, I know, but Ertz is a more attacking DM choice than Horan is.
I’m not changing the wingers, but I’d be ready with an early sub
Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath may have struggled against France, but they’ve been the USWNT’s most consistent performers over the last year and a half. They’ve earned the right to have a bad game and stick in the lineup. But due to how ineffective they were in the second half against Spain, I’d have a plan B lined up quickly.
That plan B would be Mallory Pugh. France’s defenders will be tired from the 120 minute match they played against Brazil in the Round of 16, and they won’t be used to the 90 degree heat they’re set to play in on Friday. The speedy Pugh, who loves running straight at defenders, could be a serious game changer.
It’s too late for Davidson and Franch
If you handed me the reigns to this team for pre-World Cup friendlies, I’d put Adrianna Franch in goal and Tierna Davidson at left back, but changing half a lineup for the World Cup quarterfinals sounds like a recipe for disaster. Ellis is probably pot committed to Alyssa Naeher in goal and Crystal Dunn at left back at this point, despite their flaws.