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USWNT: Three biggest questions surrounding Saturday’s loss to France

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Editorial (January 23, 2019) — Saturday was a different experience for the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Normally, the team spends its January camp in sunny California. Sometimes, the women will train on the same pitch adjacent to the men’s national team. However, while the men are soaking up the sun in California, the women are spending January in Europe.

USWNT: Biggest questions surrounding Saturday’s loss to France

The idea is due to the location of the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.

This summer, the tournament will be held in France. The hosts competed against the United States on Saturday, crushing the reigning champions, 3-1. While Aly Wagner doesn’t agree that the match was a real representation of the USWNT, it certainly gave a good clue to what this summer might look like.

Wagner said that the team shouldn’t be truly represented in the match, mainly because of injuries to players like Tobin Heath, Julie Ertz and Megan Rapinoe, but also due to the fact that the team is coming off a month’s rest.

Shouldn’t that make the USWNT more energized?

Clearly, traveling overseas is not something the USWNT does a lot. But, it has happened before — and recently, too. In November 2018, the USWNT recorded separate 1-0 victories over Scotland and Portugal.

Both matches were played in the opponent’s home country.

In addition, Wagner’s comments reflect a long period of rest. However, the NWSL Championship game was held on Sept. 22, 2018. That’s about a month-and-a-half of rest for the players, with many of the ones called on this roster and the Portugal/Scotland roster not heading to Australia for the W-League season.

If the USWNT looked fine and pulled out results against Scotland and Portugal, two solid teams — with Scotland being a World Cup-bound team — what makes the trip to France so different?

Here are three big questions from Saturday’s loss.

1. Why is Ellis experimenting with the lineup now?

Jill Ellis is truly a mystery.

When fans were begging her to try out new players — and, to be fair, she tried out a handful of new players — on the USWNT roster, she was starting the same usual eleven athletes. The backline was pretty much solidified, for a while, with Sofia Huerta and Casey Short joining Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn. Sometimes, Tierna Davidson would swap out for Dahlkemper.

However, on Saturday, Ellis took experimentation to a whole new level.

Emily Fox, a student-athlete from the University of North Carolina, was out-paced and out-matched by France’s Delphine Cascarino on the left. For the last year, Ellis has been putting forward Crystal Dunn in the position. However, this time, Dunn was playing in the right midfield.

Meanwhile, the backline centerback position saw Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn team up again. Dahlkemper looked gassed, unable to keep up with Marie-Antoinette Katoto on France’s third and final goal.

Sauerbrunn didn’t even look solid, like she normally does.

On the right side, Emily Sonnett took up the position. The position was filled for a while, consistently, by either Huerta or Kelley O’Hara. However, O’Hara, despite still being injured, got a call up on the roster. This is where Ellis’ major fault is; she continues to call up players just because of their name and reputation, while healthy, effective players are sitting at home.

Huerta has been a force to be reckoned with in Australia and was dedicated to learning the right back position to make the World Cup roster. However, poor coaching in Houston under Vera Pauw caused her to quickly make it on Ellis’ “ignore” list.

Ellis had months to experiment with the lineup, but chose to do so against a team that brought their A-Game. It’s a ridiculous notion that the USWNT was “too tired” to win the game. They had plenty of time to rest and recharge.

2. This game was actually a must-win.

No, it’s not a World Cup final.

Yes, it’s technically listed as a friendly.

But, the USWNT had a lot to prove in this game, but they fell flat. So, what did they have to prove? The USWNT was up against the No. 3 ranked team in the World. It might be fair to say that France could take the No. 1 ranking away from the USWNT after the Saturday performance.

The United States’ first contest of the year should’ve been seen as a must win for this big reason: to flex their muscles.

It seems like a weird notion, but hear me out.

The USWNT did nothing to show teams that they’re threatening. France completely tore up the defense and Kadidiatou Diani, a strike who features for Paris Saint-Germain, was scoring left and right against Alyssa Naeher and company. The USWNT had no counterattack and despite scoring a consolation goal, Mallory Pugh’s goal wasn’t the most impressive.

Again, it was a consolation goal after a rough 90 minutes. Really, the goal would’ve never happened if Samantha Mewis and Jessica McDonald didn’t enter the pitch. They were the creators of the play, but Pugh was the one who put it away.

The USWNT needed to win this game to knock some momentum down for France. The host nation has pressure, with the men winning last summer’s World Cup and due to the fact that the tournament is in their home country, but showed that they can handle it.

If they can beat the reigning champions, who knows who else they can beat. Also, if the USWNT and France, during the World Cup, win their groups and their respective first knockout round matches, the teams could meet again in the tournament.

3. It’s time to insert players that are actually effective.

There’s about 20 minutes left to go.

The United States is down by two goals at this point, so there’s still a fighting chance. Of course, the coach wants to put fresh legs on the pitch because all of the strikers look tired. Emily Sonnett hasn’t been too effective, but you need a tactical substitute. It makes sense, since the goal — no pun intended — is to score goals.

So, who does Jill Ellis bring on? Carli Lloyd.

Let’s face it, folks. This is not the same Carli Lloyd that we saw chip a 50-yard shot into the back of the net in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final in 2015. For the last two years, Lloyd has been dragging her feet.

Her work hasn’t been solid with her club teams. With the Houston Dash in 2017, Lloyd was almost invisible. She dealt with a lingering left ankle injury, which wasn’t helping the case either. However, Lloyd decided to make a move and join Sky Blue FC in 2018. The club didn’t win a match until the last game of the regular-season, over Orlando.

Despite starting 18 games and scoring four goals, Lloyd never could help Sky Blue FC out of the rut. Now, granted, it’s not just one player’s job to lift a team. However, at times, it seemed like Lloyd was slowing them down. She seemingly took over the midfield, leaving Raquel Rodriguez — a Costa Rican international — on the bench.

Lloyd’s form in the recent years has found her on the bench. However, for some unknown notion, Ellis feels the need to insert her in almost every single game. Why put a player on the pitch that isn’t the most effective?

Lloyd’s substitute could’ve been used for someone like Rose Lavelle, McCall Zerboni or Danielle Colaprico — actual playmakers. This isn’t the 2011 or 2015 World Cup. It’s time for Ellis to rely on those younger players — although Zerboni isn’t the youngest, being 32-years-old — to get the job done effectively.

Colaprico and Zerboni had fantastic seasons with their clubs in 2018. Lavelle, when she was healthy, was a good boost for the Washington Spirit. It’s time to get those players on the pitch and keep Lloyd on the bench.

The same can be said for Alyssa Naeher, but Ellis has seemingly — although not verbally — committed to Naeher being her No. 1 goalkeeper for France. The days of Hope Solo are gone, yes, but Adrianna Franch is a capable goalkeeper who has been stellar for the Portland Thorns since her arrival in 2016.

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