After a humiliating loss to France on Sunday, the United States women bounced back well in a 1-0 win against England on Friday in Milton Keynes. The noticeable drop-off from France, No. 3 in the FIFA world ranking, to England at No. 6 provided the perfect opportunity for a confidence-boosting performance.
Largely, that’s what the U.S. got. The Americans out-possessed England by a wide margin and spent the majority of the match on the attack, trying to find a way through a defensive opponent.
Alex Morgan scored the only goal of the game in the first half, as she flicked home Lauren Holiday’s cross in the 25th minute, snapping a 217-minute scoreless drought for the Americans.
England should feel aggrieved by an incorrect offside flag from Portuguese official Olga Almeida in the 56th minute that would have provided it an equalizer.
Here are three thoughts on the USA's win:
• England provided a much different test for the U.S. than France
While France attacked all game and put the U.S. under pressure, England gave the U.S. a defensive-minded opposition that it has grown used to seeing over the past few years. After a heavy 3-0 loss against Germany in November 2014 in which England tried to match the world’s No. 1-ranked team in its attacking formation, manager Mark Sampson reverted to a low-block 4-4-2 with a withdrawn line of confrontation.
As such, the U.S. defense found itself in uncomfortable positions far less often than it did against France, and U.S. coach Jill Ellis could afford to play several attack-minded players in lower positions. Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian, neither classic defensive midfielders, were exposed in their forward-thinking tendencies—just as they were against France—on England’s incorrectly disallowed goal around the hour mark, but not before or after. Fullbacks Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger overlapped freely, and the U.S. spent most of the game in England’s half of the field.
• The one thing England’s tactics did expose was the U.S.’s lack of a creative playmaker in higher areas
The U.S. matched England’s 4-4-2 with one of its own, although Christen Press and Carli Lloyd tucked inside as indented wingers rather than wide outlets. That left Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan to take turns dropping deeper off the forward line—or more often, to both run forward and leave an even bigger gap between the U.S.’s forwards and midfielders.
Brian and Holiday need to have the ball at their feet higher up the field. If Ellis could find a defensive option, even a converted center back, to play in front of the defenders and allow Brian and Holiday to step higher, their ability to pick passes would benefit the U.S. attack more. In receiving the ball off the center backs, both moved into gaps between defenders well and showed great awareness in tight central spaces, but their ball circulation was too slow, mostly due to a lack of numbers around the ball in attacking positions.
• Morgan continued her progression back from injury in a positive manner
Morgan, in her second game back from an October injury, didn’t have any overtly stellar one-on-one moments like she did against France, but she looked much sharper with the ball at her feet in other situations. Working as a shadow striker in tandem with Wambach as the target, Morgan stayed active the whole game, turning well against Stephanie Houghton to draw a foul with five minutes to go. Her movement also showed good awareness of her spacing.
The last bit of sharpness missing from her game now is a change of pace to find an extra yard of space where necessary. She clearly tired in the second half, but playing a full match minus stoppage time is an important step on her way back to 100-percent fitness. Morgan’s finishing lacked on Sunday against France, but her deft flick on Holiday’s cross into the penalty area stood as the only goal on Friday.
Of the positives the U.S. can take from its trip to Europe, Morgan’s resurgence is perhaps the most important.