Alex Morgan made her return to the lineup, and Ashlyn Harris took over for the suspended Hope Solo in goal as the United States women fell 2-0 to France on Sunday.
In its first victory over the Americans in 17 meetings, France showed its quality and the challenges the U.S. could face at the 2015 World Cup this summer. France generally controlled the run of play from start to finish, and Eugénie Le Sommer just missed on a couple chances in the first half before putting home a header early in the second. Jessica Houara-d'Hommeaux added a second a minute later with a cross-turned-shot that landed just inside the far post.
Abby Wambach started the match on the bench, coming on after the U.S. went down two goals. She earned a soft penalty, but it was saved by goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi, who was superb all game.
Here are three thoughts on the U.S.’s loss in Lorient, France:
1) France thoroughly deserved this win
Philippe Bergeroo, a former goalkeeper for Les Bleus on the men’s side, has built a possession-based team that has proven it can play with the best in the world. Ahead of this win, it defeated Brazil in November and the new FIFA No. 1-ranked team, Germany, in October -- both also by 2-0 scores. Individually and collectively, France outplayed the former No. 1 team in the world on Sunday, too.
On the ESPN2 broadcast, Bergeroo’s voice rang out consistently above the lively crowd in Lorient, calling for his team to circulate the ball and pressure the U.S. when it lost possession. In the back, the goalkeeper Bouhaddi showed good ability with the ball at her feet and no fear in making important decisions, in addition to saving Wambach’s generously given penalty in the second half.
Center back Laura Georges in front of her played a solid game, and attackers Le Sommer, Amadine Henry, Louisa Necib and Gaëtane Thiney looked consistently dangerous.
2) The U.S. continued its spiral in form
Rather than calmly standing on the ball and trying to gain control of the match at any point, the U.S. midfielders generally tried to push forward and break through the French line. The defenders played long balls out of the back, and central midfielders Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian looked constantly outnumbered and out of ideas in the middle. Players dribbled themselves into trouble too often, finding themselves faced by better individual opponents than they have faced in a long time in CONCACAF competition.
The primary strength in the U.S.’s game continues to be its physical qualities, which did offer a couple opportunities in behind as the match wore on. Manager Jill Ellis also fell back on Wambach’s size in the moments of desperation following France's two-goal flurry, but Wambach failed to cause too many problems against a savvy French back line. Rather than falling back into a shell, France just kept the ball more, killing off the game with the ball at its feet and showcasing its superior technical ability once more.
3) Alex Morgan provided some highlight moments despite her recent injuries
This was Morgan's first appearance after a second ankle injury during World Cup qualifiers, which has kept her sidelined since October. But even that time off the field came after a seven-month layoff for a similar injury. Her cheeky backheel nutmeg in the first 10 minutes showed her confidence hasn’t suffered, and she had several half-chances in front of goal. As expected after her lengthy absences, Morgan lacked a bit of sharpness, taking heavy first touches and giving herself poor angles for shots, but barring another injury, she can easily regain form ahead of the World Cup.
Harris also looked promising in goal in Solo’s absence, making a couple difficult overhead saves in quick succession at the end of the first half. Whomever plays in goal and up top for the U.S. in Canada will have to be sharp, as the team’s fortunes will turn on those two positions if current trends continue.