If the U.S. women's national team's draw vs. Sweden on Saturday uncovered some light cracks in the foundation, then Tuesday's response vs. France filled them right up.
Early goals from Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan sent the U.S. on its way to a 2-0 win at Stade Océane, where the Americans' unbeaten streak grew to 39 games in what was one of the final difficult tests prior to this summer's Olympics.
It was at that very stadium in Le Havre where the U.S. last lost, with France taking a 3–1 result in January 2019, but the response that manager Vlatko Andonovski was seeking after an admittedly subpar performance a few days ago was fierce.
"This team is the best when they're getting tested, and I thought this was a great test for us to see how quick we could adapt from the Sweden game to this game. ... To see how we could bounce back from some of the things we didn't do well," said Andonovski, who trotted out as close to a first-choice USA XI as there is. "We executed very well."
As the U.S. demonstrated throughout its run to the 2019 Women's World Cup title, early goals disrupt even the most well-crafted of game plans, and that was again the case Tuesday. The U.S. piled on early pressure as Morgan drew a penalty after having her foot stepped on as she went for a rebound inside the box. Rapinoe stepped to the spot and converted, scoring a fifth-minute goal vs. France just as she did in the World Cup quarterfinals two years ago.
Morgan then set up Christen Press for a close call before scoring as their roles were reversed. Press spotted Morgan splitting two France defenders, and the latter remained just onside as she took the pass from the Man United forward and fired to the far side to double the U.S. lead inside the opening 20 minutes.
The pressure continued throughout the first half, as Julie Ertz fired over the bar, and Crystal Dunn was denied a goal by a great save from Pauline Peyraud-Magnin. The goalkeeper was at it again in the 38th minute, when she stopped Rapinoe from scoring her second off a cross from Kelley O'Hara. The goals didn't follow in the second half, but the script wasn't all too different, with France hardly threatening Alyssa Naeher's goal. A teasing cross from Sandy Baltimore in the 80th minute was nearly turned into the U.S. net by Dunn, but it was a relatively clean performance in the back, all things considered.
The result, as impressive as it was against the third-ranked team in the world, comes with some caveats. A number of top-tier French talents were missing, with Wendie Renard, Griedge Mbock, Sakina Karchaoui, Amandine Henry, Amel Majri and Delphine Cascarino all ruled out following a COVID-19 outbreak at Lyon. Kadidiatou Diani and Baltimore were also among those kept on the bench to start, though the opening front line did include the dynamic Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Eugenie Le Sommer.
For all of its absences, this was still a France team coming off an impressive 3-1 win over England, and the areas where the U.S. struggled vs. Sweden were addressed. Set pieces, like the one on which the U.S. conceded Sweden's goal, were handled more cleanly—something made easier by the absence of Renard, arguably the world's most prolific aerial threat on set plays—while the unforced errors in possession weren't as plentiful and the effort on 50-50 balls was noticeable.
Most encouraging, perhaps, was the play of Morgan, who asserted herself early and often in her 75 minutes on the field. The U.S. is a more complete and dynamic team when Morgan is at her best, and 11 months after giving birth, Tuesday's performance was the most telling one yet that she is indeed on her way.
"Very happy with her attitude and mentality," said Andonovski, who addressed Morgan getting her "killer instinct" back. "I think she executed her role very well. Beside from the direct impact (on the goals) she was also very involved in our buildup, she was able to hold the ball, bring the midfielders into the game and release pressure for us."
More USWNT Coverage: