It was one of the more hyped matchup for sure going into the World Cup year. Both teams looked to start off great for their own reasons: USWNT is the defending champion after a commanding Women’s World Cup campaign back in 2015, while France really needed quality opponents to get themselves going and compensate for the lack of qualifying games because they are hosting the tournament on their home soil. The 3-1 defeat at Le Havre marks the first loss for the US in 28 games, and they did not look good at all during the game.
France have never had much luck against the US, but the home team did catch a little break even before the game. Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Casey Short, Julie Ertz and Kelley O’Hara were all ruled out pre-game, and Jill Ellis had to resort to a younger, more inexperienced squad.
The difference was very evident. France was on the front foot for basically the whole game, consistently making dangerous runs against a weakened US defense, whereas the US simply tried to hold their 4-3-3 shape without special defending options like pressing. The US defense was leaky and Emily Fox, who is one of those inexperienced players, was run absolutely ragged by Delphine Cascarino continuously on the left flank. Given, she only had three caps and also is just a junior albeit in a successful University of North Carolina program, yet her positioning flaws can really be seen throughout the 50 or so minutes she played. Tierna Davidson, the most recent no. 1 pick of the NWSL draft, came in to replace her in the 53rd minute as Ellis made that rare backline substitution. Emily Sonnett on the other flank did not do much better as well.
It is one of the worst USWNT performance I have ever seen as a soccer fan. I believe there were clear communication issues with the newer players coming in the lineup and the long-time anchor Becky Sauerbrunn can only do so much defensively against the front line consisting of Cascarino, Kadidiatou Diani (scored a brace), Gaëtane Thiney and Eugénie Le Sommer (latter both with over 150 caps and 50 goals). The midfield of the US can certainly hold its own in most matches, but they failed to provide for the likes of Alex Morgan and Christen Press up front. Losing their dynamo in Julie Ertz and someone as dynamic as Megan Rapinoe really hurt the US on the counter attack in a game where they were constantly pinned deep.
However, it was not all negative for head coach Jill Ellis. With the aforementioned series of inactive players for this game, she really had to dig deep in a decently deep pool of American players. The golden generation of players that helped fuel a World Cup win and an Olympic gold could still play an important role, but they should not be relied on every single game. Growing pains can be beneficial as a reality check a squad like the US with such high expectations on themselves. Allowing young players to develop in the highest level of women’s soccer can only be good for the long run for the USWNT, a team constantly chasing glory and excellence and nothing less.