The goal that neatly illustrates both the U.S.’s problems and France’s brilliance
There’s certainly a post-mortem assessment to come from the party-with-the-bad-surprise-ending the U.S. threw itself over this past week, known to the world as the 2017 SheBelieves Cup (which probably isn’t the most unwieldy name ever foist upon a tournament). Monday’s loss to France was an ignoble milestone for the U.S. women’s team; namely, the first time it’s lost consecutive matches at home since 2000—and the loss also ensured that the team finished last in the four-team tourney. Questions will swirl around the team’s new 3–5–2 formation and whether players are being played out of position and what’s needed to get the U.S. back to World Cup-winning levels of confidence and competence, but there’s one play in Monday’s match that should be particularly worrisome.
It came in the ninth minute. One minute prior, French forward Eugenie Le Sommer got on the end of a pass into the box, following a turnover by Morgan Brian, forcing American keeper Alyssa Naeher to attempt a slide tackle to save what would have been a sure goal. That resulted in a yellow card, a converted penalty kick by Camille Abily, and a 1–0 scoreline for Les Blues.
Again, the U.S. turned the ball over, with Tobin Heath attempting a pass to Lynn Williams to lead her to goal. French defender Wendie Renard pounced on the pass, dribbled out of the box past a falling-down Heath, and with no one challenging her, sent a Route One pass straight to Le Sommer.
What happened next may shock you. Le Sommer streaked past a striving-to-get-back Allie Long. Long attempted to foul her twice, inadvisedly, inside the 18-yard box, but Le Sommer worked past her. Becky Sauerbrunn arrived on the scene only to fall down, leaving Le Sommer to fire at will on Naeher, who looked more surprised and disoriented than she should have given how the play developed. Naeher did move to her left, to her credit, in the direction of the shot, but it was definitely reactive rather than proactive, too slow and too late to keep France from doubling up the score.
To France’s credit, they seized the opportunity twice in two minutes early in a match, perhaps sensing an uneasiness with the experimental formation. And yet, good decision making and steady defending have been two hallmarks of U.S women’s team play as recently as 22 months ago—and the team needs to find that before they cross the halfway point this summer to the ’19 Women’s World Cup, which, perhaps ominously, is hosted by the very France that looked like ’15 USWNT in dispatching today’s USWNT.