3 questions for the US after the SheBelieves Cup

Overall Situation:

The matches showed mainly that the top teams got closer yet again. Its grtting more and more like the matter of a lucky bounce who wins the games against each other. USA have lost to FIFA ranked teams no 3 and no 5. And again it was mainly the offense that disappointed with scoring only one (rather random) goal in 3 matches. And if a backline of 3 would generally put you on the front foot you better wouldnt dare to imagine how hopeless things would have looked if the USA had played with 4 in the back line?
Against Germany and England there wasnt much to see from the front foot department. But at least the defense was quite ok. and there were nearly no chances given away from open play. But things went worse against France where additionally defensive problems got exploited.

Question 1:

Is there a plan to improve the attack?

We didnt follow every discussion after the Olympics. But there seemed to be not much doubt everywhere that the development has to focus on improving the offense to be able to crack down compact (and deep sitting) opponents.
But neither much statements have been made ever since how to tackle this. Nor anything new of note has been tried in the friendlies since. The only thing we noticed was inviting a few new players to the camp of which Lynn Williams has established herself as alternative. Is that all the management has to offer?
Or does the management think a switch to a back line of three will solve the problems around the opposite box? Sure, having center backs who are good in build up play is certainly something positive. But would this add enough to a solution of the problem up front? It didnt look so.
We dont repeat what we said about the similarities to VfL Wolfsburg who also wanted to improve their build up play, also switched to a back line of 3 (though for different reasons) also couldnt get that managed successfully, and also instead lost the stability they had in defense. (Interestingly, 3 of the back formation they once wanted to replace now played in the N11 against the USA)
However. Unfortunately it might seem rather planless when your big task is to improve offensively and the only thing you try is to completely mix up your back line staff and formation. Surely we can expect more.

Question 2:

Are the back line changes starting to work?

It has been and still is interesting to follow a tiny fraction of all these discussions around a back line of three over the years and especially often the same points over and over again once it was implemented somewhere. You might want to know – depending on what area of the world you are viewing – that there was an early line of 3 in the 1950s followed by mainly 4 from the 1970s back to 3 (triggered often by a change to 2 forwards) in the 1980s back to 4 in the 1990s. And there are still lots of people out who claim to know what is the “better” solution – a back line of 3 or 4. Of course none is as there is no 1 forward is better than 2 – or 3 is the best. Its different. Sometimes less. Sometimes more. And it depends on how it is executed and by what players and against what type of opponent. And still like always there are experts out who claim to know what general advantages and disadvantages it has. Might be the problem is that “general” advantages only work for “general” teams and thus not for every?

For the US womens national team there actually is quite some reason not to use it: There are too few clubs who use it regularly. To be most effective the players need to get used to it. In some cases it asks for slightly different positioning and actions from the players in a line of 4 from a line of 3. And when you got used to it over years on club level there is sometimes this split second where you instinctively react like you are used to. That cant be wiped out even if you are training it in camp massively and got used to it 98%. That still leaves too much room for error when it sometimes depends on the last 2%.
However that might change and you get more used to it over time. But the overall main point to use it remains the strongest. If it suits the players you have at your disposal then do it. If.

And there are other things that might leave you logically confused not only if you are a professional in analytics. If you play a back line of 3 these need to remain more stringently in the back than when you play with a line of 4 by nature. When you add 1 holding mid to the 4 and 2 holding mids to the 3 you have 5 players who might end up not threatening the opposite goal from open play in both cases. But with the 3+2holding midfielders formation you have not only your offensive wing backs from the 4+1 cancelled but your wing players in the 3+2 are additionally much more defensive than the usual wing players in midfield roles. Thus the 3+2 puts you very much on the backfoot compared to the 4+1. But maybe we are looking for a very special logic applied to why this should be vice versa?

Question 3:

Where is the development of the players standing at the moment?

Rose Lavelle:
Have we seen only here so far. What can we make from it? First. A one (or also two) day performance isnt a very stable base to make judgements. Everyone can have a good or bad day in the office. Usually more evidence is needed to improve the reliability of what you watched. Second. How a player approaches situations is the most telling thing. What are her capabilities to read a game. How confident is a player to manage the ball in difficult situations. What is the technical level. These things are relatively stable. Running speed for example is less so. But only slightly less. Slight injuries might slow down a little as might any kind of tiredness from different sources. (Too many matches. Personal reasons. Too much training …).
She looked for example not quite as fresh in the second game than in the first. That was totally expected for a player who had so much to deal with after her first national team match and with only 2 days rest.
Apart from that we saw a player with a lot of talent. Especially in dribbling with the ball. Question was more why she wasnt introduced before she turned 21. Because you could sometimes see the lack of experience to play the best players in the world. No surprise when coming from college football directly. Quite the contrary. Add some of that experience and you can imagine a player who is developing into a player above average in this team. Though it seems we would like to see her improving on some details like headers, weaker foot, shots. But time to develop and early doors to judge.

Morgan Brian
Having had very high hopes for Morgan Brian and seeing the potential as a future leader of the team we have to think now over reasons why she hasnt moved on since the WC 2015. We would like to see more from her in the NWSL than in the 2016 season with the Dash. We would like to see more in the WNT than in 2016. And we would like to see much more than in the SheBelieves Cup. What kind of push does she need or what holds her back? We dont know. There are a lot of distractions for a young girl (and a first-timer) who is hyped like the USWNT players have been after the WC title nobody can escape. But we would like to see her go on now. She still has the most potential to glue the different individuals of the team together and she suffers from these individuals playing even more soloists than before. But much more initiative and engagement is needed to maintain her position.
Do we here have another situation where seemingly neither the player nor their coaches nor other kind of consulting are able to solve the problems? Would be a pity.

Lynn Williams
She is fun to watch. No doubt. Her athletic abilities are fascinating because she seems to be powerful and lightning fast but also elegant and looking effortless. And her goals are a strong argument. But the argument of scoring a lot has to be confirmed over a longer period to be free of doubts. Crystal Dunn is an example that this might be changing. Kim Littles tally also switched a lot from one season to the next. Alex Morgan and Kristen Press are examples for scoring constantly over several seasons.
What we would like to see however is improving the precision of her ball touch to pass or combine her way through a compact defense. There is a decisive disadvantage when we are talking about the best players in the world. She still might be a valuable alternative in cases where athleticism gets more important. For instance when at the end of the game accuracy is fading away generally or you simply play a lot of balls into the opposite box.
And hopefully she isnt yet too old to improve technically. It are all small margins here.

Alex Morgan
We liked to see her move to Lyon from a personal point of view. Playing in Orlando she is way too much the most important player up front. Understandably and clever from Orlandos point of view how they use her. But playing in the national team is much much more like playing in Lyon than in Orlando. She still probably is the number one forward in the team but it is getting close. And her advantage over the others is shrinking. She also has to adapt to a more combining and passing style of play like in Lyon. Simply being the better individual in 1vs1 is still enough regularly in Orlando. But the margins are narrowing and against opponents who are so close now you must integrate into a team effort to beat them. We dont remember every detail but she seemed not to have had lots of shots on goal as well as assists. And her movement also isnt of the kind that would split or trouble opposite back lines very often. These are points we would like to see her improve. Lyon as a chance.

Christen Press
Was overall still the best forward of the team during the SheBelieves Cup games but couldnt show that against France either. We might expect her also one of the best suited to adapt to a more team oriented style because of her strengths in technical play and movement. However we would like to see her develop not in the opposite direction. Again she is at the end of a lot of action in Chicago. And the fans there expect her to take on individual actions. That works in the NWSL very often. And sometimes also against mediocre national teams. But it is much more difficult against top international opponents. Granted she had one such moment against Germany. But even that is not often enough to be successful. Improved team efforts are needed.

Crystal Dunn
Even more like Williams her acceleration is eye catching. And like Alex Morgan it is a very good chance for her to further develop in Europe and learn from different cultural football backgrounds. She will hopefully also be not that much the single go to player like in Washington. And she might need to adapt to a more passing oriented style though Arsenal also might be not the very best address for this at the moment. There is still much more potential to increase the effects of her acceleration and thus her usefulness for the team. Mainly running around the outside of the wing like in the N11 and cross the ball is not always very effective. Especially when a top opponent just doesnt allow 1vs1 situations there too often or has players who can be beaten only by small fractions that leave not much time to convert a won duel into a useful delivery. And we would also like to see her more often run behind the defense without the ball to ask for a through pass and without starting her manouvres only running with the ball at her feet.



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