East Hartford, Ct. – A few thoughts after last night’s command performance from the U.S. WNT.
1) Crystal Dunn has to play.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis has stated that she prefers Dunn in the striker position, a spot assumed to belong to Alex Morgan, who has been showing signs of late that she is back to full effectiveness after a long battle with injuries.
Morgan missed Wednesday night’s game with what U.S. Soccer are calling a minor hip issue, allowing Ellis to play Dunn in the middle of a three player forward line flanked by Tobin Heath and Mallory Pugh.
Dunn was fantastic even inspiring this mid-game tweet from Los Angeles Galaxy defender A.J. De La Garza.
After Wednesday’s game, I asked Dunn if she was concerned that Ellis’ edict could cost her some playing time on this packed roster. “No,” Dunn began, “the Olympics is an 18 person roster and for me, I think versatility is on my side.”
“If she sees me as a forward one day,” Dunn continued, “that’s great, but I would love to believe that I can play just about anywhere on the field.”
She’s right of course, it falls to Ellis to decide just where.
2) The NWSL is making its mark on this team
It is not just that every player on the U.S. team other than 17-year-old Mallory Pugh (Real Colorado/UCLA) plays in the league, although that does reflect well on the NWSL as it gets set for season four.
Here is what Ellis had to say after her team took care of Colombia. After citing Allie Long’s good 2015 season for Portland as a factor in her call up, Ellis was asked when she expected to name her Olympic roster.
The coach said, “early July-ish,” before sharing this. “What I’ve told the players is performance in the league is a factor, making sure they are getting minutes regularly, making sure that they’re staying sharp, I want to see them in that environment.” Ellis added, “it also lets me access and evaluate players in the league.”
Remember that it was just last year that Abby Wambach elected to train on her own to prepare for the 2015 World Cup. Given that context, Ellis’ words must be music to the ears of NWSL officials.
3) Tobin Heath – More than just the Megs
At times over the years, it has seemed that Tobin Heath’s flamboyant skills have overshadowed her abilities as a complete player. The emphasis on the midfielders trickery may have led to the perception of Heath as something of a “luxury” player.
That began to change when Heath started five of the seven matches as the U.S. won the 2015 World Cup, its first since 1999, with Heath scoring a goal in the final.
Ellis didn’t disagree when GotSoccer asked if Heath has raised her game. “First, we’ve asked more output from her,” Ellis revealed at Wednesday’s post-game press conference.
Ellis praised Heath’s decision making and creativity, long staples of the 27 year old’s game, before getting to the crux of it. “I think the confidence of knowing that she’s an impact player that we rely on now,” Ellis said, adding that she, “is certainly seeing a maturity in her game and a confidence that she incredibly valuable.”
Ellis noted that she has asked Heath to take on a leadership role, and Heath described her approach to that role. “I’m not like a rah, rah person,” Heath told the press after the win over Colombia. She sees herself as more of a lead by example type joking, “I’ve been on this team long enough, so I guess I should know how it works by now.”
As for that praise from the coach? “It’s a really nice compliment,” the winger said noting that she feels healthy, “and really good about my football right now.”
It may be because the team is finally coming around to Heath’s preferred possession style of play after years of success with a brawnier brand of soccer.
“I feel really good about the way that we’re trying to play,” she explained. “I think it’s really great to have people with a lot of soccer sense on the field, with good feet, so it’s really positive.”
And don’t worry the “luxury” player skills that Heath brings to the table are going nowhere. Colombia’s defenders found that out in the fifth minute when Heath nutmegged a defender to set up a Crystal Dunn shot that was saved.
And when she scored the fifth U.S. goal of the night it was pure Heath. Typically modest, Heath gave all of the credit to Dunn for her perfect cross. “Oh, it was just a fantastic pass from Crystal, who had a fantastic game, she pretty much put it on a platter for me.”
It was, and Dunn did but Heath’s casual looking volley was a fine example of style meeting substance, an equation that Tobin Heath seems to have solved.