On a day when they were outplayed for long stretches the U.S. WNT relied on a pair of veteran leaders to provide the heroics in a hard earned 1-0 Olympic win over France today at Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Carli Lloyd’s goal in the 63rd minute was the decider while every one of Hope Solo’s six saves was required for the U.S. to get past France today in Brazil.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis elected to sit center back Julie Johnston and winger Mallory Pugh with injuries, although the duo was healthy enough to make the bench. Whitney Engen took over for Johnston and Crystal Dunn got the nod in favor of Pugh.
Whether it was the changes or simply a matter of France playing well the U.S. found itself in the unusual position of playing second fiddle to its opposition for most of the day even if the possession arrow pointed in the Americans favor 55% to 45%.
Not to get bogged down in numbers but the more accurate indicators today were France’s eight corner kicks compared to just three from the three-time Olympic and World Cup Champions and Hope Solo’s six saves made while her counterpart Sarah Bouhaddi had just one.
Much has been made of this U.S. team’s tactical shift away from the high ball into the box, with Abby Wambach’s retirement a catalyst for that change. Today we saw an unexpected result coming from that change in style as the U.S. WNT was dominated in the air by an opponent for the first time in memory.
Much of that domination came from one player, France’s towering center back Wendie Renard. Listed at 5’11” Renard plays even taller and was a particular menace to the Americans on all of those French corners.
France also was bossing the Americans for much of the match from the run of play with midfielders Camille Abily, Amandine Henry, and especially Louisa Cadamuro dragging the U.S. defense out of position and forcing Solo to fend for herself far too often.
When the teams went to the locker rooms for the halftime break Jill Ellis’ crew had to be feeling relieved that the match was still knotted at zeroes with the final 45 minutes still to play.
Ellis clearly got in her sides ears at the break because on the resumption we saw a different, if familiar U.S. team. The Americans pinned the French in their own final third in the opening moments of the second half and created a series of chances that finally yielded results when who else but Carli Lloyd tapped in a rebound from a Tobin Heath shot.
As in the team’s opening 2-0 win over New Zealand virtually all U.S. chances had Heath’s fingerprints on them. Morgan Brian continued to make the pass before the pass but at the moment the defending champions are playing with no fluidity and are creating far too few dangerous opportunities.
That lack of chances is disturbing for U.S. fans, what should be even more unnerving are today’s defense lapses. Teams grow into tournaments so it is not panic stations for the Americans and losing Johnston could account for some destabilization in the backline. Still, if not for Solo’s heroics in her 200th senior international match, more than any goalkeeper ever, male or female, the U.S. could have been blown out by France.
The U.S. lead the group and will be expected to beat Colombia in the final group match on Tuesday and head on to the knockout rounds unbeaten.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
FRA 0 0 0
USA – Carli Lloyd (Tobin Heath) 63rd minute
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O’Hara, 6-Whitney Engen, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg (12-Christen Press, 90); 3-Allie Long, 14-Morgan Brian, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (9-Lindsey Horan, 82); 16-Crystal Dunn (11-Ali Krieger, 70), 13-Alex Morgan, 17-Tobin Heath
Subs not used: 2-Mallory Pugh, 8-Julie Johnston, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 18-Alyssa Naeher
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
FRA: 16-Sarah Bouhaddi; 8-Jessica Houara, 3-Wendie Renard (capt.), 2-Griedge Mbock Bathy, 7-Amel Majri; 10-Camille Abily (17-Kheira Hamraoui, 83), 6-Amandine Henry, 15-Elise Bussaglia; 13-Kadidiatou Diani, 18-Marie-Laure Delie (11-Claire Lavogez, 86), 14-Louisa Cadamuro (12-Elodie Thomis, 70)
Subs not used: 1-Meline Gerard, 4-Sakina Karchaoui, 5-Sabrina Delannoy, 9-Eugenie Le Sommer
Head Coach: Philippe Bergeroo
Stats Summary: USA / FRA
Shots: 7 / 14
Shots on Goal: 3 / 5
Saves: 5 / 2
Corner Kicks: 3 / 8
Fouls: 8 / 18
Offside: 4 / 4
USA – Crystal Dunn (caution) 68th minute
FRA – Griedge Mbock Bathy (caution) 82