Washington, D.C. – “Long gone are the days of always winning and it’s not going to be easy,” Carli Lloyd said after France defeated the U.S. WNT 3-0 to win the SheBelieves Cup while relegating the host nation to a last place finish and that perhaps was the biggest learned on a difficult night for the Americans.
The loss was the second in a row for the Americans, the first time that has happened at home since 2000, one of several negative milestones on the night for the world’s highest ranked women’s soccer team.
France came into this final match of the SheBelieves Cup in first place needing just a tie to claim the title but Germany’s 1-0 win over England in Tuesday night’s curtain raiser had opened the door for the Americans to retain the Cup if they could defeat France.
Once again, the U.S. came out in their new and much discussed three back set and while the system had stood up defensively against Germany and England, tonight it was shredded by a well drilled, high-flying French team that scored twice inside the first 10 minutes to leave the Americans with a mountain to climb.
The first crack in the American system appeared when Eugenie Le Sommer exploited a gap in the center of the U.S. defense, forcing goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher into taking her down for a penalty kick that Camille Abily converted to give France a 1-0 lead just eight minutes into the match.
Moments later France made it two when Abily got herself in behind the U.S. defense to control and finish a pass that traveled at least 50 yards in the air to beat Naeher for the second time in less than 60 seconds.
Ellis’ formation and her new center back Allie Long were victimized on both France goals on what was a bad night for the U.S. WNT, the three back, and Long herself.
Ellis pronounced herself, “disappointed but not deterred,” while sounding surprised by French manager Olivier Echouafni’s tactics. “France,” said Ellis, “were as direct as I’ve seen them.”
France, of course, were delighted with the victory, a first tournament title for the talented but previously underachieving national team. “I think it’s great for our confidence, Abily explained. “It’s a friendly tournament,” the Lyon attacker noted, “but we know we can do something great.” “We never win something with the French national team,” Abily continued, “so I hope it will be this summer,” Abily said, referring to the Euros.
Trying to get back into the game Ellis sent Mallory Pugh in for Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn on in place of Christen Press after the halftime intermission and operating as a forward, and not as wide midfielder, Dunn provided a spark. Dunn has been moved between the two spots and appears more comfortable in the striker role.
But the American attack was again unable to make pressure yield results and instead it was France who scored next when Abily added her second. Again, a defensive breakdown occurred with Casey Short, Long and Morgan Brian culpable.
How to best use Dunn is just one of many issues Ellis is trying to solve as she attempts to convert this team into more of a possession based side. Ellis’ predecessor Tom Sermanni lost his job when he tried something similar but with the retirement of Abby Wambach, Ellis has been free to bring in more new players, players to fit the style she is attempting to impose.
It didn’t work out tonight but Ellis gave no indication that she is planning to abandon her approach. The World Cup is still more than two years away and if things go well in France for the U.S. the 2017 SheBelieves Cup will be a distant memory, but make no mistake, tonight still hurt.
“It’s disappointing,” U.S. captain Carli Lloyd admitted. “We came in fourth place,” Lloyd underlined. “We scored one goal, I think we’ve got some great players on this team, we obviously want to win.”
“2019, 2020,” Lloyd warned, “it’s going to be really, really hard.”