Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CAITLIN MURRAY
In a messy first showing under new coach Jill Ellis, it was again Sydney Leroux who saved face in Tampa, Fla. for the U.S. Women’s National Team and led the team Saturday to a win over France, 1-0.
Though both sides struggled with frequent turnovers and poor finishing, Ellis can count her first match as permanent USWNT head coach as a win with World Cup qualifiers just four months away.
The USWNT came out in a three-front — Ellis’ preferred but relatively new formation — and it was Leroux as the central target forward who made the most impact.
After receiving the ball on a frantic flick pass from forward Christen Press in the 22nd minute, Leroux dribbled through two French defenders and slipped a shot past charging goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi. It would be the USWNT’s best chance all night and only shot on goal in a game that was plagued with loose balls and off-target shots on both ends.
France had plenty of quality chances that went squandered, grabbing just two shots on goal — but an early save from Hope Solo proved critical in netting the winning result. The speedy Elodie Thomis raced behind the U.S. defense on a counter in the 8th minute and blasted a one-on-one shot that Solo dived to kick-save.
In the 44th minute, Eugenie Le Sommer used a long touch to pass to herself around the U.S. defense and give herself a breakaway, but her shot from the edge of the 18-yard box hit the right post. Minutes later she returned with a header that Solo stopped but bobbled before holding on.
The match marked Solo’s 71st clean sheet, tying her with Briana Scurry for the team record.
It should’ve been a clash between two of the finest teams in women’s soccer, but the weather may be partly to blame for the messy play – the game was delayed for thunderstorms that left behind slick playing conditions.
A win is a win and Ellis starts her tenure meeting the very high expectations for the No. 1 world-ranked USWNT. France, ranked No. 4 in FIFA’s world rankings, is likely the toughest opponent the USWNT will face in 2014 outside of March’s Algarve Cup, where the USWNT struggled under previous coach Tom Sermanni.
With Saturday’s goal, Leroux now has seven in 11 international matches, including last month in Canada when she equalized late to salvage a point for the Americans in front of a hostile crowd of the 2015 World Cup host.
Alex Morgan returned from injury — coming off the bench to play 45 minutes after last appearing for the USWNT in November — and used her speed well to threaten France’s defenses, despite no shots on target.
The USWNT will play France again on Thursday in East Hartford, Conn. to close out the two-game friendly set.