Morgan’s return to form forces USWNT draw against France

Alex Morgan

By CAITLIN MURRAY

Alex Morgan is back.

The star striker scored her first goals Thursday for the U.S. Women’s National Team after a seven-month long recovery from injury, salvaging a draw for the Americans against a potent France side, 2-2 in East Hartford, Conn.

Subbed in at halftime with the USWNT down by a goal, Morgan twice brought the USWNT level with two skillful individual efforts, the surest sign that Morgan is ready to reclaim her spot on a front line crowded with other in-form strikers like Sydney Leroux and Christen Press.

It didn’t take long for Morgan to regain her touch after her return five days ago, when the USWNT edged out France, 1-0. In that game, her first with the USWNT since November, Morgan had a couple shots stray just wide and one that headed into the stands.

But in the second match of the two-game series, her striking precision was as good as it had been before a sidelining stress fracture in her ankle.

Eleven minutes into the second half, Morgan collected a slip pass from fellow Portland Thorn Allie Long on a counter, took a few touches through traffic and fired from 25 yards out. The ball hit the inside of the far post and bounced back into the net, leaving goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi with no chance for a save.

Down 2-1 in the 85th minute, Morgan was at it at again. Off a quickly taken throw-in from another Portland Thorns teammate, Tobin Heath, Morgan collected along the left flank, dribbled toward net and cut into the middle for a shot that nutmegged Bouhaddi for a goal.

In her second match as Tom Sermanni’s successor, coach Jill Ellis again fielded the team in a 4-3-3 formation, with starters Press and Heather O’Reilly working the flanks and Leroux as the target forward. Morgan replaced O’Reilly and took the central role as Leroux moved out wide.

In the closing match of their two-game series against France, the USWNT looked much better than they had in the first, holding possession and finding several genuine scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Americans, France did the same.

Up until Morgan’s late equalizer, it appeared the USWNT might lose their first home match in a decade in front of 14,695 fans at Rentschler Field.

France’s Louisa Necib opened scoring in 28th minute on a penalty kick awarded when goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris charged out of net and missed the ball, tangling up Necib’s feet. Starting goalkeeper Hope Solo was out of the lineup for a personal obligation, U.S. Soccer said.

After losing their lead, Amandine Henry brought France ahead again in the 68th minute by capitalizing on mistakes by the Americans. A triple-teamed Heath was stripped of the ball and defender Ali Krieger cleared France’s approach to the feet of Amandine Henry, whose top-of-the-box shot took a deflection, making it an impossible save for Harris.

Both sides had their fair share of chances, with the U.S. out-shooting France, 11-8. The on-target shot breakdown was more in the Americans’ favor, 6-3.

Ellis clearly has the team focused on patient, possession-oriented play, which the Americans did much better than in Saturday’s match, even as they struggled at times to move the ball into threatening positions. But that style was balanced was quick counters and direct long balls at opportune moments, which proved unsuccessful Thursday.

Score line aside, the second match against FIFA’s No. 4 ranked team in the world – minus the sloppy weather of Saturday’s match – likely provided the test Ellis wanted as the No. 1 Americans look ahead to their World Cup qualifiers in October. The 2015 Women’s World Cup is 351 days away.

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15 Responses to Morgan’s return to form forces USWNT draw against France

  1. Ann Byrnes says:

    I don’t think 4-3-3 works very well for the US. Anybody has any thought s on that penalty? I think Harris held her own in goal! Thoughts.???

  2. Liz says:

    first off, the game was very entertaining. very admirable effort by the US to level 2x. having said that, we were fortunate to draw. the play from US was less dreadful than Saturday and far better S/SOG. while the play marginally better, US has forgotten basic soccer like moving to create appropriate supporting angles. how many times did back line look to pass out of the back and France had every option well covered. US midfield failed to check back in support repeatedly and US was back on its heels for much of first half. US lost confidence when it had the ball, no cuts turns fakes under pressure, and possession was lost repeatedly in our 1/2 of the field. US midfield began to unravel. Back line look frustrated. gotta move, gotta be first to the ball. these are basic tactics. its a friendly and team gets 6 subs, so players should be hustling, covering ground with a much higher work rate. These issues are fixable and several were improved in 2nd half. I am very concerned on the coach decisions to (1) insist on again employing the ill-fitting formation of a 4-3-3 against France, a quality team with a superb midfield playing a 4-4-2, so the midfield was always outnumbered; (2) the slowness to make some OBVIOUS subs. when Morgan came on – she hustled and applied pressure. When A-Rod came on, she dropped, received, and SPRINTED back up the field on attack. When we get everyone playing this way for 90′, USA will be tough to beat.

  3. McCallumKnights says:

    I bought Houston Dash tickets b/c I wanted to support soccer and see what the best women have to offer (Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach). Morgan missed both Thorn games. Wambach missed the first of two Flash games (2nd still to come). So…I guess I’m at least supporting soccer.

  4. AJ says:

    The 4-3-3 is not a suitable formation for this team. It doesn’t play to the strengths and the depth of our players and we’re not tactically ready. This game was better than the last game in that the passing was slightly more crisp but I think that Ellis made some suspect player decisions. Press functions best as a lone striker and until she adapts her game to work well with others she should be left on the bench. How many more times does she have to flame out against quality opposition before she’s made to answer to that? And will somebody tell me how you have Amy Rodriguez in hot form for her club and you play her ten minutes across an available 180 in a two game series? That’s unacceptable to me.

    Kelley O’Hara should be our starting LB and I think when she and Rodriguez came on it sparked the team forward to equalize. The back line left Harris out to dry far too often but if it wasn’t for a soft penalty call I do believe she had a great game. When she was called upon to make big saves she did and came off her line aggressively. That second goal somebody on the back line needed to come out and close down the shooter. Nobody did and then it took a deflection as well. Overall, for her third cap I think she showed signs she belongs in a permanent backup role.

    But the real story is how much this team has truly missed the dynamo that is Alex Morgan. Once she’s back to 90-min form I think that will help our team out a ton. Her Thorns teammate Long didn’t look half bad either. I’ll admit I was a doubter but over two games she proved that maybe she belongs in the squad.

    • Alex S. says:

      I think the 4-3-3 works if Jill insists upon using outside backs who suck at getting forward. If we’re a 4-4-2 where the outside backs need to press forward, there is absolutely no question O’Hara is our LB. If we wants to do a 4-3-3 where the outside forwards need to backtrack, then I think O’hara belongs there. Unfortunately it seems a bit like the 3-fwd formation is driven by finding a way for Abby to stay relevant ugh

      Agree on A-Rod. For the little minutes she played, she looked great. and I was not someone who was ever a support of hers on the NT tbh

      • M says:

        Initially agreed on Rodriguez, but she’s been a standout in the NWSL and is obviously working and improving in leaps and bounds. She and Morgan both love to drive to the endline and play back, and if they can back each other up on that (on making the run to the middle when the other is on the endline) that could be a phenomenally dangerous combination.

  5. kimo says:

    I’ll say it … the rest of the world has caught up to the US. It was only a matter of time. It’s a function of training methods through the youth ranks as the European / South American / Asia women are finally being backed with some capital and trained properly like their male counterparts.

    Youth development in the US is still results focused and thus focuses on the bigger / stronger athletes. I’m around it everyday and I cringe at what I’m seeing. Sheer #s alone will always keep the US “in the game”. However, I think our “elite” edge has waned considerably.

  6. Malcolm says:

    Put this game in perspective. The purpose of the game was for Ellis to evaluate players and be able to tell them afterwards what they individually need to add to their tool kits during the 11 months still to go before the Cup starts. Realize that Ellis already assumed the level of talent on the squad was good enough to not “worry” about losing the game while she was testing tactical and personnel options.Far more important, for example, is that when you have six incredible forwards, at least two of them will have to additionally learn to be effective attacking servers on the flank, not featured front strikers, so that the opponent’s back line will always get stretched. And when you have four top tier attacking midfielders on your squad, two of them must learn to be primarily “point guards” instead of counterstriking defenders, and one of those two is going to be a backup, not a starter. There were probably 8 to 12 major coaching issues of this kind to investigate, with only two games to use. Ellis also knows how critical it will be to have the large number of NWSL players maturing their USWNT role skills during the season, so she needed to tell those players now what might be expected from them later. If we get a full game video to watch, ignore the “win/lose” emotion and watch how Ellis’s personnel decisions probed fundamental problems of moving this team from being talent-based to having team technical competency. And to make it even more clear, go back and watch Japan take down the U.S. in the team’s biggest wake-up call ever. Ellis knows exactly what she’s up against; it’s why she got the job instead of some outsider celebrity coach.

    • M says:

      I’ve yet to see the game (just Morgan’s second goal) but I’m definitely watching with all this in mind. I know everyone was upset Sermanni was still experimenting, tinkering, ‘evaluating,’ but the new coach will need some time to do just that.

      The US is capable of a 4-3-3, and Boxx will also be coming back to play a more defensive role (almost a 4-1-2-3, really?), but we do have a wealth of strikers who will need to play box-to-box to make that happen, no matter where they are in the lineup.

  7. Brit says:

    This game was a game of the substitutes from the US.
    Alex Morgan came on and obviously played incredibly, this is the Alex we know and love, glad to see her getting back.
    A-Rod also impressed tonight she looked sharper than she has for years for the national team and has been playing well in the NWSL. She should make a strong push for a roster spot of the WWC especially since Jill will likely take more forwards.
    When O’Hara come on she sparked the attack and defense as well. You could tell she hadn’t been playing/practicing left back in a while as her execution was a bit off but she still had better positioning, vision and speed than Kling or Cox did when they played and if she gets back to practicing left back she’ll no doubt be the best option. Hopefully Jill has realized this too and that is why she subbed O’Hara into left back this game.
    Heath coming on was mixed. She had some great attacking moments but also gave up the ball that eventually lead to France’s second goal. Typical Tobin.
    Rampone came on in the second half and solidified the back line. She’s still got good speed and her experience is truly priceless. She is still a crucial member of the back line.

    • Alex S. says:

      I never got the hype around Tobin. She turns over the ball too easily and overcomplicates things. I’m just totally unimpressed by her- maybe I am not seeing something that everyone else sees?? Agree w/ everything else you said!

      • M says:

        Tobin is pretty high-risk, high-reward. Her set pieces, through balls, and dribbling skills (especially as those are things the US is often in need of; what’s Wambach’s head without the right corner kick?) offset her turnovers and defensive missteps. She can play box-to-box, but higher on the field is usually better, if we have the personnel to do that.

        She also will take a couple games to get back in the swing of NWSL/USWNT play, but hopefully her time in Europe will continue to pay off.

  8. User222 says:

    In my opinion, the USWNT is playing below their potential…the blame goes to Ellis and Gulati for making a mess of the head coach position.