After the USWNT shattered records with their 13-0 opening round victory over Thailand, reactions were mixed. Some applauded the ruthless efficiency of the American side, while others thought that the U.S. women piled it on against a clearly overmatched opponent. Yet others didn’t mind the score but felt that celebrations were out of line when the game was clearly in the bag. My thoughts on this are simple. This was not an international friendly match. This is the World Cup, where goal differential can make a difference in advancement (especially if the American women earn a draw against also-undefeated Sweden), and where frequently the top seeds are exponentially better skilled than lower-ranked competition.
Leading into the second match of the group stage against a better, but still not overly competitive Chile side, Coach Jill Ellis had some difficult choices to make. Perhaps she would intentionally blunt the aggressive American attack, employing a more defensive strategy. Perhaps she’d sub out her best attacking players quickly. Instead, she took an entirely unexpected approach to her starting eleven.
She rested more than half of them. Seven of the team’s starters rested, including goal scorers Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle.
The quality of the U.S. side was still on display, scoring three goals in the first half, but this completely unique lineup had never played together. It showed, with some uncharacteristic miscues and errant passes. In fact, by the time that the final whistle had blown, every American woman except for the two reserve goalkeepers had played in one of the first two games.
While the American passing efficiency was down slightly from the opening match, the USWNT still controlled the ball an overwhelming 72% of the time, allowing only one off-target shot in the entire match.
The Americans did an outstanding job earning fifteen corner kicks in the match and scoring twice off set pieces. But first Carli Lloyd struck a half volley to the upper right corner at full pace in the eleventh minute to continue her amazing streak of six consecutive World Cup games with a goal. The next two goals, in the twenty-sixth and thirty-fifth minutes were almost identical. Both came on headers off corner kicks. The first by Julie Ertz, the second by an inexplicably unmarked Carli Lloyd.
After that, the USWNT seemed content to play a game of possession and midfield defense to salt away their second victory and guarantee advancement…without commentary from the hecklers and haters. Carli Lloyd did miss an outstanding opportunity for her second World Cup hat trick by pushing a penalty kick just left in the eighty-first minute.
It was a solid, if perhaps inelegant, victory by America’s team to ensure advancement without garnering any further controversy. The U.S. women will be back in action for the final game of the Group Stage, against ninth-ranked Sweden on Thursday. It will certainly be the toughest test of the Group for the USWNT, and we’ll expect to see a more traditional lineup as the Americans seek to secure the top position in group F.
Image Source: AP Images/Alessandra Tarantino