The United States Women’s National Team began its pre-World Cup exhibition schedule today with a match against fast-rising France. The French have quickly become a world power and are currently ranked third by FIFA, just behind the Americans. The match in Lorient was dominated by the French, who outclassed the U.S. in every facet of the game. The result was a flattering 2-0 win for France and set off alarm bells among U.S. fans and observers. The team has been mired in controversy the last year or so, from a coaching change to the lawsuit against the use of turf in the World Cup to goalkeeper Hope Solo’s personal issues and current suspension. There have also been injury concerns and star attacker Megan Rapinoe missed the trip with a knee injury. Alex Morgan is still recovering from injury but did play.
A scoreless first half left the Americans feeling lucky, but just five minutes into the second half France finally broke through with Eugenie Le Sommer heading in the opening goal. Just a minute later France doubled their lead through a fluke goal. Jessica Houara sent in a cross from the right side but the cross was off and sailed over goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and just barely into the far corner of the goal. Abby Wambach entered the game in the 63rd minute and three minutes later, in the 66th minute, was awarded a controversial penalty kick. It was a questionable foul in the first place, but if it was a foul it absolutely occurred outside the penalty area. Right or wrong it was still called, but Wambach had her weak attempt saved by French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
France dominated the midfield and forced the U.S. to rely on counterattacks that didn’t amount to much. France is a legitimate World Cup contender. The United States have been living on borrowed time as the world’s best for several years, as countries like Germany, Japan, Brazil, and Canada had caught them skill-wise. But now it appears that teams have caught up to them physically as well. Now the Americans can no longer rely on having a physical advantage to get them through a match. It is a very worrying sign as they prepare for the “Group of Death,” in which they will face Australia, Sweden and Nigeria. The U.S. plays England Friday in Milton Keynes. Yes, the World Cup is four months away. But if the team fails to improve or fix the problems soon it may be time to panic.