On a humid Thursday night in Frisco, Texas, the United States Women’s National Team defeated Russia 4-0 in the first of two international friendlies. While 25th FIFA ranked Russia wasn’t ever going to be quite the test of March's SheBelieves Cup, the game did allow the USWNT to shake off some of the cobwebs from their last place finish in that tourney and provided the team with some exciting new formations and performances to consider.
There was some intrigue upon the release of the starting lineup for the USWNT, listing four defenders (Casey Short, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg, and Kelley O’Hara, respectively) and putting Portland Thorns Allie Long back into her natural position in the midfield. For the time being, the US three-back experiment that was used throughout the SheBelieves tournament was taking a backseat in favor of a more standard 4-4-2 formation. The starting formation also saw NWSL College Draft #1 pick Rose Lavelle working up the right side of the field as well as more centrally as a midfielder, and Crystal Dunn and Carli Lloyd pushing forward more and functioning in more of a quasi-nine position. Casey Short also made her debut at center back in the defense.
A Strong Start
From the onset of the match, this formation shakeup seemed to put a new sense of urgency in the US squad. Lavelle, in particular, seemed to have her way with the Russian defense, taking players on in 1-on-1 scenarios and almost always coming out on top. Her interplay with O’Hara was especially electric as they worked the right side of the field at will. This intensity ultimately led to Lloyd making a fantastic pass through the seam of the Russian back line, and Dunn sending a rocket in the 10th minute to put the US up 1-0.
Lavelle continued to impress by taking free kicks in many of the US set-play scenarios, including corner kicks. With the US offense looking somewhat toothless on dead ball plays in the past few months, this proved to be particularly exciting development, and Lavelle found the head of Allie Long in the 18th minute off of a corner kick to put the US up 2-0. The third goal of the night came in the 39th minute, when Dunn pounced on a mistake by a Russian defender to place a shot past the keeper, earning a brace on the evening. The first half of the game ended with that 3-0 scoreline and quite a few new entries to Lavelle’s highlight reel.
The second half moved quite a bit slower than the first, with some of the United States playmakers looking like they had tired a bit, and Russia seeming content to sit back and wait for the US attack. Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger came on at halftime, replacing Lloyd and Klingenberg, and Christen Press took over the other forward spot in the 63rd minute, coming on for Dunn. The pairing of Morgan and Press up top resulted in a lot of good on and off the ball movement, but neither striker could quite land the final shot, sending quite a few balls wide over the course of the second half. Long also had a roller-coaster of a second half, rocketing a penalty kick over the crossbar in the 65th minute, but then scoring the United States’ final goal on a diving header off of a Mallory Pugh cross in the 70th.
Looking toward the Future
The most interesting moments within the end of the match were the substitutes that came in for the US; newly-acquired Boston Breaker Megan Oyster got her first cap in a US jersey in the 68th minute, settling in nicely in the center-back position. The 78th minute also saw the return of Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez, who had been in and out of the squad for the past few months, with Rapinoe still returning from injury, and Rodriguez coming back after the birth of her second son. It was refreshing in the final minutes of the match to see Rapinoe taking corner kicks, after so long of not being able to do so, and fans of the USWNT had to feel secure knowing she’s back in addition to the quality work of Lavelle.
All in all, the US had a lot of things to be happy with in this game, with good ball movement and a long-awaited barrage of goals. The ongoing development of the younger players in the squad was also very encouraging, whether it was Lavelle’s handiwork, Oyster’s debut or Samantha Mewis putting in a very solid full 90 minutes. While Russia didn’t put up too much of a fight, this was maybe the jolt the USWNT needed to get back on track.
The second USA friendly will be on Sunday, April 9th and will air on ESPN.