The United States Women’s National Team halted its slide on the world stage with two quick second-half goals to defeat Germany on Sunday night in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.
Back from the game, the USA struggled to cope with Germany’s high-intensity play and pulled a goal back in the 18th minute when Jule Brand put a low effort into the net. Although the visitors had a number of chances in the first half, they could not add to their tally.
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A quick strike from Sophia Smith 10 minutes into the second half marked a change of pace for the hosts in their final game of the year. Unable to hold on after drawing last time out, the USA made no mistake on Harrison and soon took the lead. Mal Pugh chased the ball over the top, beating Nicole Anyomi as it came down, before slotting home from inside the box.
Even with a frantic finish to the game, the hosts struggled to end the year with a win and finally put an end to their poor run of results.
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1. German fluency brings joy
It has become the norm to watch a German starting line-up and you have to take a moment to find out who is in defence, the team with a long reliance on midfielders and strikers to build the backline. However, you can see with every game since the summer, the team has found a way to play with flow. It’s not the total football we associate with Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels, but it uses the same ideas of players moving to cover space, forwards happy to help defend and defenders keen to add to the attack.
Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg made seven changes between the previous match against the USA and this one, and the team only improved despite the departure of experience, due to the understanding of the fluid system of those who came in. Even when extremely talented 20-year-old Lena Oberdorf had to go off with a shoulder injury in the first half, the team didn’t back down despite losing a key player.
When attacking midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán was injured early in their 2019 World Cup campaign — early in Voss-Tecklenburg’s tenure — the team looked lost for the rest of the tournament; flat in attack and uncharacteristically spineless. But watching this match, there was the feeling that it didn’t matter who was actually on the field for Germany, they weren’t going to give up on the task at hand.
2. Problematic American midfield
There’s no getting away from the fact how fond American coach Vlatko Andonovski is of playing three in the middle, it’s actually something he’s continued despite heavy criticism from all quarters. The system could work with a fully available Sam Mewis and/or Julie Ertz, but the problem for the coach is that neither is, and Ertz may never be again. So the USA continue with Rose Lavelle, Andy Sullivan and Lindsey Horan, although it leaves the world champions without much structure in the middle of the park.
When the USA go forward, so much focus is on the front three making things work, taking the weak midfield out of the equation in traditional terms. Without players like Ertz – who fans will remember always seemed to do the work of two or three players, patrolling and clearing relentlessly in front of the defense – the American defensive line has become much more vulnerable and likely to be attacked at any time. . The “easy” solution would be to find another Ertz to fill the void, but there is currently no one available to do the same, which makes Sullivan look so weak for the job. This has caused many people to repeatedly call for a different shape and the application of a double pivot to add structure that the US is so short on.
The hosts turned the game around in New Jersey thanks to moments of individual magic rather than a change of approach, which raises even more questions, not least what Andonovski thinks will happen when the team begins its World Cup campaign.
3. Girma continues to shine
For all the effort the USA has had in recent games, as lost as the players look, it is Naomi Girma who has brought consistency and a defensive understanding that completely belies her years. Winning just her 10th cap against Germany on Sunday, the centre-back plays like she’s in her 10th year in the role, bringing a clear and calm head to the exposed American defence.
After their last game against Germany, I questioned how this USA team was shaping up and who might be on the plane for the World Cup — or rather, who would start next summer with Smith looked out of sorts, having previously impressed for her national team. There may still be 10 starting spots up for grabs for the USA, but there’s no arguing: Girma should be the first name on the team stage for the world champions.
Partnered with Alana Cook last game and veteran Becky Sauerbrunn for this outing, the shortcomings of the two defenders she was paired with were further highlighted by Girma’s complete performances at the back.
United States: Alyssa Naeher 7, Becky Sauerbrunn 5, Naomi Girma 7, Emily Fox 5, Sofia Heurta 6, Lindsey Horan 6, Andi Sullivan 5, Rose Lavelle 6, Alex Morgan 6, Mal Pugh 7, Sophia Smith 7
Subscriptions: Kristie Mewis 5, Taylor Kornieck 6, Hailie Mace 5
Germany: Ann-Katrin Berger 6, Sjoeke Nusken 5, Kathrin Hendrich 5, Sophia Kleinherne 7, Nicole Anyomi 7, Lena Oberdorf 6, Jule Brand 6, Linda Dallmann 5, Alexandra Popp 6, Lena Lattwein 7, Svenja Huth 5
Subscriptions: Chantal Hagel 4, Almuth Schult 5, Lina Magull 5, Carolin Simon 5, Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh 5, Paulina Krumbiegel 6
The best and worst performers
BEST: Naomi Girma, USA. Calm at the back on a chaotic night, Girma shone once again.
Worst: Chantal Hagel, Germany. Having a smart performance last game, Hagel looked at odds with herself this time out, her touch and positional play lacking.
After the match: What the players and managers said
Andonovski on USWNT’s winning adjustments: “… And then we made another adjustment in the second half that felt crucial when we put it down [Horan] just a little more to allow [Sullivan] being more aggressive to come in and win some of those balls. At that point, we started to restart the game and we felt very comfortable with it.”
Voss-Tecklenburg: “We had a good start to the game, the 30-plus minutes were really good. They were really present on the pitch and made good decisions, and then we had an injury when Lena got injured, which was difficult for the team .”
Key Stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)
– Morgan became only the 13th player to reach 200 caps for the US Women’s National Team.
– Following their win over Germany, the USWNT are now 2W-5L-1D in their last eight games against teams in the top 10 of the FIFA Women’s Rankings.
The next one
United States: The USWNT has a pair of January friendlies in New Zealand to prepare for next summer’s World Cup, facing the hosts on January 17th and 20th.
Germany: Germany have no games scheduled until the start of the World Cup on July 24, when they face Morocco in their tournament opener.