The United States opened its World Cup by beating Thailand yesterday, winning 13-0 in a game that doesn’t seem to offer much for us to learn. What tactical value is there in a game where one team is substantially stronger in every single category you could possibly imagine? The lack of institutional support and development infrastructure gave the Thais no chance; Jill Ellis could have openly declared that she and her staff would be spending zero time preparing for this game, and the USWNT would have gotten a high-scoring win anyway.
Nonetheless, there’s always something we can learn from a game, and in this case, there are two things we can focus on: how the USWNT approached a bunkering opponent, and how they used the latter stages of the game to practice their late-game, “we’re down a goal” shape. Both are going to be relevant in this tournament.
We got one surprise before kickoff. Becky Sauerbrunn, the cornerstone of the American back four, was being held out for precautionary reasons due to an iffy quadriceps:
Given the short timeframe in which they expect to play six more games, being patient with an “almost there” muscular injury in this one (and against Chile, frankly) is the prudent choice.
This change meant a spot at centre back for Julie Ertz, who has already won a World Cup playing that position. Ellis, otherwise playing the 433 she’s been focused on for months now, predictably brought Sam Mewis into the team to take the empty midfield spot. However, she made the seemingly curious choice to play Lindsey Horan as her no. 6 and position Mewis alongside Rose Lavelle further forward. We’ll get into why this choice made some sense in the context of the game, but under normal circumstances, swapping those two might be the wiser move (particularly if Sauerbrunn isn’t as healthy as US Soccer would care to admit).
There was an asymmetry in how the attack functioned. On the left, Megan Rapinoe spent a lot of time out wide, only getting narrow once within 25 or so yards of goal. Crystal Dunn’s forward runs weren’t traditional overlaps, and she often received the ball closer to the middle of the field than Rapinoe. On the other side, Tobin Heath was tucked in more, a move designed to get her closer to Rose Lavelle. That duo, with the assistance of Kelley O’Hara, became the nexus of the USWNT’s attacks before the game disintegrated.
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Source – Starsandstripes