After the U.S. women’s national team were steamrolled 3-0 by France, players and coaches from both teams discussed the stunning result with the media. USWNT head coach Jill Ellis indicated that the losses to France and England in the SheBelieves Cup didn’t mean the end of the United States playing a three-back system. Instead, Ellis emphasized the need for greater confidence from the players.
“Even if we’re playing a four-back, I’m always evaluating and thinking about what worked, what didn't work, what combinations worked. That's an ongoing process. I said coming in that this would be a tremendous test for us. Their athleticism, their tactics, in terms of putting three up on the [front] line was extreme,” said Ellis.
“At the end of the day it’s a three on three, you add your goalkeeper, four, and you figure we need to play out. That requires a lot of confidence, and that was a big theme for us going into this tournament, was confidence,” noted the USWNT boss. “The confidence needed to deal with pressure, to play out, because the way our game is headed, who has the ball obviously has a better chance at winning, and I think we tried to work on that specifically in terms of this tournament, confidence on the ball.”
Ellis also spoke about positives from the game and lessons to carry forward.
“I think France were as direct as I’ve seen them, brought in a different goalkeeper and put our backline under a lot of pressure and that’s what we have to expect so it’s a step back in terms of results but in terms of looking at players, I thought Casey Short did very, very, well. I thought Alyssa Naeher took a step forward. This is a disappointing result, but there are some positives,” she said.
“We thought they were going to play a transition game, meaning they would kick out not play out, this is what they normally do. They put three pacey players up against our backline, so yeah, it was different in terms of what to expect. I didn’t really know what to expect because...it’s a brand new coach [for France].”
Speaking of that new coach, Olivier Echouafni and several French players remarked that the team took advantage of the weaknesses presented by the three-back system and some general vulnerabilities they noticed on tape.
“We analyzed the video and we knew they’d play in a 3-5-2 so we could exploit them on the flanks and in the spaces once we gained possession, that’s what we succeeded at doing and that’s how we scored,” said forward Eugenie Le Sommer.
“Our organisation and our technical ability made the difference,” said Echouafni. “Our game plan was to use the flanks and depth, we knew that they had difficulties vertically. At the same time, we knew we would play a very dynamic team with a lot of speed but we concentrated on pressing them since that resulted in a lot of turnovers.”
Crystal Dunn thought that France’s athleticism helped the team take advantage of the USWNT’s three-back but also saw value in sticking with the 3-5-2. “I think the three-back is an awesome formation and it allows us to be on our front foot but with that said, they have players like [Elodie] Thomis who are super athletic and super fast and our wing backs had to be in position since they’re our [wide] attacking players as well. The formation definitely provides some downfalls, in a sense but we battled back and gave them a run for [their] money,” she said.
Carli Lloyd struggled to get involved against France, failing to help create attacks while managing her defensive responsibilities. Ellis admitted there’s work to be done in getting the best out of her in the new formation.
“We’re playing her in the ten role. Is she getting a lot of the ball? I think Carli going through a period of evaluating and balancing being in the spot where we want her and where we need her in terms of how dangerous she can be in that spot and finding balls and staying connected with the ball,” said Ellis.
“Overall I think Carli battled hard today, she worked very hard, and when she got on the ball, in terms of attacks against France, this is as hectic and dangerous as we’ve been in terms of number of attacks and we didn’t get rewarded for those,” she added.
Becky Sauerbrunn talked about how the backline adjusted after conceding two goals in the first ten minutes.
“We definitely needed to put more pressure higher up the field and then I thought initially in the first part of the first half we were a bit too hesitant as a backline and I think as the game wore on we were a bit quicker to release as the game wore on,” Sauerbrunn said. “When you go down two goals in ten minutes, the whole game changes so you’re chasing the game now, so it has to shift.”
Sauerbrunn also confirmed that there have been more rounds of CBA negotiations, and that national team players are planning to join their NWSL teams for preseason camp despite the unsettled situation.
Lloyd each emphasized the disappointment of the loss but also how to use the 3-0 loss to improve before the 2019 World Cup.
“It’s disappointing. We came in fourth place. We scored one goal,” Lloyd said. “We have some great players on this team, we obviously want to win, but I think long gone are the days of always winning and it being easy. In 2019, 2020, it’s going to be really, really, hard. We’re just going to have to continue to keep improving, stick together, trust ourselves and our abilities.”
Dunn, a former Washington Spirit forward, discussed her recent move to Chelsea Ladies and the possibilities involving a return to the NWSL.
“I just got to Chelsea and I’m enjoying it, it’s been an eye-opener. Playing with so many technical players in every position is something that I’m enjoying and I’m learning so much in the four weeks I’ve been there,” said Dunn. “I try not to focus on returning, but the Spirit still have my rights and when I’m ready to come back it looks like I’ll be going back there unless anything changes,” she said.
Tuesday night was almost certainly the final USWNT game at RFK Stadium, and Virginia native Ali Krieger spoke about the stadium and D.C. United’s new stadium.
“It’s going to be awesome to see the soccer specific stadium for D.C. United that hopefully the women can also play in eventually. [RFK] is monumental and from World Cups to my personal professional experience here, it’s a really great atmosphere to play in,” the former Spirit defender said.