It sure is kinda nice to watch an American soccer team with all their best players out on the field together at one time, isn’t it?
But that’s enough negativity for today because the time has come to discuss BY FAR the biggest game that has been played so far – and arguably will be played, period – in the WWC: United States of America versus France. Dummies will try to say this is only the “quarterfinals” but anybody with a brain who has watched the tournament so far knows better. England is good but not good enough. Germany ain’t all that. What about the upstart Italians or Dutch? Nah, nah.
France and the USA are the two best teams in the competition and have been from day one. Indeed you could even take it a step further and say that they are the two best “soccer countries” in the world at the moment. The Froggies obviously have a big advantage in that they are playing on home soil, but the Americans have an equal (if not greater) advantage of being Americans.
So let’s take a quick look at the tale of the tape….
Quick reminder of how the bracket has shaken out so far.
Neither the US nor France played very well in their R16 game, as the teams barely squeaked by Spain and Brazil, respectively. In retrospect, where they already looking ahead a little bit to facing off against one another? Yeah, probably. Hopefully they will both bring their A-game today because it would make for a highly entertaining, back and forth affair.
So what can we expect from France?
They are a damn good team. They are particularly strong at the back where they have two big, athletic CBs flanked by quick wingbacks who – as with the US – like to push forward and get involved in the offense. Amandine Henry in the midfield is one of the best players in the tournament. She got the game-winner against Brazil in extra time and will control play for the Froggies today. They are most dangerous though on set pieces with Wendie Renard, so a key for the US will be minimizing the number of times they concede silly fouls around the box and corners. (Also, no more of the ridiculously silly errors that led to Spain’s goal – the only one they have given up all tournament.)
So what can we expect from the USA?
Here is the XI that Jill Ellis is going with:
1) Naeher has played well in net with the exception of one ill-advised pass (that Sauerbrunn conspired not to handle well). When in doubt, kick it out.
2) Defense is solid, albeit without being tested too much so far. Dunn is a natural attacking player being asked to play out of position and you could tell she was uncomfortable with her positioning a few times early on but hopefully they have ironed those out by now.
3) No Lindsey Horan in the midfield is a huge mistake. Sam Mewis is good but Horan is better in almost every facet of the game. Just plain bad decision by Ellis. Even so, I’d still take this midfield overall over France’s, even with Henry.
4) BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: The attack force – Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan – have to be WAY better this game than they were against Spain. Rapinoe was especially disappointing last game (with the obvious exception of nailing two big-pressure penalties). Morgan did not look healthy last time out so I’d have to imagine Carli Lloyd was at least considered… either way, need a MUCH better game from them today.
5) Biggest wildcard: Coach Ellis waited forever and a half to make subs in the Spain game despite Morgan struggling all game (and looking injured) and several difference makers twiddling their thumbs on the bench. No need for that silliness. Hopefully she pulls the trigger earlier if Morgan or Rapinoe don’t have it.
This feels like WAY more of a toss-up than the oddsmakers are suggesting. Neither team played anywhere close to their best last time out but I’d expect a bit better performances from both today. France’s offense will come from mistakes and set pieces so up to US to remain switched on and avoid silly mistakes. If they do so there can only be one winner:
USA to win 2-1.
USMNT vs Curacao on Saturday (7pm CT). All kinds of soccer going on around it with Copa America and African Cup of Nations coming down to it as well. The summer of soccer continues…