CloseGraham Hays covers faculty sports activities for espnW, together with softball and soccer. Hays started with ESPN in 1999.
LE HAVRE, France — The U.S. made certain to remind its match rivals that probably the most tough path is the one which runs by means of the world’s top-ranked group and defending World Cup champions. However in doing so, the U.S. can have a harder path transferring ahead.
With a 2-Zero win in opposition to Sweden on Thursday — the group that eradicated the U.S. from the 2016 Olympics — the U.S. wrapped up Group F with three wins in three video games. For the primary time ever, the U.S. accomplished the group part with out conceding a objective. (Germany additionally completed that feat this 12 months.)
Sweden made quite a few modifications to its lineup heading into this sport, though with out eradicating mosimportant items. The U.S. went again to its major lineup. But when the groups approached the sport with totally different motivations, the People definitely got here away with theirs fulfilled after Lindsey Horan put them forward within the third minute and Tobin Heath pressured an personal objective with a close-range shot early within the second half.
The prize for such success, in fact, is a potential quarterfinal assembly in Paris in opposition to host and pre-tournament co-favorite France. The French additionally gained all three video games in group play. However earlier than worrying about one of many hardest tickets within the historical past of the game, the U.S. first returns to Reims, the place it opened the match, for a knockout sport in opposition to Spain (Monday, midday ET).
These two groups performed for the primary time ever this previous January, in Spain, with the U.S. bouncing again from an earlier loss in France to report a 1-Zero win. Listed below are a couple of extra takeaways:
The Alex Morgan thriller
For all of the positives Thursday evening and the ribbon it placed on group stage success for the U.S., there was additionally a problematic unfastened finish within the well being of ahead Alex Morgan, who suffered a tough foul late within the first half and was sluggish to get to her toes. She appeared uncomfortable making an attempt to stroll off the knock. Morgan was changed firstly of the second half by Carli Lloyd.
Morgan walked by means of the combined zone after the sport with out an apparent limp however declined to talk to the media, which left coach Jill Ellis to deal with the standing of a participant who has been in a few of her finest kind over the previous two years however has additionally battled accidents.
“Alex took a knock within the first half,” Ellis stated. “And I simply suppose it was extra of, ‘Let’s be sensible about this’ when it comes to what we did.”
As was the case 4 years in the past, the Morgan watch now turns into a part of the World Cup story.
U.S. knockout punch is fearsome
There isn’t any stretch of minutes throughout a sport through which it’s straightforward to play america, however the opening 15 minutes have to be significantly daunting for opponents. At its finest, and positively in every of its three video games in group play, the U.S. begins video games with roughly the identical depth as water out of a hearth hose. That remained the case Thursday regardless of a a lot increased caliber of foe.
From a set play off the opening kickoff that almost sprang a take a look at objective to barely letting Sweden join a number of passes or get away of its personal half, the U.S. swarmed and made the opening quarter of an hour largely one-way visitors. Horan’s objective was the fast reward.
“Simply making an attempt to be relentless come the primary 15 minutes,” Abby Dahlkemper stated. “I believe that is actually necessary, to form of put groups on their bottom and be like, ‘Wow, this group is basically flying.’ I believe everyone seems to be as match as they have been in 4 years, and I believe everyone seems to be form of hitting their stride on the proper time.”
Sweden does not make U.S. pay for lacking Julie Ertz
Julie Ertz did not begin for the U.S. She was held out for what a group spokesperson described as precautionary causes associated to a hip contusion. The group did not say when Ertz sustained the damage or whether or not she would have been accessible for the earlier sport in opposition to Chile, when Ellis did not begin her or a lot of the first-choice gamers. Ertz had participated with out obvious issue within the restricted portion of coaching open to media in current days, together with Wednesday.
In distinction to Morgan, Ertz did cease with the media after and made it clear she thinks she’ll be prepared for the sport in opposition to Spain.
Her return creates an fascinating choice for Ellis, who hasn’t had to decide on between her 4 major midfielders but. Sweden could not maintain sufficient possession or sufficient of an assault, even in transition, to make the U.S. really feel Ertz’s absence as a one-woman defensive clean-up crew. As an alternative, Horan performed the place with an attacking mindset and was free to orchestrate the offense and ship pinpoint passes all around the area. If Ertz returns in opposition to Spain and Horan strikes increased within the midfield, it leaves a alternative between Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle — each of whom have appeared solely snug of their first World Cups.
The again line debuts
After two video games through which the again line spent as a lot time within the opponent’s half of the sphere as defending their very own objective and goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher had little to do. That modified a bit Thursday as Sweden confirmed some offensive prowess. Whereas the assaults hardly ever amounted to far more than half probabilities, the U.S. was stretched at occasions defensively. Naeher did her half on the handful of pictures and crosses that strayed into her actual property, however not all of her work is that straightforward to see as she settles into her first World Cup as a starter.
“She’s actually commanding us defensively,” Mewis stated. “I assumed she did an important job of discovering me from objective kicks or from when she had the ball at her toes and I used to be in a position to flick a whole lot of these on. Simply her distribution has been nice. She’s a giant transition piece for us. I simply hear her commanding everybody on set items. I believe she’s had an important presence.”
Inefficiency creeps into U.S. assault
ESPN Stats & Data
Apart from Horan’s objective, the U.S. had two extra pictures on objective within the first half — the identical quantity as Sweden. The quantity that tells the distinction, although, is that the U.S. put eight pictures off course, whereas Sweden had just one. The story stayed a lot the identical within the second half. The U.S. dominated possession and alternatives, but it surely did not do a lot to check Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Loads of People can rating from exterior the field, and one of many pictures on course got here on a well-struck low drive from Mewis, however there was a definite sense of settling for some pictures from lengthy vary in opposition to a stronger protection than Thailand or Chile.