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Statement from the Mother Country: What the U.S. can learn from England defeat

Rarely is it accurate to say the United States Women’s National Team was completely and utterly dominated in a game, but England did exactly that to the U.S. on Saturday.  The Three Lions  started off the game strong and never looked back, keeping the United States on its collective heels.

The loss was the first defeat for the United States in a friendly since Nov. 6, 2004 (a 3-1 loss to Denmark).  But the loss was not the biggest problem.  No team, including Germany, the team favored in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, is invincible.  What is troubling about the United States’ performance is just how ugly it was.  England absolutely worked the United States, exposing the large gaps the Americans left defensively and stringing together sequences that U.S. Women’s National Team fans only see in their dreams.

England’s first goal was a thing of beauty.  It highlighted England’s superior team play throughout the game, which always featured off the ball support.  Rachel Unitt collected the ball on the left flank and played it to Jill Scott, who beautifully flicked it on to a streaking Jess Clarke.  Teammate Ellen White jumped in front of Clarke to serve a cross, which was blocked by U.S. defender Rachel Buehler.  The ball popped straight in the air and Kelly Smith shielded Amy LePeilbet from the ball, which fell to Clarke for the beautiful one-time volley into the back of the net.

English players always had multiple supporting options at their exposure when they were on the ball Saturday.  In almost every sequence during the first half in particular, England’s angles of support and execution of basic triangular passing were spectacular.

That creativity is what lacks in the United States’ game.  Megan Rapinoe’s 39th minute goal was a piece of individual skill that came completely against the run of play.  The creativity that England displayed was never matched by the United States, which looked out of sync the entire match and failed to string passes together.  For the most part, U.S. players looked to all be on different pages throughout the match.

Defensively, the United States was opened up by England.  In the 26th minute, Smith collected the ball in her own half and dribbled some 50 yards before laying the ball of to Rachel Yankey for a spectacular second goal.  Smith ran straight up the center of the field and did not receive a challenge from a single U.S. player.  The midfield failed to track and neither center back – Christie Rampone or Buehler – stepped to Smith even when she was within 25 yards of the goal.  The breakdown began with central midfielders Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd getting caught out of position and was coupled by a lack of communication between Rampone and Buehler.  Ali Krieger got caught pinched too far inside, leaving the entire back line lost.  Four players accounted for England’s three, yet not a single English player was actually properly marked.

That play highlights a specific situation, but the United States was stretched defensively all night.  On the Yankey goal, Smith collected the ball with U.S. forwards Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez inside of England’s 18-yard-box and walking back toward the play.  They disappear from the screen as the play develops, but it is safe to say there are at least 50 yards between the U.S. center backs and forwards, far from the ideal defensive compactness of about 30 yards (maximum).  Yes, the Yankey goal comes off a counter attack, but again, the problems were there all night.

With all of that said, England certainly got itself psyched up for this game.  While England is a quality side, it would be silly to think that the Three Lions would dominate the U.S. even the majority of times the two teams played.  After all, England hadn’t previously beaten the U.S. since 1988.  England knew what was at stake: Making a statement against the No. 1 ranked team in the world.  The trouble is, that is exactly how teams will view matches against the United States on the big stage at the Women’s World Cup.  Sweden, Colombia and North Korea will all be ready to bring their best games against the United States, so it is realistic to expect inspiring performances even from the likes of an underdog like Colombia.

England might not be the model program in the women’s game (Germany can take that claim), but the style and precision of play put forth by the Three Lions on Saturday is something the United States would be wise to emulate.

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