EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – At their most basic concepts, the goals for the United States and France women’s national teams in Thursday’s friendly are the same: progress.
But when two of the world’s top four teams meet for the second time in six days at Rentschler Field, the measurements of that progress are more intangible for France. For Jill Ellis’ U.S. squad – which beat France 1-0 on Saturday – seeing more possession and interchange in a new formation is still priority No. 1 – along with the result, of course.
“One of the things we talked about is our performance,” Ellis said Wednesday before the team’s training session. “I said, ‘listen, if we maximize our performance, the scoreline should be in our favor.’ But the reality is I’m looking for longer periods of possession, more team defending, recognizing opportunities to press – so that’s been the worry, is focusing on ourselves.”
Ellis has implemented a 4-3-3 in hopes of optimizing the United States’ embarrassment of offensive riches. On Saturday, the system took many different shapes – looking like a 4-5-1 at times and even a 4-4-2 when Lauren Holiday pushed higher into the attack from her No. 10 role. The U.S. dictated large stretches of play, but France had several counterattacking opportunities in the first half that forced a pair of saves from Hope Solo and another from the woodwork.
France will be looking to obtain a result on Thursday, no doubt, but the battle – as it always is for France, it seems – is psychological.
“The United States, they think, ‘we win every time,’” France forward Gaëtane Thiney said. “I think in France we must think that we win all games. For us, it is a psychological (difference) between the two teams.”
Thursday, just like Saturday, qualifies as a big game for France against the United States, the No. 1 team in the world. It’s a measuring stick less than a year from the World Cup in Canada. Thursday is a chance for France to beat the top-ranked Americans, but also for Les Bleues to prove to themselves that they are capable of such a result on the big stage, a task as mental as it is physical. France has never beaten the senior U.S. squad, managing one draw in 15 matches.
“It’s good to play against the U.S. and against the best team, and to play a high-level team,” France coach Philippe Bergeroo said on Wednesday. “There is a difference between the U.S. and France – it’s good to play the best team.”
The U.S. women are similarly relishing the chance to play a legitimate World Cup title contender, which doesn’t happen often. Qualifying in October should be nothing more than a formality for the Americans despite 2010 struggles, with 3.5 World Cup berths now available and no Canada to worry about (they qualified automatically as hosts).
France suffered defeat to the United States in the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup and the group stage of the 2012 Olympics, blowing an early 2-0 lead. U.S. forward Alex Morgan, who played for the national team for the first time this year on Saturday after seven months out with a left ankle injury, remembers those matches well.
“We’ve really been looking forward to these games against France, because we’ve played them in the World Cup, we’ve played them in the Olympics, and they’ve only gotten better and better,” she said. “For us, that’s forcing us to get better and to hold each other accountable.”
Notes: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo will not be with the team for Thursday’s match due to personal reasons. She earned her 71st U.S. shutout on Saturday, tying Briana Scurry for the all-time record. Abby Wambach did not practice due to her LCL strain, and Ali Krieger’s participation was limited.
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