EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Jill Ellis and the United States women’s national team wanted a test, and they got it from France.
Les Bleues showed the U.S. two very different looks in their two-match set over the last week, effectively counterattacking in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the United States and even more effectively keeping the ball and dominating large stretches of play in Thursday’s 2-2 draw at Rentschler Field.
For the top-ranked United States, there are few better ways to prepare for a World Cup – now one year away – than with matches against a French team ranked No. 4 in the world that could be a legitimate World Cup title contender.
“Any time you can play a team like this, I think this is the first time in a really long time where we’ve played a team that is pretty much up to our level, so it was a great, fantastic night to play,” U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd said.
France took the lead in the 27th minute when Louisa Necib drew a penalty kick and finished the kick from the spot, and from there Les Bleues settled into the match, keeping possession for what felt like almost the entirety of the remaining half.
“We worked on the midfield coming back to get the ball tonight,” France coach Philippe Bergeroo said.
Most of France’s chances came on the counterattack on Saturday in Tampa, Fla., forcing goalkeeper Hope Solo to make a few big saves, along with her post, which kept one first-half chance from Eugénie Le Sommer out of the net.
“They were definitely throwing numbers at us,” Lloyd said. “I think the first game we played them, they did a really good job of countering us, and I thought in the first half we did a pretty good job of countering them on transition. But they play good soccer. Any time you give them space and time, they are really, really good at moving the ball out, getting it out to the other side, playing in between those gaps and seems.”
The second half was markedly better from the United States, not just on the scoresheet, but in possession and opportunities as well. Alex Morgan scored twice, offering further encouragement as she gets back to full fitness following seven months out due to injury.
Those final 45 minutes offered further encouragement in what will likely be the team’s toughest test of the year. A still unconfirmed home match against Switzerland awaits in mid-August, and October’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers are unlikely to present much trouble, despite the scare they brought four years ago.
So if the 10-year, now 84-match home unbeaten streak were going to fall any time soon, it very likely would have gone down in one of these matches against France. The U.S. came out unscathed against Les Bleues – in the loss column, anyway – and Ellis feels there are positives to take from the matches.
“Second half we stepped it up, solved a few things, and France is a great opponent,” Ellis said. “So I was really pleased with just some of the adjustments and some of the things we did, and our transition I thought was very good tonight.”
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