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Algarve Cup

Ellis experiments as USWNT beats Switzerland

USWNT coach Jill Ellis. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

USWNT coach Jill Ellis. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

The United States women’s national team stayed unbeaten at the 2015 Algarve Cup with a 3-0 win over Switzerland on Friday. Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach scored.

The win sets up the United States to go through to the tournament final with a win on Monday over Iceland. The U.S. opened the tournament in Portugal on Wednesday with a 2-1 win over Norway.

Morgan opened the scoring in the 54th minute, when she was left unmarked six yards from goal and tapped in Lauren Holiday’s free kick. It was Morgan’s 51st career goal.

Rodriguez came on at halftime and blew a golden opportunity in the 63rd minute, pushing an open header wide from five yards out. But Rodriguez made amends in the 72nd minute, patiently settling a rebound inside the 18-yard box and turning to finish with her left foot.

Wambach scored in the 81st minute — one minute after entering the match — on a left-footed chip to make it 3-0.

Hope Solo was called upon once in net and came up big, saving Lara Dickenmann’s hard, high shot from 20 yards out in the 60th minute. Solo also punched away a floating cross early, learning from Wednesday’s match, when she tried to catch an early cross and dropped it.

Switzerland stayed patient defensively in the first half — much like Norway and England successfully did in recent matches against the United States — but didn’t pose much threat offensively.

Three things that stood out from the match:

Ellis experimenting: Some good, some bad

U.S. coach Jill Ellis is experimenting with some of her personnel at the Algarve Cup, as she should, making six substitutions against Switzerland. The relatively weak group allows the United States to try different combinations and still pick up results, which has most noticeably allowed Julie Johnston to pick up to straight 90-minute matches. Johnston’s play was a bit direct and she was caught ball-watching on Norway’s goal on Wednesday, but she gained experience that she may need come June if injuries pile up (Christie Rampone’s injury is exactly why she is playing so much now). Johnston’s stock has risen the most thus far this tournament solely for the experience she is gaining.

Megan Rapinoe got her first start of the year after spraining her right knee in January training camp and she looked rusty, giving away several passes in her 45 minutes of action. Amy Rodriguez got 45 minutes to impress — extensive minutes for her, all things considered — scoring a goal and waffling on a good chance for one earlier.

Shannon Boxx picked up her first minutes with the U.S. in almost two full years, while Christen Press saw time as both Morgan’s strike partner and a pseudo No. 10 behind the forwards. One noticeable and increasingly concerning trend is the deep play of Morgan Brian, who is best suited in a more attacking role but played as deep as ever on Friday, often sitting just above Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn to provide cover for the fullbacks who just pushed forward. Neither Brian nor Lauren Holiday is a defensive midfielder, but it’s clear that they will continue to be tasked into taking on those roles.

Carli Lloyd is the team’s engine

Christie Rampone’s absence yielded the captain’s armband to Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach in recent matches. Lloyd has embraced the responsibility, but it’s merely a formality for a player who is consistently battling in the midfield. At times that means scoring big goals, as she did in Wednesday’s win over Switzerland. At other times that means taking a yellow card and setting the tone, as she did on Friday when she hauled down Switzerland’s Lara Dickenmann after Lloyd felt she didn’t get a deserved foul call.

Ellis’ insistence on playing Lloyd in a hybrid wide role in a 4-2-2-2 formation has the midfielder out of position, but it gives Lloyd the freedom to roam more — albeit leaving the U.S. susceptible on the wings. Lloyd has the work rate to successfully fill that free role, and teammates feed off of it. Lloyd said after Wednesday’s win that she is sick of losing, and her actions are backing up her words.

Lauren Holiday’s set pieces are difference-makers


Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces — their importance to matches is, has and always will be huge. For a United States team that has at times struggled to break down opponents from the run of play — and for a team with height and great athletic ability — they are of the utmost importance. Winning won’t always be pretty. Lauren Holiday’s set pieces over the past six months in particular have been exceptionally dangerous, again proving effective on Friday as Holiday found a wide-open Morgan for the first goal of the match.

Most effective have been Holiday’s corner kicks, which are almost always consistently a threat to go directly into the net or deflect in as they drop into the mixer in the box. Holiday again came close to scoring an Olimpico goal — directly off a corner kick — on Friday, something she has tried on several occasions with the United States. She scored directly from a corner kick for FC Kansas City in July.

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