Wednesday’s victory over France in the Algarve Cup final was just what the doctor ordered for the United States’ confidence ahead of the 2015 World Cup, now less than three months away.
A month removed from being dominated by Les Bleues in a 2-0 loss on French soil, the United States flipped the scoreline to win a 10th Algarve Cup title.
The U.S. will face no greater test before the World Cup than the one it saw on Wednesday, a France team that entered the match the hottest team in the world, having beaten Brazil, Germany, Japan and the United States since October. Centerbacks Laura Georges and Wendie Renard, and midfielder Louisa Necib — three important starters — were all missing for France on Wednesday, but Les Bleues are far better than the teams left on the United States’ pre-World Cup schedule: New Zealand, Ireland, Korea Republic and Mexico.
With a win in the books, the U.S. can head to Canada knowing that they are still capable of beating any team on the day. Whether that comes through gorgeous or awful soccer will be secondary to the result come June.
“I think it’s a huge confidence booster,” U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd said of Wednesday’s win. “We’ve struggle a little bit in our previous games and we played against top contenders and it’s been really good. We came here with a certain game plan, certain things we wanted to work on and today we executed the game plan and scored two fantastic goals. We closed out the tournament on a high note which was a good boost for us.”
Win the midfield and win the match — that was the known formula heading into Wednesday. France controlled a disjointed and narrow United States team last month, but on Wednesday the U.S. plugged the midfield defensively. Lloyd pinched inside and joined Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian from a wide position to clog potential channels for the French midfield, which showed few signs of making its mark on the match.
The United States also benefited from the strong play of several younger players throughout the tournament, capped off by 22-year-old defender Julie Johnston scoring her first senior international goal in her third start of the tournament.
“It was a big tournament for Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg, Christen Press and Julie Johnston in terms of getting experience at this level,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “I said to them at the beginning of camp, it’s really about finding ways to win and, sometimes you have to find ways to win when you don’t play well. Sometimes you win pretty or ugly. This has to be our mindset moving forward to gain the advantage.”
Ellis made the necessary adjustments to beat France on Wednesday, directly providing an uptick in confidence for the coach as much as, if not more than, anybody on the team.
“I thought we got numbers around the ball and we limited the space better than we did before when we played them,” Ellis said of Wednesday’s win. “The aggression and the defensive battles for 50-50 balls were really important to the outcome of this game so, I was really pleased.”
The issues pertaining to Ellis’ narrow system of choice and the United States’ inability to break down teams that sit in — hardly a worry on Wednesday — have not disappeared. But for a day, the U.S. is back on top. And for a team that over-relies on confidence and disproportionately uses media narrative as motivation, the U.S. sounds like it just got back a morsel of its swagger.
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