It was a nightmare for the United States, a side which have now lost three games on their own turf this year and scored zero goals, and Australia’s display, not just beating the USNWT, but outplaying them, has sparked furious post mortems amidst the very passionate women’s football fan base.
Coach Jill Ellis has come under increasing fire for the way her side was exposed against Alen Stajcic’s Aussies, even if she is swatting those criticisms by re-iterating that her focus at the moment is growing her playing pool and exposing and evaluating players to prepare USNWT for the heightened competition in women’s football.
That explanation didn’t quite cut it.
“Unfortunately, this match had neither (performance or result),” wrote equalizersoccer.com’s Dan Lauletta. “Save for the opening quarter hour which Australia managed to weather and the obligatory, final minute push, the U.S. allowed Australia to dictate this match.
“And that is a problem. Not because it happened in this match, but because it has been happening over and over again.”
Indeed, Lauletta referenced Lydia Williams’ performance as a sign that the US’ edge – mental superiority – on top of fitness, depth or individual brilliance – was now withering away.
“It makes me reflect on the World Cup final two years ago when I chatted with Williams and she lamented how mentally tough the United States was. That decades old mental edge is slipping away though. And that could be as detrimental in the next cycle as anything else.”
Now, the challenge is for this performance to be produced when it really matters, says the Matildas boss.
“We have to keep it in perspective, we beat America (US) in America,’’ Stajcic told News Corp.
“But we drew (2-2) with gold medallists Germany at the Olympics (in 2016) and we have beaten previous world champions Japan.
“I think we have shown we can beat the best teams on the planet.
“We need to show that we can beat these teams regularly in tournaments and we haven’t shown that yet.
“We can beat anyone on the day but to win a medal or a trophy what we’re aspiring to win, it takes a bit more, we need a lot of squad depth.”
But, Australia’s win, on America’s soil, is a perfect snapshot of how the women’s international landscape is changing.
ESPN’s Graham Hays wrote: “This is a tournament of nations. These days, there are far more nations that matter in women’s soccer. And far more of them are capable of beating the United States than ever before.
“Like Brazil and Japan, the other teams in the tournament, Australia is now on that list — which is both why the United States is trying to remake itself and why that is proving so difficult.”
He added: “What will worry, disappoint, frustrate or infuriate many is that the U.S. women again generally failed to threaten the goal until those familiar faces entered as second-half substitutes. Until the game necessitated throwing caution to the wind and attacking with numbers. The idea of a process might not worry most, but the perception of a lack of progress will.”
In The New York Times, Caitlin Murray mused: “But with that long-term approach has come a less polished, less cohesive United States team”.
Despite the mitigating experimenting, chopping and changing, patience from people used to seeing the team win, and win, and then … win, is thin.
The performance itself, as well as the state of the side, was widely criticised, declared as exposed by Australia.
Pundit Julie Foundy, who called the game for ESPN, said Australia exposed a US side who had the wrong tactics, and who struggled with Ellis’ tinkering: “It’s just a little flat, wasn’t it?
“Poor in the final third, poor in midfield.
“I give credit to Australia: three in midfield, three up front, they fly their outside backs forward. They get aggressive and didn’t go into their shell. The US didn’t have it in them.”
“The team’s finishing and its general forward movement have been abysmal, as they lack any kind of excitement in the final third. Continued defensive mistakes aren’t reassuring, either,” assessed Deadspin’s Lauren Theisen, who pointed to Australia’s improvement over the last World Cup and Olympics, and the win on Friday, as an “encouraging sign” for the sport, with Germany and US no longer able to rest on their laurels before major tournaments.
“It was another lackluster performance by the United States, full of missed opportunities and mistakes,” assessed equalizersoccer’s Allison Lee. “It was only a matter of time before the Aussies would capitalize on one of them, and the goal-scoring play came off a poor defensive play by a relatively inexperienced backline.”
Even Ellis admitted the US couldn’t cope with Australia’s rampant press and energy.
“Explaining the lack of chances, she alluded to her outside backs’ troubles adjusting to the Matildas’ pressure, creating a reticence to establish the team’s attacking shape,” explained fourfourtwo’s Richard Farley. “Those outside backs, Casey Short and Taylor Smith, have 11 and one international appearances, respectively.”
Americansoccernow.com analyst John D.Halloran was more measured, assessing that Ellis was damned if she pandered to the veterans, and damned if daring experiments sparks the rarity in US Women’s football: losses.
“With two more games left in this tournament—against the No. 6-ranked Japanese and the No. 8-ranked Brazilians—the U.S. will need to put forth a markedly improved performance to make fans believe Ellis has the vision needed to take the team forward into preparations for the 2019 World Cup.”