USWNT overcome problematic midfield to beat joyous Germany

The United States Women’s National Team was able to halt its slide on the world stage with two quick second-half goals to defeat Germany on Sunday night in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ.

On the back foot from the off, the USA struggled to cope with Germany’s high-intensity play and scored in the 18th minute when Jule Brand put a low shot into the net. Although the visitors had a lot of chances in the first half, they could not add to their score.

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Sophie Smith’s quick strike 10 minutes into the second half marked a change of pace for the hosts in their final game of the year. Unable to hang on after tying the game last timeout, the USA made no mistake on Harrison and soon took the lead. Mal Pugh raced the ball over the top, beating Nicole Anyomi as she fell, before slotting home from just outside the box.

Even with a frantic finish to the game, the home team held on to end the year with a win and finally put an end to their poor run of results.

JUMP TO: Player Ratings | Best/Worst Performers | Post Match Quotes | Key Statistics | Upcoming matches

Quick reaction

1. German fluidity brings joy

It has become commonplace to look at Germany’s starting XI and it takes a moment to understand who is in defence, a team that has long relied on midfielders and forwards to build a backline. Still, you can see that with every game since the summer, the team has found a way to play with flow. It’s not quite the total football we associate with Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels, but it uses the same ideas of players moving to cover space, forwards happy to help the defense and defenders looking to add to the attack.

Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg made seven changes between the previous match against the USA and this one, and the team has only improved despite the removal of experience, due to the understanding of a more fluid system by those coming in. Even when the extremely talented 20-year-old Lena Oberdorf had to withdraw with a shoulder injury in the first half, the team did not waver, despite the loss of a key player.

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When attacking midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán was injured at the start of their 2019 World Cup campaign — at the start of Voss-Tecklenburg’s tenure — the team looked lost for the rest of the tournament; flat in attack and unusually spineless. But watching this match, there was a feeling that it didn’t matter who was actually on the pitch for Germany, they weren’t going to back down from the task.

2. Problematic American midfield

There’s no getting away from how much American coach Vlatko Andonovski likes to play three in the middle, indeed it’s something he’s persisted with, despite fierce criticism from all corners. The system could work with a fully fit Sam Mewis and/or Julie Ertz available, but the problem for the coach is that neither is, and Ertz may never be again. So the US perseveres with Rose Lavelle, Andi Sullivan and Lindsey Horan, although it leaves the world champions without much structure in the middle of the park.

When the USA go forward, much of the focus is on the front three to make things work, taking a weak midfield out of the equation in traditional terms. Without the likes of Ertz — who fans remember as always doing the work of two or three players, patrolling and relentlessly mopping up in front of the defense — the U.S. back line has become far more vulnerable and likely to be attacked at will. The “easy” solution would be to find another Ertz to fill the void, but right now there’s no one to do the same, which is why Sullivan looks so bad for the job. This has led to many clamoring for a different shape and the use of a double pivot to add the structure that the USA is so short on.

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The hosts turned the match in New Jersey thanks to moments of individual magic rather than a change of approach, which raises even more questions, not least what Andonovski thinks will happen when the team begins its World Cup campaign.

3. Girma continues to shine

For all the efforts the USA has made in recent games, for as lost as the players have looked, it is Naomi Girma who has brought a consistency and defensive understanding that completely belies her age. Winning just his 10th game against Germany on Sunday, the center back is playing like he’s in his 10th year in the role, bringing a clear and calm head to an exposed American defense.

After their last game against Germany, I was wondering how this USA team is shaping up and who might be on the plane for the World Cup — that is, who is likely to start arriving next summer with Smith looking out of sorts having previously impressed for her representation. There may still be 10 starting spots for the USA, but there is no doubt: Girmina should be the first name on the team for the world champions.

Partnered with Alana Cook last game and veteran Becky Sauerbrunn this outing, the deficiencies of the two defenders she was paired with were only further accentuated by Girma’s complete games at full back.

Player ratings

United States: Alyssa Naeher 7, Becky Sauerbrunn 5, Naomi Girma 7, Emily Fox 5, Sofia Heurta 6, Lindsey Horan 6, Andi Sullivan 5, Rose Lavelle 6, Alex Morgan 6, Mal Pugh 7, Sophia Smith 7
Subs: Kristie Mewis 5, Taylor Kornieck 6, Hailie Mace 5

Germany: Ann-Katrin Berger 6, Sjoeke Nusken 5, Kathrin Hendrich 5, Sophia Kleinherne 7, Nicole Anyomi 7, Lena Oberdorf 6, Jule Brand 6, Linda Dallmann 5, Alexandra Popp 6, Lena Lattwein 7, Svenja Huth 5
Subs: Chantal Hagel 4, Almuth Schult 5, Lina Magull 5, Carolin Simon 5, Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh 5, Paulina Krumbiegel 6

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The best and worst performers

BEST: Naomi Girma, USA. Calm at the back in a chaotic night, Girma once again excelled.

WORST: Chantal Hagel, Germany. Having had a smart cameo last game, Hagel looked at odds with herself this time around, lacking touch and positional play.

After the game: What the players and managers said

Andonovski on USWNT’s winning adjustments: “… And then we just made another adjustment in the second half which was crucial when we went down [Horan] just a little more to allow [Sullivan] to be more aggressive to come in and win some of those balls. At that point we started to take over the game and felt very comfortable in it.”

Voss-Tecklenburg: “We had a good start to the game, 30 or more minutes were very good. They were really present on the field and made good decisions, and then we had a cut when Lena got injured, which was difficult for the team.”

Key Stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)

– Morgan became only the 13th player to reach 200 appearances for the US women’s national team.

– After the win over Germany, the USWNT is now 2W-5L-1D in their last eight games against teams in the top 10 of the FIFA Women’s Rankings.


United States: The USWNT has a pair of friendlies in January in New Zealand to prepare for next summer’s World Cup, where they will play the co-hosts on January 17th and 20th.

Germany: Germany has no scheduled games until the start of the World Cup on July 24, when they will play Morocco in the tournament opener.


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