Jill Ellis has Made the Proper Adjustments to U.S. Lineup

After four games in this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s play left a lot to be desired. Yes, they came in first in their group in the opening round’s “Group of Death, and secured a 2-0 win over Columbia in the first game of the knockout stage, but the U.S. was struggling to find themselves. However, if their play the last two games is any indication, the U.S. will be a heavy favorite to win the World Cup on Sunday, July 5 no matter who wins tonight between defending champion Japan and England.

WINNIPEG, MB - JUNE 12:  Head coach Jill Ellis of the United States watches her team warm up before taking on Sweden in the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 match at Winnipeg Stadium on June 12, 2015 in Winnipeg, Canada.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

WINNIPEG, MB – JUNE 12: Head coach Jill Ellis of the United States watches her team warm up before taking on Sweden in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 match at Winnipeg Stadium on June 12, 2015 in Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Many observers, including this writer, were calling for Ellis to change her formation from a 4-4-2 heading into the quarterfinal match against China. The attack was sputtering, and the U.S. were going to be without starting midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday due to yellow card accumulation. What better time to change formations than before the quarterfinal match to take advantage of the forwards on the roster?

Well, Ellis stayed with a 4-4-2, but inserted 22 year-old Morgan Brian as a holding midfielder to allow Carli Lloyd to get forward as more of a traditional attacking midfielder. This move proved excellent as Morgan helped the U.S. dominate in possession and thwart the China attack. Meanwhile. Lloyd pushed forward not having to worry about picking and choosing when to push forward as had been the case in the first four games of the World Cup employed in central midfield with Lauren Holiday who also has strong attacking skills. Lloyd scored the lone goal of the game in the 51st minute heading home a goal on a beautiful ball into the back from center back Jill Johnston who has used the World Cup as her coming out party that she is the new unquestioned leader of the defense.

Ellis made two other strong moves in the starting lineup. Kelly O’Hara started at right midfield in place of Rapinoe with Tobin Heath moving to Rapinoe’s left side. O’Hara had a strong game moving up and down the right flank defending then helping on the attack. She continued to play even after suffering a bloody nose after a Chinese player went up for a header and headed O’Hara on the bridge of her nose. O’Hara looked like a warrior on the sideline waiting for the head official to signal her back onto the pitch after being cleaned up. The other good move to the starting lineup was moving Abby Wambach to the bench in favor of Amy Rodriguez who provided a great deal of speed up top and was constantly pressuring the Chinese defenders into making mistakes.

In the match last night against the Germans who are ranked number one in the world ahead of the second-ranked Americans, Ellis played what appeared to be a 4-2-3-1. Goalkeeper Hope Solo and the starting defenders have been solid and started every match this World Cup. The two holding midfielders ahead of the back four were Brian and Holiday who did a great job of allowing the U.S. to dominate possession and stop the attack of the high scoring Germans who had been averaging 11.8 shots on goal during the World Cup. Yesterday, Germany had one shot on net that was easily tipped over the crossbar by Solo. The three midfielders were Lloyd in the middle flanked by Rapinoe on her left and Heath on her right. This left the always dangerous Alex Morgan alone up top. Morgan had plenty of chances as the U.S. had no problem getting forward in the 4-2-3-1. In fact, Morgan’s quick feet drew a penalty kick that Lloyd buried to the left of the German keeper in the 69th minute. O’Hara came on as a substitute and scored her first international goal in the 84th minute off a left-footed cross from Lloyd who once again has proven to be a money player for the United States in games they need her the most.

As the U.S. heads to the World Cup final, I would stick with the same starting lineup and formation used against the mighty Germans. Lloyd needs to continue to get forward with Holiday and Brian playing behind her. Wambach would be best utilized coming off the bench late in the match to provide the leadership that is needed as the closing minutes are ticking down. It is not hard to panic in such situations, but Wambach’s vocal leadership from the bench and on the pitch in the waning moments of the game are crucial to the U.S. winning their first cup in sixteen years.

And that’s as I see it!

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