Five takeaways as the USWNT starts 2019 with a split against France and Spain

Christen Press USWNT
Charly Triballeau
The U.S. lost for the first time in 29 matches against the French before bouncing back with a narrow victory against La Roja

The U.S. women’s national team saw its 28-game unbeaten run end on Saturday with a 3-1 loss to World Cup host France, before bouncing back with a 1-0 win at Spain on Tuesday.

The two friendlies will be the last games the team plays outside of the United States before the World Cup, and head coach Jill Ellis will be able to take away plenty from the pair of matches.

Here are five observations from the USWNT’s split in Europe.  

France defeat contains positives

Carli Lloyd USWNT Elise Bussaglia France

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Losing is never an outcome a coach will hope for, but it’s unlikely that Ellis will lose too much sleep over her side’s 3-1 reverse to France. From a narrative standpoint the defeat will likely quell talk that the team was peaking too soon, with the U.S. having entered the game on a 28-game unbeaten run. Defeat in Le Havre will serve as a timely reminder that the USWNT is far from invincible, and will have to bring their best every match at the World Cup to avoid similar outcomes.

The France match was also a useful exercise in that it helped Ellis identify some players and positional combinations that aren’t up to standard. In particular, the midfield trio of Morgan Brian, Lindsey Horan and Crystal Dunn was ineffective, and full-back Emily Fox continued to show that she’s not quite ready for the international level. Better to find out now than in five months.  

Spain's time is coming soon

Andrea Sanchez Falcon

Spain is still an emerging women’s soccer nation on the world stage, but it has shown the potential to make the jump to powerhouse in a hurry.

La Roja will play in just its second World Cup this summer, but the Iberian nation has achieved huge success at the youth level in recent years and those winning ways have begun to trickle up to the senior level. Spain went 8-0-0 in World Cup qualifying, scoring 25 times and conceding just twice.

Spain’s growth was on full display against the United States, with whom they played even for much of the game, even controlling the match for periods with their slick possession style. Jorge Vilda’s side faltered a bit in the final third, but they showed enough to suggest they may be taking their place among the world’s elite sooner rather than later.

Davidson returns with strong performances

Tierna Davidson USWNT

Tierna Davidson was one of the USWNT’s breakout stars in 2018, becoming a regular in the back line at age 19. That progress was derailed in September when Davidson suffered a broken ankle while playing with Stanford University.

Now fully healed, Davidson returned to the fold with substitute appearances against France and Spain and picked up right where she left off. Deployed as a fullback in both matches, Davidson showcased her top-level defensive instincts and comfort on the ball.

Meanwhile Abby Dahlkemper, who is competing with Davidson for a starting center back role next to Becky Sauerbrunn, did not have her best game against France before turning in a better performance against Spain. It will be especially interesting to see how Davidson fares at center back in future matches, as Ellis’ decision on her World Cup starter will likely stem from those performances.

Press makes a statement

Christen Press USWNT

Christen Press had a relatively quiet 2018 by her standards, as she scored just two goals while seeing her status on the team diminish as Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath became clear starters at the winger positions in Ellis’ 4-3-3 formation.

In her first two games of 2019, though, Press made a big statement. The 30-year-old was the USWNT’s best attacking threat in both European friendlies, sending a clear message that Rapinoe and Heath will need to maintain their best form to hold on to their starting roles ahead of the World Cup.

Press made the most of a rare start against France, offering a consistent attacking threat from out wide before making a game-changing substitute appearance against Spain. Just minutes after coming on at halftime, Press showed her blistering pace to beat two defenders on a run that started on her own half of the field before finishing low for the game’s only goal.

France could end the USWNT's World Cup dream

USWNT vs France 2019

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Yes, the United States was missing several key players against France, but the win for Les Bleues was part of a continuing pattern that could spell trouble at the World Cup.

France has emerged as something of a bogey team for the U.S., having won two and drawn one of the teams’ last three matches. The teams’ next meeting may come in slightly more meaningful circumstances: a World Cup quarterfinal.

If France wins Group A and the U.S. wins Group F, and then both sides get through their round-of-16 match, they will face off in a high-profile quarterfinal in Paris on June 28. It’s an unfortunate layout for both teams, as they will likely enter the tournament as the two favorites to lift the trophy. Rather than a showpiece final though, one of the side’s World Cup dreams is shaping up to end in a quarterfinal and if recent history is any indication, it could be the U.S. who goes home empty handed.