In the grand scheme of women’s soccer, the SheBelieves Cup does not carry the weight of the World Cup or the aura of the Olympics. So the fact that the top-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team did not retain the title shouldn’t linger long.
What the Americans will have a tough time shaking is the manner of their failures. France was just plain better, displaying superior speed and technical ability, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes and breezing to a 3-0 victory before 21,638 at rain-coated RFK Stadium.
It was the worst U.S. home defeat since the same score line against Germany in the 2003 World Cup semifinals.
The difference between the teams was striking: France (seven points) moved the ball with grace and purpose in setting the terms and winning the championship of a week-long tournament featuring four of the top five teams in the FIFA rankings.
Camille Abily scored twice and Eugenie Le Sommer glided through the U.S. team’s three-back formation to help defeat the reigning world champions for only the second time in 21 meetings (2-17-2).
The setback was the second in four days for the Americans, leaving them last in the field. In perhaps their final appearance at RFK before a new soccer stadium opens in 2018, they lost in the nation’s capital after nine consecutive victories.
“It’s disappointing,” captain Carli Lloyd said. “We came in fourth place. We scored one goal. … Long gone are the days of always winning, and it’s not going to be easy — 2019 [World Cup], 2020 [Olympics], it’s going to be really hard.”
The 1-2-0, three-point performance came seven months after the U.S. team’s earliest elimination in a major tournament (Olympic quarterfinals).
Coach Jill Ellis used the tournament to experiment with formations and test young players against world-class opponents. In that sense, she said she was satisfied with the week-long exercise. The results, though, did not sit well with anyone.
“We’re obviously very, very disappointed but not deterred in terms of what we’re trying to achieve,” she said. “It was all about getting answers. There was a lot of questions asked today.”
Asked if the France defeat, coupled with a 1-0 loss to England on Saturday at Red Bull Arena, was a step backward, she said: “In terms of results, of course.”
Germany’s 1-0 victory over England in the first match of the day left the United States and France with the only pathway to the trophy. With a one-point lead on the Americans, the French needed only a draw to lift the trophy. From the start, though, they were committed to the attack.
The Americans were fortunate to dodge danger in the first minute. Soon, they were plucking the ball out of the back of the net in quick succession.
In the eighth minute, Abily converted a penalty kick after goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher took down Le Sommer. A U.S. giveaway 40 yards from the target had led to a fast, fluid foray, and Le Sommer slipped behind center defender Allie Long.
A minute later, Le Sommer revved her engines and accelerated past Long to collect Wendie Renard’s long ball. Long tried to slow her by yanking her arm and shoulder. Le Sommer brushed it off.
When Becky Sauerbrunn closed in, Le Sommer cut inside, sending the U.S. defender tumbling. Calm and composed, she slipped a low shot past Naeher for her 53rd international goal in just 119 appearances.
The Americans responded with a fury but not a goal. Tobin Heath’s free kick bounded past goalkeeper Meline Gerard before being cleared off the goal line by Laura Georges. Heath ended an electric run by snapping a 19-yard bid a fraction wide.
Three minutes after intermission, Gerard made a reflex block on substitute Crystal Dunn’s redirection of Lloyd’s cross. She then pushed out substitute Mallory Pugh’s effort to the top upper corner.
The outcome was settled in the 63rd minute. Tight, one-touch passing sprung Eve Perisset overlapping on the right side. Abily exploited a channel between Long and Sauerbrunn, and met Perisset’s cross for a simple finish.
“We’re climbing a mountain here; we’re 2 ½ years out from a big event,” midfielder Morgan Brian said. “Sometimes a challenge is the best thing for us. Tonight we had a challenge. We learned a lot about ourselves, and that is important going forward in the process.”
In the first match, Anja Mittag capped a well-constructed buildup in the 44th minute, curling in a 10-yard shot to record her 50th international goal for the second-ranked Olympic gold medalists (four points). Fifth-ranked England (three points) exerted pressure in the second half but lacked the final pass or finishing touch.
The Americans will regroup the first week of April for friendlies against Russia in Frisco, Tex., and Houston.