The motivation for the U.S. women’s national soccer team before its 2-0 victory over France in Tuesday’s friendly went well beyond beating one of the few foes on the planet that has given it fits through the years.
There were also lingering memories of a humbling setback in this same French venue of Le Havre in January 2019, the last time the top-ranked Americans tasted defeat.
And above all else, there was the need to continue fine-tuning operations in pursuit of a fifth Olympic gold medal this summer in Tokyo. It was the reason Coach Vlatko Andonovski took his squad to Europe to face top-five teams and cast aside experimental starters Tuesday in favor a well-seasoned starting lineup.
Looking every bit like the Olympic favorite, the United States was comfortable and in control from the start against third-ranked but understaffed Les Bleues.
“This team is the best when they are getting tested,” said Andonovski, whose 16-game winning streak to begin his tenure ended Saturday in the Stockholm suburbs with a 1-1 draw to Sweden. “This was a great test for us, to see how quick we can bounce back from some of the things we didn’t do well.”
By the 19th minute, it was 2-0 on goals by Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. Composure ruled the rest of the day as the Americans extended their undefeated run to 39 matches, their longest since a 43-game march between 2012 and 2014. The program record is 51 from 2004 to 2007.
The current surge features a 224-35 scoring advantage and two victories over France on French soil. Tuesday’s meeting was the first since the epic quarterfinal at the 2019 World Cup at a filled stadium in Paris.
The rematch took place in an empty venue in a port city along the English Channel, which also happened to be the site of a 3-1 U.S. defeat in a 2019 World Cup tuneup.
The game lost its fizz in the past week as six French regulars, including star defender Wendie Renard, bowed out because of coronavirus issues at their club, European champion Olympique Lyonnais.
France remained formidable but not at U.S. levels. Andonovski was not fooling around with his lineup, choosing an ensemble that averaged 117 international appearances.
The past six months, he has often tested secondary players as part of the evaluation process before selecting his 18-strong Olympic squad in June. Not on Tuesday. At full strength, the Americans were humming from the opening whistle.
Captain Becky Sauerbrunn said the emphasis was on “energy and cleanliness” with the ball. “Our game against Sweden, we were a little sloppy; we were giving away balls. If our technique breaks down, our tactics break down. And so we wanted to be technically clean for this game and come out flying.”
Morgan was involved in both goals, continuing her steady return from giving birth last year and contracting the coronavirus over the holidays.
In the fifth minute, she drew a penalty kick, which Rapinoe put away for her 59th U.S. goal. In 2019, Rapinoe scored in the fifth minute against France in the World Cup.
Christen Press squandered a golden chance, and an apparent goal by Rapinoe was correctly disallowed because she was offside.
In the 19th minute, Press pushed the ball into a channel between defenders to Morgan, who scored on an angled, eight-yard shot for her 109th goal.
“As a staff, we were talking about how she got the killer instinct back,” Andonovski said of the European camp. “With just a little space and time, she was scoring goals, which was very encouraging to us.”
France’s Pauline Peyraud-Magnin made two superb saves before halftime, and the Americans’ Alyssa Naeher made one. But without a crowd and high stakes, this match paled in comparison with the World Cup showdown.
Control of the match allowed Andonovski to experiment a bit, moving midfielder Rose Lavelle to the front line and playing Sam Mewis and substitute Lindsey Horan together. Usually, there is room for only two of the three attacking midfielders.
Flexibility and depth will serve the United States well in the Olympics’ compact schedule.
“You want the best players on the field at the same time,” Andonovski said. “It was a great opportunity to try things against very good team.”
Neither side was able to take initiative in the second half, a standoff that left the Americans’ lead — and unbeaten streak — undisturbed.
“Two things before the game we talked about was have fun and score early and just crush their momentum,” Morgan said. “And we were able to do both of those.”
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