Lionesses fall flat in SheBelieves opener

Last night’s game was as frustrating as they come as England succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the USA. The frustration was not so much in the result itself – that wasn’t much of a surprise – but the manner in which the Lionesses were beaten. England spent most of the match chasing the Americans’ shadows, littered with errors and an inability to close down the waves of attack.

While managing to keep themselves in the first half and have some attacking presence, the second period was a story of American dominance. Two goals in four minutes saw the hosts seal the victory. The first was a delightful finish from Christen Press before Carli Lloyd latched onto a deft over the top ball; but both goals were avoidable, down to lapses in concentration.

And it could have been more but for an outstanding performance from Carly Telford between the sticks. The England goalkeeper put in a top-class performance, particularly in the first half, picking up the pieces when her defence were at sixes and sevens. She made several big stops to keep the score level at the break, most notably a really smart double save to deny Lindsay Horan one-on-one.

The other stand-out England performance came in the form of 19-year-old Lauren Hemp. The young England winger made her full debut last night and did not look phased in the slightest by facing the best in the world. She had the beating of Kelley O’Hara who struggled with her strength and pace throughout the game and it was a battle Hemp clearly relished:

I really enjoyed it. The referee wasn’t on our side at times and I gave away a few fouls that were 50/50. But I really enjoyed playing against her. I think I grew in confidence as the game went on; once I got the beating of her, I got more comfortable doing it more. Once you beat her once, you want to do it again and the people around me helped me do that. They gave me confidence before the game began.

But elsewhere, the story was not so pretty. Players who have been in sparkling form domestically struggled in an England shirt. Simple passes were going astray as the Lionesses consistently attempted to play out from the back and the defence ran away from the ball rather than trying to put in a tackle. This instruction has to come from management because they are curbing their natural instincts that we see week in, week out in the FAWSL. The amount of times that Tobin Heath broke into the box under no pressure was unacceptable and had the American forward spent more time finding a better final ball than making a meal of any contact she received, things might have been even worse for the visitors.

While Hemp and Nikita Parris looked bright down the flanks, Ellen White up front received no service of any note. Not for want of trying or running but the Manchester City forward could not get herself into the game and the change for Beth England should have come earlier on. The Chelsea striker would have posed a different threat to the American defence who were almost untroubled in the second half.

Nine months have passed since that semi-final game at the World Cup. Since then England have won two games of the last eight and dropped from 3rd to 6th in the rankings. Much has been said about trying to get this team – that is full of top-quality players – up to the USA’s level but going on last night’s performance, we are even further away than last summer. On the other hand, the USA under new management are appearing to be stepping up another gear, something that Julie Ertz was keen to emphasise:

We as a team feel like we have. It’s just about getting better and holding yourselves to a higher standard. We know that what we did in 2019 isn’t going to win us the Olympics. We learned that in 2015 and 2016. Vlatko has higher standards for us as well. But the team is having fun, training is a lot of fun and I think the energy is high.

So, what happens next? Something has to change and fast. Victory in the next two games of this tournament, against Japan and Spain, are now absolutely crucial. Otherwise the frustration is going to grow, and decisions will have to be made before preparations for Euro 2021 get too heavily impacted. One thing we do know, feeling this flat after a Lionesses performance is not something we want to be feeling again any time soon.

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