Welcome back, Alex Morgan. In her second national team appearance after a seven-month layoff, the Portland Thorns forward notched a brace for the United States on Thursday night in a 2-2 friendly draw against France.
She came on at halftime for Heather O'Reilly and wasted little time in making her presence felt. The 24-year-old leveled the match at 1-1 in the 56th minute with a fantastic left-footed effort from long range:
Morgan got a bit lucky with a shot caroming in off the left post, but sometimes you have to ride your luck. You can't win the raffle if you don't buy a ticket.
The goal was Morgan's first in over a year and tied her with Julie Foudy for 10th all-time in USWNT history, per the U.S. women's national team:
To her credit, Foudy took the news in stride:
After Amandine Henry put France ahead in the 68th minute, Morgan once again provided the spark in front of goal. She found the back of the net in the 85th minute:
Her individual brilliance helped overshadow what was an otherwise lackluster performance from the U.S.
Coach Jill Ellis was missing two of her biggest stars. Goalkeeper Hope Solo had a family commitment, while all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach was out with a strained LCL:
Ashlyn Harris, deputized as Solo's replacement, gifted France a penalty kick when she brought down Louisa Necib in the 18-yard box in the 26th minute. Necib looked to be going away from goal and had little chance of scoring before getting hauled down, but you've seen those penalties given before, so Harris had little room for argument.
Necib stepped up to the spot and drilled home the game's first goal in the 27th minute. That goal was coming for France, as they enjoyed much of the advantage in the first half.
This friendly offered Ellis a chance to experiment with different lineups in order to find the formation that best suits both her tactics and players at her disposal. Ellis spoke about how the U.S. had a few different looks in the first matchup against France last week, per Soccerly's Jeff Kassouf:
Regardless of how you align players, it's how you want to play in that alignment, so I think what we've really tried to focus on is relationships. So the outside back moving forward, the (No.) 9, the (No.) 10, we start to look at those. I saw some really good things.
I really do want the interchange, and just making us hard to defend. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s about moving the defense so that you can exploit that. So I think the more that we can move and play off of each other, the more that we'll cause problems for the defense.
You always see this with new managers. They want to implement their system, and as a result, fluidity is sacrificed in the early fixtures.
The United States looked like a work in progress on Wednesday night.
It didn't help that France were a much better side than they were in their 1-0 loss on June 14. Kassouf noted that Les Bleus weren't sitting back and letting the Americans dictate the pace:
After Morgan's first equalizer, the United States enjoyed a positive spell. That was short-lived, though, as Henry put France ahead, 2-1, in the 68th minute. Ali Krieger attempted to eliminate an attacking threat from Les Bleus, but she hit the ball right into the path of Henry. The Lyon forward didn't spoil the chance, tucking a low shot into the bottom right corner:
Christen Press nearly provided an immediate equalizer, but her shot hit the post and was knocked away for a corner kick.
After Morgan leveled the match for the second time, Harris redeemed herself by making a last-ditch dive with a French attacker bearing down in the 87th minute that preserved the draw for the U.S.
Tobin Heath nearly won the game in extra time, but her close-range shot was clutched gratefully to the chest of French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi.
All in all, it wasn't a great performance from the United States, but that's to be expected with a new coach. Ellis is still very much in the feeling-out phase.
Morgan's performance, on the other hand, was very encouraging. She's the best American female soccer player at the moment, so having her back on form is a massive boost.
Starting XI Grades
|United States Starting XI Grades|
|Lineup via USSoccer.com|
|France Starting XI Grades|
|Eugenie Le Sommer||B-|
Both teams will be focusing on their lead-ins for the 2015 Women's World Cup. France sit atop Group 7, three points ahead of Finland, while the United States have the CONCACAF Women's Championship ahead in October to determine which sides will join host Canada in the tournament.