First things first. France is a very good soccer team. It has reached the quarterfinals in the last two Women’s World Cups, the last two Olympics and the last two Euros. And it has probably underperformed at that, considering the sheer amount of talent on the team.
That said, the United States women’s national team losing 3-0 to the French on Tuesday is a highly unexpected and unsettling outcome.
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Following the late 1-0 defeat by England on Saturday, the second loss in three SheBelieves Cup games – Germany was beaten 1-0 in Tuesday’s opener – cast the Americans into last place in their own tournament. Last year, the USA had gone a perfect 3-0-0 in the first-ever edition.
It was the first time the Americans had lost back-to-back home games since February 2000. It was also the worst U.S. loss since the semifinal of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, when Brazil won 4-0.
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A wide-open game between attacking teams wasn’t slowed any by a slippery and patchy-looking RFK Stadium field and the teeming rain in Washington, D.C. And the USA was instantly pinned back by an aggressive French team in a furious start, which unsettled the American defense.
Olivier Echouafni’s side played three forwards, which proved an insurmountable problem for the USWNT’s three-woman defense that head coach Jill Ellis tried out in this tournament. Isolated in one-on-one situations, the American defense proved all too easy to pull apart.
In the seventh minute, Eugenie Le Sommer was played through by Amel Majri, who rounded Alyssa Naeher and was taken out by the goalkeeper. Camille Abily scored from the spot to put France ahead.
Two minutes later, Wendie Renard picked off a Tobin Heath pass and lumped it over the top to Le Sommer, who shimmied through the U.S. defense and scored herself this time around.
The Americans struggled to create chances yet again. In the first half, a lofted Tobin Heath free kick skipped behind the defense and in front of Meline Gerard that bounced by the goalkeeper and had to be cleared off the line by Camille Catala. Then, on a counter started by Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd found Heath, who made a long run and beat several defenders but curled her shot just wide.
After the break, Heath set up Lloyd, who lost the ball in the box and then won it back. She cut it back for Dunn, but Gerard was alert to her hard shot. Halftime substitute Mallory Pugh cut inside before the hour and unleashed a shot to the near post. It almost surprised Gerard, but not quite.
And that’s when France grabbed a third goal. Eve Perisset overlapped on the right and delivered a low cross to Abily who slipped into a wide gap in the defense and poked it home.
In the midst of a late offensive, Dunn popped a cross from the end-line to Lindsey Horan, who volleyed it home. But Dunn had allowed the ball to roll out of bounds. That’s the closest the U.S. came. The Americans never looked like they were very likely to get back in the game.
Ellis is remaking her team as it begins a new cycle. Some 26 months remain until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France to get it right.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.