U.S. women's national soccer team blanks Germany in 'fantastic test'

U.S. women's national soccer team blanks Germany in 'fantastic test'

CHESTER, Pa. -- The U.S. women's national team kicked off its 2017 campaign with a convincing win.

Lynn Williams and the USWNT pushed past a competitive German side to claim the 1-0 win in its first match of the 2017 SheBelieves Cup tournament on Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. 

"Fantastic test," USWNT coach Jill Ellis said. "What we've been trying to do is work on playing all around, on very specific things. Germany is hard to break down and physically they are organized. Transitions are good. Every level we got tested. I think the confidence our players had on the ball and to play out, that was a big card to put in our back pocket."

Not perfect, as FIFA's top-ranked American-side slowly warmed to a new 3-4-1-2 formation, the victory was still a confidence-boosting one. Germany is the second-ranked team in the world. The match was both clubs' first in 2017. 

"We want to be playing teams like this," USWNT captain Carli Lloyd said. "It's going to test us and that's what we need, ultimately. There's no better tournament than this. We're going to have some great games lined up this year against some top teams. It's what we want and it's really where we can work on stuff and implement things." 

The USWNT broke the scoreless draw in the 56th minute, when Christen Press stole the ball from Isabel Kerschowski and tore into the box from the right side. Cutting aggressively to the middle, Press fired off a strong shot that deflected off the crossbar and in the direction of Tobin Heath, whose attempt deflected off a defender and to the feet of Lynn Williams for her second career goal and 1-0 USWNT lead.

"She defended really well, got the ball and took a great shot," said Williams, who was making her sixth cap. "Tobin was right there to put it back across and I happened to be there at the right time to put it in the goal."

The goal activated Williams, who came alive and nearly buried a second goal from the doorstep just minutes later, firing it high. The 23-year-old California native was subbed out in the 79th minute for Alex Morgan, but made an imprint on the game.

"It just gives me confidence," she said. "Every single time you come to this team you have to be on your A game. We still need to know how to play with each other, but the win in general is good for the team."

The match was a homecoming for the FIFA Women's Player of the Year award winner Lloyd and Julie Johnston. Lloyd, who is from Delran, New Jersey, made the start in the midfield, while defender Johnston, fiance of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, was not used.

"I thought we definitely outplayed them and we definitely could have had three or four more goals," Lloyd said. "I think the formation suits us. At the end of the day, it's soccer. We just have to move the ball and see what's on and we did that tonight and had some great attacks."

The USWNT will take on England on March 4 at Red Bull Arena.

Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

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Borek Dockal's MLS debut uneven, but a start

CHESTER, Pa. — When Saturday’s game ended, Union midfielder Borek Dockal told head coach Jim Curtin two things: that his body felt fine and that he knows he can play a lot better.

That’s probably just about all Union fans need to hear.

Sure, it was a mostly uneventful and somewhat disappointing MLS debut for the team’s new Designated Player in a scoreless draw with Columbus Crew SC (see observations). But it’s also a long season and Dockal is still trying to mesh with his teammates and get his fitness up after dealing with a preseason ankle injury.

“I think he had some good moments,” Curtin said. “I think you can see his quality and how comfortable he is on the ball. He can pass and he looks forward. … [But] it’s been a week where he’s really trained with the group, so you see a ball played behind when he’s looking to play through. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But overall [I’m] happy with the amount of minutes he was able to push.”

Dockal, signed only three days before the start of the 2018 season, was a tougher critic on himself after sometimes struggling to connect passes and move to the right spot in his 77 minutes of action. But the Czech playmaker also acknowledged that he needs more time to adapt to MLS and learn his teammates’ tendencies.

“For me, it was the first game so it was a little bit about how to find my space on the field, to see how my teammates are moving, which kind of positions should I be in the most to help them,” said Dockal, who sat out the Union’s first game — a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. “So I just have to learn from this first game and be better the next game.”

Expectations will certainly be raised when the Union play their next game, in two weeks, on the road against the Colorado Rapids. But expectations are already high for Dockal, who has experience in the Champions League and with the Czech Republic national team.

Along with fellow newcomer David Accam — who he said the team needs to find more on the wing — Dockal is filling in what was a major position of need last year and should provide a major offensive punch in the midfield, playing in front of veterans Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

“My performance definitely can be better,” Dockal said. “But I have to start at some point so it would actually be a miracle if I played an excellent game today.”

“Overall, it’s a first step and nothing replicates these games,” Curtin said. “We didn’t put him on the ball as much as we would have liked. ... But he's an incredibly talented guy."

Union lifeless in draw with Crew

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Union lifeless in draw with Crew

CHESTER, Pa. — In a matchup of two teams with perfect records, it ended up being a stalemate.

On Saturday afternoon at Talen Energy Stadium, the Union and Columbus Crew SC fought to a scoreless draw as goalkeepers Andre Blake and Zack Steffen finished with three saves apiece.

The Union move to 1-0-1 on the season while the Crew, who entered the day in first place in the Eastern Conference, sit at 2-0-1.

• With the Union coming off a weird early bye week, the game lacked fluidity for much of the first half as both teams only put one shot on target before halftime. 

• Borek Dockal, the Union’s new Designated Player, made his MLS debut after sitting out the opener. The Czech playmaker looked tentative early in the match and had some giveaways in the second half before coming out in the 77th minute. It’s too early, of course, to make any judgements but that probably wasn’t the kind of debut head coach Jim Curtin hoped to see.

• David Accam, the team’s other prized newcomer, enjoyed good start to the second half and was active throughout in his second game in Philly. It shouldn’t be long before he opens his account for the Union.

• Steffen came through with a couple of big saves early in the second half for Columbus. It might be hard for some Philly fans to see the Downingtown native and former Union academy player on the visiting side, even if they do get to cheer for a star ’keeper of their own in Blake.

• CJ Sapong, fresh off signing a new contract, couldn’t get on the ball much or even get any shots off. The Union striker had three goals and three assists in seven previous meetings against the Crew.

• On the other end of the field, Gyasi Zardes was held in check after scoring three goals in his first two games for Columbus following a trade from the LA Galaxy. That’s a good sign for the progress of Philly’s young center backs, Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty.

• Ray Gaddis entered the game as a halftime sub for Fabinho, who left with a leg injury. Fabinho and Gaddis are both two of the club’s longest-tenured players, and Gaddis being able to play as both a left back and right back is a nice luxury to have off the bench.

• Despite an announced attendance of 15,323, the crowd at Talen Energy Stadium looked smaller than usual — and with less energy. A lot of that probably has to do with the on-field play but in general, the Union seem to have a better home-field advantage during night games, when the atmosphere is more electric.

• A shoutout to the Sons of Ben, though, for unveiling some cool Philly tifo before kickoff — a “cheesesteak shark” preying on a boat of Crew rowers underneath the word “Jawns.” 

• The Union — who are 4-1-1 in their last six meetings with the Crew — are off again next weekend before before facing Colorado on March 31 in their first road game of 2018.