In one of their final international friendlies before the World Cup, the Matildas were defeated 5-3 by world no.1 ranked side USA in Colorado.
2. Australia have defensive problems, too
Steph Catley was a huge miss for the Matildas yesterday.
Not only does she have a wealth of experience playing at the top level against the kinds of players who will be featuring in the World Cup, but her speed, endurance, and wicked left foot means she is one of Australia’s best left-sided attacking players when she is given the opportunity to bomb forward.
One of the biggest questions heading into France in June is: in the absence of Catley, who can the Matildas turn to that offers a similar aggressive style while also staying defensively disciplined?
Yesterday, it was Newcastle Jets defender Gema Simon's turn. Unfortunately, Simon was not able to effectively fill the Catley gap in an attacking nor in a defensive manner.
Almost from the kick-off, Simon was tasked with marking Thorns forward and USA veteran Tobin Heath. While Heath is known for her trickery, it took a lot less to out-smart the inexperienced Simon; Heath was able to make several runs in behind, either from long through-balls or working in combinations with USA midfielder Rose Lavelle and overlapping full-back Sonnett.
In the opening period of the first half, it felt as though the first goal would be coming down this right side as the USA over-loaded Simon after recognising that she was out of her depth.
A goal was almost a certainty in this exact manner after Heath got in behind and tried to chip Williams, but the ball skipped just wide of the far post.
When pacey right winger Mallory Pugh was then substituted on in the 66th minute, it was only a matter of time before she would get the best of the exhausted Simon – ultimately scoring twice, in part because Simon was caught out of position. Whether the USA would have taken a similar approach against the more experienced Catley remains unknown.
However, it wasn’t just Simon who had issues yesterday. While Carpenter was voted the Player of the Match by the Matildas fans, she too made defensive errors. Although her ability to bomb up the field, as a mirror to Catley, is often praised, her defensive discipline remains questionable.
For example, Carpenter’s forward movement meant she was well out of position for the USA’s opening goal—the long ball going straight over her head to Alex Morgan, who Clare Polkinghorne then had to shift across to try and defend.
Carpenter—watching the ball—was too far advanced up the field to be able to drop and help Polkinghorne keep Morgan at bay. Morgan then ended up bodying Polkinghorne off the ball and charging towards the area, turning the shifting Kennedy before scoring the USA’s first goal.
Carpenter was also part of the collective fault for the USA’s equaliser by Tobin Heath. Charged with marking left winger Rapinoe, Carpenter allowed the veteran winger to get a cross in across the crowded six-yard box.
While it wasn’t met by any diving headers, the ball did come out the other side and to the feet of Sonnett, who clipped the ball into the back post where Rapinoe and Heath were waiting.
In the replays, you see the young Carpenter get up slowly from her first missed challenge on Rapinoe and simply watch on as the 33-year-old USA winger got up immediately and sprinted back into an attacking position. If Tobin Heath hadn’t have met the cross, Rapinoe – or the nearby Morgan – surely would have.
It’s an issue that will be plaguing head coach Ante Milicic so close to the World Cup, particularly given the history of injuries that Catley has had and the inconsistent performances of Carpenter.
Given the number of games that are played at these tournaments in such a short amount of time, a solid replacement for both Catley and Carpenter is needed—whether the players who are currently in camp with an eye for taking those spots are capable of stepping up when they need to remains unknown.