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Tobin Heath and Christen Press break down ‘disastrous’ half for USWNT

Jill Roord gave the Netherlands a 1-0 lead against the USWNT in the first half of the group-stage match. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Tobin Heath and Christen Press gave voice to what plenty of U.S. women’s national teams fans are thinking following the 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in the World Cup group stage.

The two-time World Cup champions are watching this year’s tournament from home and are breaking down each USWNT match as the hosts of “The RE-CAP Show.” On the latest episode, Heath and Press criticized the team’s decision-making, especially in what Heath called a “disastrous” first half.

“If I was to close my eyes right now, and if you were to tell me that we tied the Netherlands 1-1, I think I would have said, ‘OK, not terrible,’” she said. “But I didn’t close my eyes and watch that game. They were wide open. And what I will say is there’s a result and then there’s performance.”

Looking at the result, a 1-1 draw still gives the USWNT a solid chance to win Group E with a win against Portugal at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday.

“But performance — I mean, that first half was disastrous. And I don’t think there’s any one individual that you point to and say that individual didn’t play well,” Heath said. “I think I looked out on the field and I saw a lot of people that didn’t know what they were doing.”

After the USWNT entered the half trailing 1-0, a much-improved second half saw the team tie the score on a Lindsey Horan header. The energy and belief in the final 45 minutes reminded everyone “what we love cheering for about the U.S.,” Heath said. She also described how Horan had manifested her game-tying goal in conversation with Heath before the match.

“I’m so proud of her,” Heath said. “She told me that she was gonna do that, and she did it. Like, that to me is a U.S. women’s team captain. When the team needed something, she brought it.”

While the USWNT scored on a corner kick and finished with 11 in the match, Heath keeps “coming back” to the ways in which the team could be more effective on corner kicks and other set pieces. A lack of consistency has made it hard for the team to get the timing right, she said.

Later in the show, injured Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema came on to discuss the match with Heath. Miedema echoed Heath’s tactical analysis, noting that the USWNT would have done well to create more width in their attack.

“If they would have made it a bit wider, you could have run at them. As you know yourself as a winger, you would have loved to get the ball and then go into one-on-one,” Miedema said. “I think you guys then create those opportunities.”

Miedema also questioned whether the USWNT’s tactics played to the strengths of its roster, specifically referring to Alex Morgan, who head coach Vlatko Andonovski has said is playing in a “bit of a different role” at this World Cup.

“I think it’s hard to see some of your players not being able to actually get into their strengths,” she said. “I think if you look at Alex Morgan, she’s probably one of the best strikers in the world for more than a decade now. But she obviously doesn’t get the balls into the box that she probably needs. So you probably need to adjust a bit to the players that you have, and I felt like in our game that didn’t happen.”

To Miedema, Rose Lavelle made a “big difference” in the second half, which helped the USWNT play better from that point.

Still, despite some stronger and weaker individual performances, the team’s play as a whole is the root of the problem. Press described an “intangible feeling” that is lacking so far from the 2023 squad.

“The reason that the U.S. women’s national has won consistently is because of the intangible, and the intangible feeling was there,” she said. “I was even just reading what people were saying in the second half and it was the feeling that every single person in this country believed that we were going to come back and score, and they played like that.

“And I’ve been on the pitch with this team and I haven’t felt that. And that’s what scares me the most.”

That does not mean the team will not be able to build its identity during the World Cup. And that process already is underway.

“To me, it’s another performance where in that first half I saw 11 individuals out on the field trying to play a game of soccer,” Heath said. “And then in the second half I saw 11 individuals that came together as the U.S. women’s team to try to win a game.”