It was billed as the biggest test in the lead up to the World Cup and it did not disappoint with the Matildas losing to the USWNT 5-3 in a friendly in Colorado.
Games against the three-time world champions almost exist on a different level and today’s match was no exception.
This coupled with the match being Ante Miličić’s fourth in charge and the Matildas’ last confirmed hit out before France added a lot of layers to an already loaded match.
Australia’s last two games against the USA have been fruitful with a maiden win back in 2017 at the Tournament of Nations, before a 1-1 draw – where Australia lead for most of the match until a 90th minute equaliser – in 2018.
The game plan in those two matches was simple but ultimately effective. The emphasis was placed on defensive solidity with the Matildas happy to concede some possession and territory. The counter attacks were then swift with decisive passes and plenty of space for attackers to run in to and exploit.
That seemed to be missing early on in this game as evidenced by Alex Morgan’s 14th minute opener. Australia looked out of sync and behind the run of play.
Any foray forward appeared off with the wrong pass – more often than not a long pass – being used or the ball being turned over thanks to the intense pressing of the US high up the field and in the centre of the park.
Lisa De Vanna was sensational and it was her equaliser which appeared to settle Australia and allow the team to play in a way fans would be more familiar with against the US.
Miličić used the game to try out some positional changes with Tameka Yallop (née Butt) out on the wing with Caitlin Foord playing behind Sam Kerr as a number 10.
These changes had varying results. Yallop was quiet for large chunks of the game and was unable to bring her usual strengths to the match. Conversely, Foord seemed gain a lot from playing a bit more centrally – maybe not so much as a number 10, but almost as a second striker in behind Kerr.
The most compelling evidence for this move was her solo goal to start the second half.
Employing a front four with two wingers, Kerr central and Foord in behind could be beneficial. But the extra attack comes at a cost with Australia’s midfield set up really unable to match it with the USWNT.
This had consequences going forward and in defence.
Down the other end of the pitch, it was known pre-match that neither Steph Catley nor Laura Alleway would be taking part in this game. This made the back four pretty easy to guess.
Gema Simon has seemingly cemented herself as the second choice left and came up against one of the world’s best in Tobin Heath.
Ellie Carpenter showed why she has become a regular at right back with a goal saving clearance off the line.
It wasn’t one of Australia’s best performances defensively – conceding five is never a positive – and it will be an area Miličić will look to work on in the lead up to France, particularly at the Turkey training camp.
Such a see-sawing, high scoring game means there are a lot of good things and just as many bad things that have come out the performance.
However, there is still enough there to fill Matildas’ fans with optimism heading into the World Cup.