After a turgid first half (which is the norm now for January USWNT matches), the second half saw a tactical change that allowed Rose Lavelle, and the player who was brought on for her Ashley Sanchez, to flourish against New Zealand’s midfield block. Apart from a few instances, the USWNT had been unable to find Lavelle in between the lines during the first half but once they did, she showed how quickly she can not only create gaps due to her on-the-ball running, but that her eye for a pass can’t be replicated by many of the midfielders currently on the roster right now.
The only other midfielder who seems to be able to do the same, change defense/possession into an attacking opportunity, is Ashley Sanchez so I want to make the case to start both players.
First things first. Tactically, can both players cover the midfield from box to box if called upon? Yes, they can. For both OL Reign and the Washington Spirit, Lavelle and Sanchez are asked to not only press but also track back to their own penalty area to keep the team’s defensive shape. If asked by Vlatko Andonovski to do the same, I have no doubts that both players will put in the required shifts to protect their backline.
Which leads me to my next point. Their ability to turn and run on the ball.
Both Rose Lavelle and Ashley Sanchez are technically gifted and can turn on a dime. If for whatever reason, they’re in the defensive third, tracking back for their team and the ball comes to them, they can turn or skip away from a marker and suddenly put the USWNT on the offense. It’s not easy to get either one of them off the ball once they get into full stride and when they get a moment to pick their heads up, they’ll find the pass that will set any of the forwards through on goal.
Rose Lavelle showed that throughout her time on the pitch but her most telling contribution funnily enough, was with her back turned away from goal. Lavelle knew that on either side of her and her marker, a USWNT forward was free due to the New Zealand backline trying to cope with her movement in front of them. She trusted her own ability and the speed of her teammates to backheel a pass that let Alex Morgan run through on goal and score the second goal of the half.
Ashley Sanchez then came on for Lavelle and showed just as much guile and ingenuity as the player she replaced. With New Zealand tiring, gaps began to open up more for any of the creative players on the USWNT to exploit. Sanchez took full advantage of that as she received the ball in space and then proceeded to play a fantastic pass over the backline to Mal Swanson who was unmarked further out on the left. Swanson duly finished off that move with a clinical goal and made it 3-0.
Both those goals are the easiest highlights to point to about having both Lavelle and Sanchez on the pitch at the same time, especially against a very compact team but it’s what they did that didn’t lead directly to a goal that convinced me to pine after a dual 10 midfield with the two of them on the pitch. During the first half, Rose Lavelle and Midge Purce were the best of a very slow USWNT side and while Purce excelled at taking on the fullback and trying to cross from there, Lavelle shone any time she got the ball (which unfortunately wasn’t often). Lavelle would either run at the New Zealand backline and go for goal herself, or use those runs to then pick out a teammate out wide or close to the area for them to have a go at goal.
Ashley Sanchez put in a similar performance when she came on, dragging New Zealand’s midfield away from their compact block and then proceeding to spring Swanson, Morgan or Trinity Rodman free to go for goal. Sanchez knew that she had the ability to find the right pass; all she needed to do was get the ball in space for her to do her damage. Like Lavelle previously in the second half, Sanchez thrived as her influence on the game grew and stated a case for why she should start more.
A lot of times, managers will say having two 10s is an imbalance in midfield but in my opinion, with the right player playing as the No. 6, Andonovski won’t have to choose between Lavelle and Sanchez as to who should start. He could just start both on Friday when they play New Zealand again and have someone like Andi Sullivan or Sam Coffey behind them to produce the right kind of balance and ingenuity against a compact team.
Now this won’t always be a good idea, especially against the highest ranked nations who will exploit the “lack of physicality” so to speak that both Lavelle and Sanchez have compared to other more defensive midfielders, but against the likes of New Zealand, por que no los dos?