The United States Women’s National Team enters SheBelieves Cup with a problem at center forward. Alex Morgan is unavailable due to pregnancy until at least May, and it’s possible she won’t hit top form in time for the Olympics in August. For now, that leaves Vlatko Andonovski with two options at the position: Carli Lloyd and the recently recalled Lynn Williams.
Morgan’s willingness to do the dirty work, while also being the USWNT’s most technically gifted center forward, makes her nearly irreplaceable. There isn’t anyone in the pool who matches her hold-up play and passing contribution. Andonovski will have to decide which qualities he’s willing to forego in a replacement, and right now, Williams looks like his bet.
Under Jill Ellis, Williams was in and out of the team on several occasions, before getting left out of World Cup preparations entirely. Despite her consistent domination of NWSL over the past four seasons — including a 2016 MVP award — Williams and Ellis never seemed to get on the same page.
But things have been different under Andonovski. Williams looked impressive in friendlies at the end of last year, and as a result she went into the forward rotation for Olympic qualifying. She outperformed Lloyd in that tournament, scoring three goals to Lloyd’s one, and notched both a goal and an assist in the final against Canada.
The goal, which broke a deadlock in the second half, was a sort that Lloyd doesn’t typically score. It came directly from putting pressure on the defense.
Her assist was great, too, for the patience she showed. Instead of playing Rapinoe in early, she waited for Kadiesha Buchanan to commit, ensuring Rapinoe’s shot wouldn’t be contested once she received the ball.
Rapinoe makes it 3-0. We're swooning over that Williams pass. pic.twitter.com/hToJWwQtfr— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) February 10, 2020
Neither Williams nor Lloyd are as consistent as Morgan in a USWNT shirt, but Williams’ work rate up front makes her a positive contributor even when she’s not scoring or assisting. Lloyd is intelligent at exploiting space, whether she’s dropping deep like a false nine or staying up high like a pure poacher. She’s better than Williams at predicting defenders’ movements. But that style of play means that she rarely impacts games in which she doesn’t score or assist.
Williams, meanwhile, is one of the most active pressers you’ll find anywhere in the world. The goal above is a snapshot of the way she typically plays. Even if she isn’t directly involved in scoring plays, she’s closing down opposing defenders effectively and forcing turnovers.
Here’s a comparison between Lloyd and Williams’ key numbers in NWSL last season, from StatsBomb. They’re both excellent volume shooters and dribblers. Williams’ higher volume of touches in the box and xG assisted probably have more to do with the relative quality of team she plays on rather than being a better player than Lloyd. The biggest thing to note is how often she wins the ball back when pressing. She’s not just more active than Lloyd, she’s better at forcing errors when she gets close to defenders, too.
For me, this is the most important point in the case for Williams becoming the first choice at center forward until Morgan is fully fit. As a shooter, dribbler and passer, Williams is similar to Lloyd. But when it comes to pressing contribution? There’s no comparison.
Andonovski doesn’t have a Morgan replacement available. In lieu of one, he should pick the player that does the most to win back possession for his other attacking stars.