U-20 USWNT: The USA’s Goal-Scoring Play Versus Germany

The winning goal scored off the foot of Kealia Ohai in the final of this year’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup was scored via a sequence that involved at least eight United States players and at least eight passes. A ninth player, Katie Stengel was indirectly involved as she was the intended target of the final pass by Crystal Dunn, but unintentionally dummied the ball, allowing it to roll to Ohai. And, it is possible that a tenth USA player, goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin, actually restarted the play, but the available video evidence does not show the apparent opening pass of the play.

This post breaks down that goal-scoring play and examines the potential errors made by Germany’s defense which allowed the goal to be scored.

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For those with access, the ESPN3 replay of this match is available for reviewing the play. The sequence begins at the 01:02:45 mark or 42:40 on the on-screen match clock.

In addition to the official video, on YouTube, there are some amateur videos by spectators from different angles than the official cameras. The first video below is essentially a reverse angle of the official feed and offers a view of Ohai’s positioning and movement in the early build-up of the play, as she was mostly out of frame in the official feed.

The entire goal-scoring play:

The final segments of the goal-scoring play:

Another option is the official highlight video on FIFA.com, but that does not show the entire build-up of the play.

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The play begins after a restart due to a German foul while they were trying to attack the USA’s goal. It appears that the foul called was handling on one of the German midfielders, Kathrin Hendrich (#6) most likely.

Neither the official video feed or the available amateur videos show the restart, which was possibly taken by Bryane Heaberlin (#1) or Cari Roccaro (#3).

Fig. #1: Diagram of the Goal-Scoring Play

[If you follow the companion Twitter account, then you have probably already seen an annotated version of the above diagram. A couple minor errors in those annotations have been corrected in this write-up.]

In any case, after a pass or two, the ball was sent to Julie Johnston (#8), who not really under any pressure, crossed to Roccaro (#3) [“A”].

Roccaro then sends a pass up to Vanessa DiBernardo (#10), who under a bit of defensive pressure, sends a hooking lateral pass into space for Morgan Brian (#6), who had to retreat from her position across the halfway line in order to get to the ball [“B”].

But Brian was unable to get a clean touch on the awkward pass and had to poke a safety pass back to Johnston (#8) in order to prevent a turnover.

Johnston receives the ball and sends it out to her right. Then, she passes diagonally up the right sideline to Maya Hayes (#5), who is able to control the ball, but has to quickly pass back to Sarah Killion (#16) as Germany’s Melanie Leupolz (#8) tries to dispossess Hayes, but whiffs on the effort. Leupolz stops [“D”] and turns back to Killion (#16), who now has the ball.

Meanwhile, once Hayes received the ball, Crystal Dunn (#4) [“C”] began to make an unmarked overlapping run up the right sideline. Dunn is not picked up by Leupolz (#8), who is the closest German player to her, and the one with the main responsibility of covering her. Right after Leupolz stops, Dunn increases the speed of her run down the flank.

Killion (#16) sees that Dunn (#4) is unmarked and relatively untracked, so she sends a gently weighted pass into the path of Dunn, who has now been picked up by Germany’s Annabel Jäger (#7).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Kealia Ohai (#7), who is also unmarked, but completely untracked as well, begins a run toward the box [“E”]. Her primary defender, Leonie Maier (#2), will not notice Ohai until it is too late. [“G”]

Additionally, Germany’s back line retreats with the left centerback, Jennifer Cramer (#4), angling closer to the goal and conceding potential space for Dunn to eventually exploit. [This is not obvious on the official video feed, but is shown in the first amateur video.]

Back over on the right sideline, Dunn (#4) is in a one-v-one situation with Jäger (#7). Dunn slows, then cuts back toward the box, and then accelerates around Jäger. Then, either Jäger gets a touch on the ball and/or Dunn’s touch is too hard, which sends the ball diagonally toward the near post.

Dunn (#4) races onto the ball and tries to pass to Katie Stengel (#12)* [“F”], but Stengel and Germany’s Luisa Wensing (#5) [not shown] both go for the ball at the same time, but neither touches it, with Wensing just missing making contact.

*In the U.S. Soccer post-match reaction video, Dunn confirms that she was aiming for Stengel.

This allows the ball to roll toward the penalty spot where an alert Ohai pounces on the sitter and sends a hard chip into goal, over Germany’s goalkeeper, Laura Benkarth (#1), who was somewhat crouched down, apparently expecting a possible shot on the ground.

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Germany played a 4-2-3-1 formation with apparently pure zonal marking, e.g., each field player is responsible for primarily defending a specific zone in the formation, with no man-marking assignments

Assuming that Germany was using a pure zonal marking defense, then the primary breakdown that allowed the goal was Germany’s Leonie Maier (#2) not noticing Kealia Ohai (#7) in the box. Had Maier tracked Ohai sooner, Maier would have probably been in a position to disrupt either the loose pass and/or Ohai’s shot, thus greatly reducing the likelihood of a goal.

A secondary issue was the one-v-one situation, with Crystal Dunn (#4) versus Germany’s Annabel Jäger (#7). This was a mismatch in favor of Dunn, but not Jäger’s fault, as she lacked support from her midfield. Germany’s nearest holding midfielder, Ramona Petzelberger (#10), who is primarily a central playmaking midfielder, was a good fifteen yards up the pitch. In fact, Petzelberger was slightly higher up the pitch than Germany’s wide midfielder on that flank, Melanie Leupolz (#8). In other words, Germany’s zonal formation was slightly out of shape and the USA was able to exploit that.

That Dunn’s initial run, before she received the pass from Killion, was not followed by Leupolz (#8) is not an error in itself, but a feature of zonal marking, as once Dunn left Leupolz’s zone, then responsibility for tracking Dunn went to the next player, which in this case was Jäger (#7).

However, Germany’s defense during this play did seem to suffer from a bit of ball watching, with multiple players having awareness issues regarding the positioning of nearby USA players. As noted above, the most glaring was Maier (#2) not noticing Ohai (#7) in the box. Also, Jäger (#7) was a tad bit slow in noticing Dunn’s (#4) run into her zone. Before that, Leupolz (#8) also missed Dunn’s run.

In addition, there were other field players who may have noticed Ohai approaching the box, but apparently failed to communicate that to Maier. (Communication is especially important in zonal marking systems.)

Another potential error that allowed the goal was centerback Jennifer Cramer (#4) retreating too close to goal, which allowed Dunn plenty of room to operate. Had Cramer been a few yards closer to Dunn, Cramer would have likely been in a much better position to either retrieve the semi-loose ball before Dunn passed inside the box or at least been able to challenge Dunn for the ball, disrupting Dunn’s ability to pass.

In summary, this goal was not scored via a comprehensive breakdown of Germany’s defense, but there was at least one clear error — Leonie Maier (#2) not noticing Kealia Ohai (#7) in the box — as well as a few minor lapses that contributed to the goal-scoring chance.