WASHINGTON - The U.S. women's soccer team's attempts at evolution since losing in the Olympics quarterfinals have come mainly in response to teams that play a bunkering defensive style against it.
Out went a possession-based system with four backs, three midfielders and three forwards. In came a high press-oriented 3-5-2.
France is the polar opposite of a bunkering team, though. They're the most stylish outfit in the international women's game. And they showed it Tuesday night, tearing the Americans apart in a 3-0 win before 21,638 at RFK Stadium.
France scored its first two goals within nine minutes of kickoff: a penalty kick by Camile Abily and a brilliant sprint past two American defenders by Eugenie Le Sommer.
Crystal Dunn's entry at halftime provided a spark. But just as the Americans were starting to find life, France took it right back out of them. In the 63rd minute, Abily scored her second of the night after a series of neat passes.
"Obviously, I'm very, very disappointed in the outcome of the match, but not deterred in terms of the path we're on and what we're trying to achieve," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "Do I think it was a step backward? In terms of results, of course."
The loss was the Americans' second in a row after Saturday's 1-0 defeat to England. It's the first time since 2000 that they've lost consecutive games on home soil. The 3-0 margin was their worst since a 4-0 loss to Brazil that knocked them out of the 2007 World Cup - and cost then-coach Greg Ryan his job.
The opponents are no slouches - France is ranked No. 3 in the world and England is No. 5. The bigger concern is that the U.S. scored just one goal in their three games at the SheBelieves Cup.
Ellis' team doesn't lack for attacking prowess, as evidenced by Dunn and Alex Morgan playing as second-half substitutes Tuesday night. The U.S. registered 13 shots to France's 12, with shots on target 6-5 in France's favor. But none went in the net.
Ellis called the scoring drought "certainly an area of evaluation."
Something seemed particularly off with Carli Lloyd in the two losses. The Delran-born U.S. captain had little influence from her key position in central midfield, in contrast to Dunn's dynamism up top and Tobin Heath's flair on the wing.
"I think we're all trying to figure out our roles," she said. "What spaces there may have been on in other games prior, it's a little bit different when you're playing against some of the best teams in the world."
France's win gave them the SheBelieves Cup title, while the U.S. finished in last place. Germany finished second after beating England 1-0 in the evening's first game.