Photo by Bruce Fedyck/USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
Following all of the talk of head coach Pia Sundhage’s views on the current team, the U.S. Women’s National Team gets the chance to display their worth on the field in a matchup with their former coach.
The USWNT takes on Sweden on Friday night, pitting a Women’s World Cup contender against a coach that previously led them to the 2011 finale.
Throughout the week, much of the focus on the clash has been turned toward Sundhage, who has stated her views of the current USWNT. Stating that forward Abby Wambach would be a substitute under her regime, while criticizing mainstays Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo.
While Sundhage has already made a move to clarify her remarks, the comments set a fire under Lloyd, who stated her intentions to demonstrate her value on the field.
Like Lloyd, the USWNT will have an opportunity to not only stick it to the team’s former coach, but seal advancement into the Round of 16 with a victory over a tough, yet familiar Sweden team.
The matchup between the two countries is a common one, reaching even deeper than the coaching connection between the two sides. The clash between the two sides is the fourth-straight meeting between the two in Women’s World Cup play, having been in the same group every tournament since 2003.
Gamesmanship aside, Sundhage’s comments regarding Wambach may prove to be correct ahead of Friday’s meeting due to the depth at the forward position. After a difficult opening game, the veteran forward could see time diminished due to the increasing health of Alex Morgan, who made her return late in the 3-1 tournament-opening victory over Australia.
“It’s a lovely problem, it really is,” said USWNT head coach Jill Ellis. “I think one of the things that we have is great depth. We talk about that all the time, but for me, having the caliber of forwards that we have is not a problem. It’s good. We can look at certain things, we can get players minutes, we can look at tactical things that we want to do. Having that depth is a huge bonus for us.”
“We got her in the game, that was kind of the plan, to get her some minutes,” Ellis added on Morgan. “At this point, it’s just about building her minutes so she can contribute more and more each game. Physically, she’s doing great. Mentally, she’s in a good place, and I was pleased with the 15 minutes or so that we got the other day.”
Solo, meanwhile, may see her fire further fueled by her former coach, as the USWNT goalkeeper proved to be among the team’s best players in the opening game with a series of crucial saves in the opening moments.
The USWNT goalkeeper may be tested yet again, especially if the U.S. defense struggles once again like they did vs. Australia. Sweden forward Lotta Schelin will provide a test for the backline, and could potentially prove even more dangerous than New Zealand’s crop of forwards.
“Their forwards are very dynamic. They like to get in behind,” Ellis said. “In all the team’s we’re playing in our group, there are a lot of similarities in terms of pace, in terms of forwards wanting to get in behind, in terms of defending the space in behind and in front. When you take some good takeaways from the first game, they actually help you.”
“I think as a backline together, we look at mistakes of what happens in the goal,” added defender Julie Johnston. “The point for us as a backline is not to give up goals, so that’s an easy one is to look at what our mistakes were in that scenario. The next one is to play the way that we play. It’s the second game in. It’s time for us to settle down and grow as each game goes because we want to play as many games as we can.”
In addition, Ellis will need to make improvements in the midfield, a unit that was carried by Megan Rapinoe in the opening game. Lloyd and Lauren Holiday will need to be much more influential against Sweden, as the two were non-existent for stretches in the opening game.
Overall, the matchup with Sweden provides the U.S. with a major test, both on the field and off of it. With a spot in the next stage on the line, the U.S. will face a battle with a Sweden team that knows exactly what it is coming up against.