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USWNT 0, Sweden, 0: The SBI Breakdown


WINNIPEG, Manitoba — It perhaps didn’t live up to the hype and expectations of a heavyweight bout, but a draw with Sweden on Friday is a box checked for the U.S. Women’s National Team. The Americans depart Winnipeg with four points, sole position of first place in Group D and plenty of homework.

Some draws are a case of being unlucky, but that wasn’t the case for the Americans in their second match of the Women’s World Cup Group stage. Instead, the Americans looked uninspired on the attack and on fire in the back.

With a berth to the knockouts rounds so close, the Americans entering their final group match against Nigeria with some encouragement signs that will build confidence, and some lessons they can learn to peak through the seven-game tournament.

Here are SBI’s takeaways from the USWNT’s scoreless draw with Sweden:


Much has been made about Wambach’s role with the team and whether or not she drags down the American attack. After all, she’s not as fast or as gifted with her feet as the rest of the team’s forwards. As a player who joined the team in a different era, Wambach, 35, has become a symbol of the style of play that seems to irritate modern soccer fans the most: Playing direct with long balls over the top. With Wambach, all 5-foot-11 of her, in the box, the team sometimes looks complacent to just lob the ball toward her hoping for the best.

The problem is this: Wambach didn’t start on Friday, her first time not starting in a World Cup match since 2003, and the Americans didn’t look any better than they have when she’s been in the lineup. As Wambach watched from the bench, the American attack continued to be anemic — no creativity, little combination play, ignored flanks and almost no chances. More than once in the first half, crosses missed players’ heads, even though they were in position to connect, raising the question of whether Wambach could’ve finished those chances.

After Friday’s scoreless draw, coach Jill Ellis explained her decision to bench Wambach: “I felt like we needed some pace up top and added mobility.” But it seems firmly embedded in the DNA of the USWNT to want to cross the ball or try a quick long ball. If they are going to do that anyway, they should count on a player like Wambach who tends to deliver when it counts.


The thousands of American fans who traveled to Winnipeg were probably hoping for a goal fest between two of the world’s heavyweights of women’s soccer. Instead, they were treated to a defensive chess match where both sides worked to figure out how to contain the other’s attackers. For the Americans, that meant keeping star forward Lotta Schelin at bay and they did a fine job, tracking her closely and isolating her from the rest of Sweden’s attack.

As a unit, the back four was organized and connected, looking like a group that has played consistently together for longer than the short couple months they have. But individually is where the defenders shined brightest. Meghan Klingenberg single-handledly managed to save the match for the U.S. through a goal-line clearance with her head, denying Caroline Seger what would’ve been a game-winner in the 77th minute.

Becky Sauerbrunn has quietly made her case for a starting role in the U.S. defense for at least a couple years now with her ability to read the game and provide smart cover. But Julie Johnston has had a more of abrupt rise to her current starting spot, and even in that case, it was perhaps a bit overdue. She seemed to have the tactical awareness of a capable defender with the physicality to match. Those who have been paying attention weren’t surprised by her performance on Friday — Johnston has slide-tackled and headed her way to a starting spot for a reason after not even making the World Cup qualifying roster in October.


If the attack’s problems can’t be boiled down as simply as finger-pointing at Wambach and if the defense is looking capable, then there’s only one part of the field left: The midfield. More specifically: The flanks. This definitely isn’t the first time SBI has called out the strange personnel decision of putting a central midfielder out on the flanks. Last time, it was in February when Carli Lloyd, clutch goal-scorer and beast from the top of the box, was pushed out to the left flank in a listless defeat to France and saw her potency neutralized.

On Friday, it was Morgan Brian’s turn to play out wide, this time on the right flank. After being developed by Ellis for a central midfielder position, Brian became part of a game of musical chairs on Friday that saw Lloyd and Lauren Holiday start in the middle while Christen Press was given a chance at her natural forward position. That left a vacancy at Press’ assigned right flank position, and instead of putting a natural right winger like Heather O’Reilly there, Ellis decided to keep Brian in her starting lineup, but shoehorned into the right midfield spot.

For whatever reason, Ellis doesn’t seem to think O’Reilly is a starter anymore, but Brian simply looked uncomfortable adapting to the wing. Brian is a talented playmaker who does well with a whole field in front of her to work with, but just because she starts in one position doesn’t mean she should start in any position. O’Reilly is an experienced veteran and has the speed to beat a defender on the dribble, which is now where Brian’s strengths lie. Even a player like Tobin Heath, who normally plays on the left, would be a better fit for the sort of creativity and confidence the position requires.


  1. For the months leading up to the WWC, mainstream sports viewers have been bombarded with Fox’s promotional video clips, media interviews etc with one consistent theme: the USWNT is all about Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Morgan gets her face time because of, well, her face. Rapinoe gets her mentions but they are usually linked to a Wambach goal. In the end, the message implies that the whole team is supposed to be focused on getting Abby the World Cup trophy to which she is entitled. That, I submit, makes Abby part of the problem. It may also have been a contributor to what I think are some internal team chemistry issues.

    Those of us who have followed the USWNT for some time remember the free flowing style of the Pia coached teams that saw good ball movement from the back to the front. That style is what made the occasional long bomb to Abby’s head so successful. It was why our forwards could find space to operate. If the team can’t keep possession in the midfield, it must inevitably result in a predictable direct long ball offense, easy to defend.

    Our 2015 team seems to have adopted the direct style as the primary option. The secord option seems to be a Rapinoe wonder goal. When option one and two fail, the midfield is used as the reset button, mostly asked to retrieve defensive headers and kick the ball forward into the middle of the central defenders, thus assuring that our forwards have little chance to get the ball. Unfortunately, that option presumes that midfielders can make more good passes than turnovers. Thankfully, the defense has been there to clean up midfield passing errors.

    I keep waiting to see Heather O’Reilly come onto the field. Did she miss the plane? This team needs her aggressive style that combines speed with vision. And, where is Tobin Heath? OK, there are times when she tries to be too clever, but she wiil eventually get the ball into dangerous spaces. I just don’t understand this team’s shape or strategy.

    Finally, I know people have different opinions, but I think that Leroux has been one of the hardest workers on the pitch. She managed to produce the one USWNT assist that lead to a goal.

    My last comment is that I loved seeing the Caitlin Murray byline while perusing the Guardian website. It was a vicarious thrill for an SBI alum.

    • Morgan gets the ads not just because of her face but because she had 40 goals in one year and scored critical goals in the 2011 world cup and was a team leader in points in 2012 Olympics and scored a critical goal there as well against Canada. She has been injured over these last two years but she has done more for the senior team than Leroux has by far although I think she should be on the bench right now. Give her the due respect she deserves.

  2. I can simply amplify what others have said; the US had one effective midfielder, Rapinoe. I wondered if O’Reilly was hurt since it was pretty obvious the US could not attack up the right wing with any speed (the attacks that came there were so slow developing that the target forwards were marked and outnumbered in the box. Even Wambach found it hard to connect well from that if a cross finally did come in.)

  3. Leroux does not appear to be fit for 90 minutes. She also is very limited technically,needing the ball in front of her in order to utilize her speed. The “long ball” approach also does not benefit from playing on turf. Most of those balls bound out the end line. I would play Press & Arod, subbing to Leroux & Morgan in the 2nd half. Most of these teams don’t posses the conditioning to handle speedy 2nd half subs.

  4. Central midfield is more of a mess than the flanks, I’d say. I definitely agree that the way Ellis has handled RM makes no sense – I would absolutely go with HAO or Heath there. But I’d also put in an actual #6 (perhaps Chalupny), push Holliday up to a position where she can be effective, and bench Lloyd, who is not playing up to her previous standards. Set Rapinoe, Holliday, and either Heath or HAO free, and you’re sure to see more creative combination play from the midfield.

    Also, Wambach should have been benched against Australia, not against Sweden. The Swedes like to pack the middle and force you to play wide. We did have a number of crosses come in from the flanks (often thanks to Ali Krieger’s tireless efforts to get forward). But we needed Wambach in there to get on the end of them.

    • Yeah, that drove me berserk as well. Our outside backs are getting themselves into the attack very well. We’re constantly seeing lung-busting runs forward and back…from both sides, Krieger in particular. They have that luxury in no small part because Julie Johnston has just been a stud. (Is that the right word for a chick? Dunno. Whatever. But JJ’s been awesome.)

      And we’re STILL generating next to nothing offensively, despite the fact that we’re getting tons of width and extra numbers from our wingbacks. The abject ineptness of our attacking six just leaves me shaking my head. If I was coaching this bunch some of them would have already been benched, and I probably would have sent at least one of them home, just to make an example. Stop worrying about your endorsement deals and being the New American Hero and just play the game to win it. We look so much like the England or French men’s teams in World Cups it’s almost shocking…and that is not a good thing.

  5. Note to Jill: Our midfield is hideous. Rapinoe is bringing something but Lloyd, Holiday and Brian were turnover machines. Much has been said about our vaunted “depth” so I suggest using it by benching players that haven’t delivered an playing players that might deliver.

  6. I agree with Quozzel but here’s my twist. We have a lot of talent on this team but it is being squandered by poor management. Not only that, Jill Ellis cannot make onfield adjustments to save her life.

    For example… Lloyd and Holiday have stunk the place up for two games. They should not start game three. Their poor play has killed our offense and forced Rapinoe to try and carry the attack. Sweden doubled and tripled her immediately. With nobody else doing anything, there was no place else to go and she was out of the game. We have a good outside mid in O’Reilly. Does she get a minute? Nope… Game one was bad.. we were getting killed until Heath gets on the pitch. All of a sudden, we were looking better, possessing the ball, creating chances. Does she see a minute in game two…not a minute. And then there’s Wambach. Her biggest asset was always heading. Apparently that skill has departed too. Missed at lease 3 good chances in two games. Against Sweden, she kept drifting wider and wider and got involved in bringing the ball up. That is now why she’s on the field. Her foot skills are marginal at this level. Wambach is well by her expiration date and she should not even be on this roster.

    The bottom line is the team is totally mismanaged and I’m betting Ellis makes no significant adjustments from what has not worked so far. Just keep pushing that square block into the round hole Ellis… see if it fits today. We will most likely get out of the group stage but not much further if adjustments are not made. I just dont think Ellis will make the changes needed.

    The only bright spot is that if we bomb in the knockout stage, It has to be the end of Ellis. One way or another, she has to go and it may take a World Cup fail to make it happen. I think we would have been better with Tony D.

    • I agree with your comments about the US coach & would like to add a couple more opinions.
      1. During her time as US coach, she failed to significantly help improve the teams overall technical and tactical skills (like Klinsmann has!!!)
      2. During the WC, she has failed to instill a more competitive effort which would have resulted in a faster and more competitive play in midfield and upfront (like Klinsmann has!!!)
      3. The writer is wrong and Amy should be benched because whenever she finally got to a head ball she missed the GOAL
      4. The writer is wrong about defense is going to win you a WC unless you have excellent penalty kickers or you’re as lucky as Greece was in a European championship
      5. The US defense & goalie (but needs to improve personal character) have been top notch
      6. Using a few more US talented players off the bench, MAY get us to the FINAL or the CUP

    • Because Jill Ellis is a rec-coach moron.

      Her approach resembled what bad rec coaches do with right wing. Hey, we’ve got more momma’s darlings than we know what to do with who all want to score goals and play offense, so we’ll just play ’em a third of the game at right wing. It’s the catch-all position, right?

      Ellis is going to have to make some hard, hard choices if she’s going to progress. She’s going to have to bench Wambach and leave her on the bench. She’s probably going to have to bench Alex Morgan if she isn’t match-fit…and she hasn’t looked close. She’s going to have to probably play a single forward and play a 4-5-1 because her center mids – Lloyd and Holiday – have been awful, can’t hold possession in the middle, and her forwards aren’t cooperating…and that means featuring Leroux alone up top, since she’s the only gal in the pool who can both hold it up and run the channels. It probably also means inserting a third center attacking mid who can take legit positive touches and string together the attack.

      And Ellis had durn well figure out who her (at least) second-best player is…and that’s Tobin Heath, and instead of the US attack driving down a single flank – that being the one Rapinoe is dribbling down right now – at least we can then get push from both sides, and NOT get overrun in the middle of the park.

      If she doesn’t do that, we’re going home. Early.

      • Tobin heath is not good. She excels drubbing minnows in concacaf qualifying and she’s useful if you want someone to dribble in circles to kill the game when you have the lead, but if you’re chasing a win she does not add anything.

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