Jun 16, 2012, 1:47 PM EDT
Delightful first half strikes from Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan led the U.S. to victory against a cagey Swedish side. Swede dreams are made of this?
The first match of this mini-friendly tournament stayed true to the ‘U.S. WNT. vs. Sweden’ series playbook. Sloppy midfield play; hefty challenges; worrisome defending against pace; lovely goals. And for the U.S., a 3-1 win courtesy of some fine individual work. Here are four things that this match only reinforced…
The defense is still capable of heart-in-throat moments.
Veteran Heather Mitts got the start at right back as Kelley O’Hara sustained a quad injury in practice several days prior. The move also meant Amy LePeilbet returned to left back. At the start, Christie Rampone was the U.S.’s most obstinate defender, cutting off many a Swedish run into the box. Rampone came off at halftime (a rare sight) and made way for the tactically sound Becky Sauerbrunn. LePeilbet looked shaky when manning Sweden’s flank play, but seemingly found her feet by the end of the match. The same can be said for Heather Mitts, whose positional defending helped curb Sweden’s attacks from the right. Still, challenges with communication and organization – particualrly on counterattacks – linger.
Despite the tweaks, the center of midfield still needs work.
One of the biggest talking points from this game occurred before kick-off. Central midfielder Carli Lloyd remained on the bench for just the first time since September 2011. Lauren Cheney got the start ahead of her and teamed up with holding midfielder Shannon Boxx. How did they do? Cheney was less influential as she was against China three weeks ago. The midfield didn’t exactly produce an excessive amount of creativity through the central channel. Possession was generally turned over in that area of the field, which played into Sweden’s archetypal game plan. Lloyd came on in the second half and provided an extra attacking impetus with her long-range shots, but long periods of sustained possession were rare.
The frontline, however? On fire.
Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan both scored with their first true chances of the game, and as you’ll see here soon, they were some goals. The craftily taken strikes essentially killed off the game. Credit belongs elsewhere, too. Flank players Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe helped dictate the U.S.’s attack. Each player helped create the respective goal-scoring opportunities. The outside midfielders doubled back in defense to rescue the ball from their own half. Quick counterattacks ensued resulting in goals on both occasions. Also, much love to substitute Tobin Heath for icing the match with a rare header in the area.
Lotta Schelin is a complete striker.
The Olympique Lyon forward is widely regarded as one of the most fearsome strikers in the women’s game and today’s performance shows why. Schelin’s off-the-ball movement and clever service harried the U.S. defense throughout the first half. She occupied the gap in the U.S.’s midfield and found space to operate on the flanks. Disappointed by her attacking partners, Schelin eventually dropped her playmaking duties and tried to unilaterally overturn Sweden’s deficit. The result? A surging run past two defenders complete with a delightful flick that beat Hope Solo that made it 2-1. Intelligent, strong, skilled, and clinical, too. If only Sweden had another forward in its player pool with even half her skill set.
The U.S. will next face new rivals Japan. The Americans are winless against Japan in their previous three meetings. Will Monday’s match be a sneak peak at a knockout game in the Olympics? Perhaps so. The U.S. will certainly be looking to get one back against the world champions.
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