Monday, June 15, 2015

Women's World Cup - USA vs Sweden

Source: WWCGraphics
The United States Women’s team played Sweden to a 0-0 draw in their second game of Group D play, which allows the USWNT to remain on top of the group standings.  The stats reflect a slight edge to the U.S. in the game, but the highlight of the game for either team was the 77th minute goal line save by Meghan Klingenberg.  It’s a good thing she’s 5’-2” because if she had been 5’-1”, I think that ball goes into the goal.

The ball stayed out of the goal and it was one more example of the defensive unit of the USWNT playing superb team defense.  Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, and Klingenberg did a great job stifling the Swedish attack to the point of the official stats (link to FIFA full stats) showing Sweden getting 9 shots, but none of those were on goal.  Sweden’s defense was equally up to the challenge as they limited the U.S. to 12 shots and only 2 were on goal (though I’m curious about that stat since it shows Wambach with one of those shots, but zero shots on goal; didn’t the keeper have to make a save to push the ball over the crossbar.  Isn’t that a shot on goal?).

So the defense was great and the offense didn’t produce too many shots.  That just leaves the midfield.  Cue the music because it was Musical Midfield during this game.  Rapinoe, Lloyd, Holiday, and Brian were the starters.  Amy Rodriquez came into the game in the 58th minute for Brian.  So A-Rod went to forward and Press dropped back to her less than desired position in midfield. Nine minutes later, Wambach game in for Press.  So Wambach takes A-Rod’s place up front and A-Rod dropped back into the midfield position.  Luckily, after that it was Morgan for Leroux, forward to forward, so that the midfield musical chairs stopped.  If those are the substitutions to be made, I question the order.  Switch the first two so that the midfield has some consistency for longer stretches.

A midfield that nearly everybody agrees is underperforming.  The reasons for that underperformance seem to vary depending on who you ask.  My opinion, and you can call me names if you want, is that the problem doesn’t lay with Holiday.  Yes, she went to my high school (well after I graduated) so you can say that I’m blinded because of it, but it also means that I have kept a close eye on her. Holiday has a high soccer IQ, is adaptable, is strong, and has a smooth touch on the ball, but if you want the most out of her, I think she needs to be in that #10 playmaker position.  That’s the position she plays for Kansas City to spectacular results.  League MVP, League Golden Boot in 2013, League Champion in 2014, Championship game MVP in 2014, one of the historical League leaders in goals and assists, all while being one of the most fouled players in the league.  Yes, she’s doing a serviceable job as the holding midfielder, but I don’t think you get everything out of her and the team in that position.  I know, I know, who plays there if not Holiday?  Boxx or Brian and I probably go with Brian only because of the limited amount of time Boxx has played lately.  Then I put Heather O’Reilly on the right flank and let her run up and down on the opponent’s left midfielder.

This is where I seem to differ from a lot of the other opinions out there.  I’ve seen comments that only Rapinoe is attacking.  From my perspective, that’s because she’s not passing when she should and trying to do too much.  Tony DiCicco has said similar statements at times during the broadcasts so there’s at least one that might agree with me, but that’s not the majority of the opinion.  I love Rapinoe, but I think she needs to be shouldering some of the blame of the poorly performing midfield.  She’s taken the criticism I normally reserved for Lloyd.

I would like to see the team start like this 4-4-2 arrangement:
---------- Solo ---------
--- Krieger --- Sauerbrunn --- Johnston --- Klingenberg ---
--------- Brian --------
--- O’Reilly ------ Heath ---
--------- Holiday --------
--- Rodriquez ------ Press ---

Wambach, Press, and/or Morgan on as super-duper subs and Rapinoe/Lloyd as needed for midfield subs.  Still not sure why O’Hara isn’t playing at all, but given how well the way the back four played against Sweden, I would stick with them until they are either hurt or completely exhausted.

Here’s my logic on that lineup.

Leroux’s pace and strength are impressive, but Press is a natural goal scorer and seems to be in better form right now.  I like Rodriquez’s connection with Holiday from their experience together over the years and now as teammates with Kansas City and would take advantage of that.  Morgan being fit to play is different than being fit to play 90 minutes, which is still further different than being able to play 90 minutes in the World Cup.  I also feel like I see a lot of Heath in for Holiday substitutions and I think that is a waste of vision and skill.  I’ve always liked their combination play in the games where they are in together and I would take advantage of the connection and vision too.

I’m going by memory here, but pre-Wambach in the Sweden game, I feel like there were more quick restarts on free kicks than after she came into the game.  I can recall one free kick shortly after she came in that was probably 40 yards from goal and close to the sideline.  Instead of starting quickly, the kick became a skewed corner kick.  Maybe it is just people seeing things differently, but there could be something to the statement of a tactical change when Wambach is on the field that isn’t necessarily a good change.

That lineup is never going to happen though and would guess that it will be very similar to what we saw against Sweden.  Might see Rampone or O’Hara to get them some minutes in case they are needed later in the tournament and likely see Morgan come off the bench again.  With a win or draw, they will advance and even a loss could be okay depending on the other results, so I don’t anticipate too many drastic changes for Tuesday night’s game against Nigeria.  Though I’ve read that they have issues with set pieces so Wambach may get the start again to try and get an early set piece goal and put Nigeria playing from behind.  I think it’s a 2-0 win and they advance as the #1 seed from the group.

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