Three things learned: US women sound in defense, still looking for goals from forwards
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The United States sits atop Group D at the 2015 Women’s World Cup after a scoreless draw with Sweden on Friday at Winnipeg Stadium.
A matchup of two of the world’s top five teams didn’t yield any goals as each played more conservatively and neither team made much of their limited opportunities.
These are three major talking points from the match:
Wide space was there, but U.S. couldn’t take advantage of it: Sweden – by design – dropped off and made the United States take the game to them, a tactic that teams ranging in quality from world No. 6 England down to Iceland have found success with this year against the United States.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she prepared for all scenarios but expected Pia Sundhage’s Sweden team to apply high pressure. Sweden did the opposite, giving the U.S. space on the flanks and challenging them to do something with it.
“If you look at the personalities that they do have, and the depth that they have on the team, they can come up with different kind of games,” Sundhage said. “Today we saw a battle and a tactical game, I think.”
The tactic worked for Sundhage against her old team and Ellis didn’t adjust to it until the 58th minute, when she brought on Amy Rodriguez for Morgan Brian and dropped Christen Press to the right side of midfield. But the match seemed to be begging for the creative flare of midfielder Tobin Heath to take advantage of the space being given on the flanks. Heath, however, never saw the field.
U.S. defense shines: Meghan Klingenberg’s clearance off the line in the 77th minute is the headline-grabber of a defensively sound performance from the U.S. women. Monday’s opening win against Australia exposed some of the Americans’ weaknesses in wide areas, but Friday’s scoreless draw against Sweden showed off the athletic prowess of the United States’ back line.
Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston cleaned up everything – including their own mistakes – in front of goalkeeper Hope Solo, who wasn’t asked to make heroic, game-altering saves like she was against Australia, when she twice bailed the U.S. out in the opening 13 minutes.
The U.S. will need the defensive unit to remain as strong as it has been, because…
Forwards still struggling for goals: Ellis says her starting forward pair of Christen Press and Sydney Leroux was not as efficient as they needed to be.
“We could have been better and more productive from the two them,” Ellis said postgame.
The same can be said for most recent combinations of U.S. forwards, who scored against minnow opponents in recent friendlies but haven’t collectively found a rhythm.
Every forward on the roster saw playing time on Friday as Ellis threw numbers forward toward the end of the match, inserting Rodriguez into the match in the 58th minute, Abby Wambach into the match in the 67th minute and getting Alex Morgan another 12 minutes of game time.
Wambach’s 72nd minute header was the best chance of the game for the United States.