United States to be surprisingly strong for Sunday’s Australia friendly
The roster announcement for the upcoming friendlies was a weird one. The U.S. have games scheduled against Australia (Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and New Zealand (Oct. 27, 30), but for Sunday’s match against the Matildas, European players weren’t set to take part. With the match scheduled outside of a FIFA window, clubs weren’t compelled to release players like Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain) and Megan Rapinoe (Lyon), compelling the U.S. to name 25 players for games where only 18 will dress. The team named a squad that can straddle the international window.
The U.S., however, are set to benefit from Tyresö's misfortune, the Swedish club having lost their chance to take first place in the Damallsvenskan. That means the suddenly huge American enclave playing just outside Stockholm will join the team ahead of Sunday’s game in San Antonio. Reportedly flying straight from their team’s Champions League match in Paris, Whitey Engen, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, and Christen Press will be available for selection on Sunday, Tyresö having given them permission to miss the weekend’s season finale at Linköping.
That means Press won’t have a chance to build a campaign that win claim Sweden’s scoring title. With 23 goals in 20 games, the Stanford alum is seven ahead of Linköping’s Pernille Mosegaard-Harder, having scored 40 times (in 41 games) since moving to Sweden two years ago. Although she had scored eight goals as a rookie in Women’s Professional Soccer’s final season (2011), few saw this kind of dominance in Press’s game during her first professional debut. Her move abroad shows the type of benefits players can see when challenging themselves in Europe’s best leagues.
Despite that success, Press is still fighting for regular time with the U.S., her relatively recent inclusion with the national team creating a game of catch up. Current FIFA Player of the Year Abby Wambach remains the well-established focal point, and Alex Morgan’s the strike force’s other attacking star, leaving Sydney Leroux (despite 21 goals in 39 appearances) is in the same boat as Press - fighting for time in the world’s deepest strike force.
It’s those type of positional battles that make these friendlies worthwhile, and from the spectator’s point of view, they provide some needed drama during what could be lopsided matches. While Australia and New Zealand each have some world-class talents, they’re also seen on a lower level than the U.S. If teams like Germany and Japan can compete with the States while the likes of France and Sweden could beat them on a given day, Australia exists on a level close to England or Italy, where a victory would be a notable upset. New Zealand is even farther below that.
So the main competition on Sunday will be internal, with the Australians providing a type of control. And at almost every level of the field, the Matildas’ standard will be used to gain new information about the U.S.'s obscure depth chart.
Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is number one. Nicole Barnhart is number two. As opposed to other places on the field, there are no questions about that order, even if there questions about Solo’s lingering health issues (recent shoulder, wrist problems). At some point, presumably, that intrigue will dissipate. Perhaps the break between the NWSL campaign and these friendlies will have given her time to fully recover.
Defense: Kelley O’Hara’s still out at left back as she recovers from ankle surgery, which means Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis are likely to split time (though a few other fullbacks candidates have been called in). Which one has an edge? Don’t expect Sermanni to tell, even if Dunn looks a little ahead of the still-converting midfielder.
In the middle, 38-year-old Christie Rampone is assumed to be a starter, but Sermanni’s done enough rotating to obscure his preferences. Conventional wisdom has Rachel Buehler, Whitney Engen, and Becky Sauerbrunn competing for one spot.
Midfield: If there’s depth in central midfield, it’s still coming through. Göteburg’s Yael Averbuch’s been recalled once more. Morgan Brian’s missing Virginia’s game with North Carolina to come along. Neither fully established in the team, let alone challengers to Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, though one may start Sunday in Texas. With Heath and Rapinoe only joining the team for the New Zealand matches, Holiday is a candidate to start wide (though not the only one).
In those wide roles, Heather O’Reilly seems to be competing with Rapinoe and Heath for two spots, one of which she seemed to lose at the end of Pia Sundhage’s tenure. But having been awarded her fair share of starts since Sermanni took over, O’Reilly’s place on the depth chart is unclear. Has she possibly reclaimed a place in the U.S.'s first XI?
Who knows. Tom Sermanni may not even know, or care. The games that really matter are still long off with qualifying for Canada 2015 still over a year away. It may not even be worth coming up with potentially irrelevant conclusions.
At some point, Sermanni will need to test what he has, but that point’s not going to come this months. Against Australia and New Zealand, expect him to keep us in the dark.