U.S. central midfielder Shannon Boxx scored for the U.S. in their 3-0 win over Brazil in the Kirin Challenge Cup. Photo via ussoccer.com
It wasn’t the nail-biting, penalty shootout thriller that defined the last meeting between the U.S.A. and Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals, and that’s perfectly fine by me. After struggling to maintain possession and rhythm in the opening match of the Kirin Challege Cup against Japan Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Team had no trouble finding the right touch or the back of the net Tuesday afternoon in a 3-0 victory over their Brazilian foes.
Despite windy and rainy conditions that forced the teams to move up their match by four hours, from 8 p.m. to 4 local time in Japan, the U.S. dominated the match in all facets of the game. Brazil was missing their leading scorer and five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Marta, but it was the Brazilian defense that was mostly missing.
Abby Wambach nearly opened the scoring in the first minute, when she had a golden opportunity in front of an open net in the center of the penalty box, but she just knocked the ball off the cross bar. Still, it was clear from those opening minutes that the U.S. was the superior team in this matchup. Carli Lloyd put them on the board in the 18th minute off a free kick, courtesy of a foul on Wambach. Rampone served the ball into the box, where it deflected off Rachel Buehler’s foot and in front of Lloyd, who put it away.
Set pieces were the U.S.A’s lucky charm in the match, as Shannon Boxx followed Lloyd with a header off a free kick serviced by Lauren Cheney toward the far post just minutes later. It was Boxx’s first goal in over a year, and a particularly ecstatic moment, given the recent revelation that Boxx was diagosed with lupus in 2007.
Brazil nearly cut the lead in half in the 30th minute when Cristiane headed in a goal, but it was disallowed and ruled that the ball had crossed the end line and out of bounds before Formiga served it into the box for Cristiane.
In the second half, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage began subbing in players to give bench players a look before the Olympic roster is whittled down from 24 to 18. Megan Rapinoe, who did not play in the match against Japan, entered for the start of the second half in place of Heather O’ReillY, and Becky Sauerbrunn replaced captain Christie Rampone in the defense. Tobin Heath came in for Lloyd in the 62nd minute, Amy Rodriguez for Alex Morgan in the 71st and Heather Mitts for Kelley O’Hara in the 83rd. Notably absent in both matches was forward Sydney Leroux, who scored five goals in one match in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifiers, but has had a minimal role since.
In the 81st minute, Rodriguez was fouled, setting up yet another free kick opportunity for the U.S., and put the game away with the third and final goal:
Rodriguez replaced Morgan in the 71st minute and her speed menaced Brazil’s backs for the rest of the way. In the 83rd minute Rodriguez was dragged down by Daiane as she tried to burst past the defensive line and the Americans were awarded a free kick, which led to the clinching third goal.
Cheney sent the long free kick into the penalty box where Wambach brought it down with her chest. The ball bounced off Wambach, hit off a defender and rolled into the path of Rodriguez, who smashed a nine-yard shot off another defender with the deflection ending up in the right side of the net.
At halftime, ESPN commentators Tony DiCicco and Monica Gonzalez discussed Sundhage’s tough choices setting the Olympic roster, so let’s take a look at these battles and who might get left off.
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Nicole Barnhart, 21-Ashlyn Harris, 1-Hope Solo
The U.S. will likely only go with two goalkeepers, and Barnhart has the edge over Harris as Solo’s backup, so that’s down to 23.
DEFENDERS (9): 19-Rachel Buehler, 14-Stephanie Cox, 22-Whitney Engen, 23-Meghan Klingenberg, 6-Amy LePeilbet, 2-Heather Mitts, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 3-Christie Rampone, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn
Engen and Klingenberg are clearly going to be off, as they’ve had little playing time. That leaves Cox, Mitts, O’Hara and Sauerbrunn. Replacing right-back Ali Krieger, who tore her ACL in Olympic Qualifying, is not an easy task, but O’Hara has stepped up considerably in the last few months on the left side of the defense, moving LePeilbet over to the right. Sauerbrunn and Cox proved themselves as a worthy backups in the World Cup as well, and Rampone has confidence in Sauerbrunn. That leaves Heather Mitts off. 20.
MIDFIELDERS (7): 7-Shannon Boxx, 17-Tobin Heath, 16-Lori Lindsey, 10-Carli Lloyd, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 8-Amy Rodriguez
The starting core of O’Reilly, Boxx, and Lloyd are set, and Lauren Cheney, though listed as forward will play in the midfield, so that leaves three backups. Rapinoe should make the roster, given how big she came up in the World Cup, and she had another strong performance today, nearly scoring. Lori Lindsey could be a wild card, but she’s a smart player and makes good decisions that will help the team maintain possession in the midfield. DiCicco and Gonzalez said it would come down to Heath and Rodriguez, but Pia has tended to be conservative, and go with experience. Amy has the versatility of playing both wing and forward, as well as speed needed late in matches. I’m leaning toward A-Rod staying and Heath off the roster. 19.
FORWARDS (4): 12-Lauren Cheney, 11-Sydney Leroux, 13-Alex Morgan, 20-Abby Wambach
And we’re down to 1. Will Leroux make the cut? DiCicco indicated that Pia thinks highly of Leroux, and she clearly has worked well when paired up front with Morgan. But in the Olympics, I don’t think that Sundhage will be taking Wambach out early, and Leroux and Wambach haven’t teamed up as well together. My guess is that, with Morgan firmly entrenched in a starting role, Leroux gets left off. Gonzalez said she’d take Leroux over Rodriguez, but I disagree. If there was any doubt in Sundhage’s mind about A-Rod, it should have been put to rest by her performance in her twenty minutes of today’s match.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think.
The U.S. next faces China at PPL Park in Chester, PA on Sunday, May 27. Tickets go on sale Friday.