Unable to capitalize on their possession advantage through much of the match, the U.S. trailed 1-0 at halftime. In the 28th minute, Sofia Jakobsson sent the ball in from the left side of the box, which appeared to deflect off Christie Rampone’s back and hooked just inside the far post past U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, who didn’t have a play on it.
The U.S. was plagued by their oft-seen inability to finish, sending the ball into traffic, over the crossbar, wide of the net, or maddeningly, off the crossbar or post. Abby Wambach squandered a couple of key chances with a header over the bar, after Shannon Boxx headed one perfectly into her off a corner kick, and another off the post on a cross from Heath. Amy Rodriguez had a couple of hard shots on goal, as did Boxx and Carli Lloyd, but for much of the night the team couldn’t put it together on the final touch for anything dangerous.
It wasn’t until Alex Morgan came into the match with less than 15 minutes to play that the spark ignited. She just barely missed knocking one in soon after she entered the match when the ball hit – what else? – the post. In the 81st minute, Morgan sent a shot toward goal which was deflected away by the Swedish keeper, but Tobin Heath was there to rebound and knock it in for the equalizer. Morgan took another shot not even a minute later, but the ball was just wide. By the time the clock hit 90 minutes, “Alex Morgan” was trending worldwide on Twitter, despite the game receiving no television coverage, with the only broadcast a webcast on ussoccer.com.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the effect that Alex Morgan has on the team’s ability to finish off opportunities, as many have been calling for her to start up top with Wambach in order to create more speed in the front. As the U.S. begins preparation next month for January’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, Morgan’s role will become one heavily in the spotlight. For now, though, Sundhage insists that coming off the bench late “is the reason why she is so good… It was a small role and she did perfectly well. It will not work for 90 minutes.”
Tobin Heath has also earned herself more playing time with strong performances in the post-World Cup international friendlies, and has the ability to create speed, take on defenders and create mismatches in the midfield. With Shannon Boxx likely to retire after the Olympics, the midfield will need some shaking up in the near future, and Heath could be one to provide that.
Hope Solo did not play, having just finished her run on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, but keeper Nicole Barnhart made some critical saves, including one in stoppage time to prevent a potential winning goal by Sweden. Solo will return for training camp in Los Angeles in December.
The decision by ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel to pass on this match caused much criticism from soccer fans on Twitter. Both networks hold contracts to broadcast U.S. women’s soccer games, but according to a tweet from SI.com’s Grant Wahl, both had “filled [their] quota for the year” and chose not to air it.
While more than 18,000 fans showed up at the stadium in Phoenix to see the U.S. take on one of the top teams in the world, many more were denied the chance to watch due to broadband and streaming issues, including a few soccer journalists. The webcast was surely better than no coverage, but many of the camera shots were too close up on the ball and the picture quality was far from what many are used to on television. After the increase of interest in women’s soccer since the World Cup, and with the Olympic Games on the horizon, U.S. women’s soccer deserves better from the national media.
The CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament begins January 20, 2012 in Vancouver. The U.S. will face the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico in group play.