It was a mixed performance today from the U.S. Women’s National Team in one of their final tune-ups before they jet off to London for the Olympics. The U.S. kicked off the Volvo Winners Cup, a friendly tournament with the top three finishers from last summer’s World Cup, against hosts Sweden at Örjans Vall Stadium in Halmstad, and will finish against the World Cup Champions, Japan, on Monday, June 18.
The U.S. came away with a 3-1 win, but not without some concern. Let’s look at what went right and wrong for the two-time defending gold medal winners.
The U.S. scored three goals and mostly held off a strong Swedish attack, led by Lotta Schelin, to preserve the win. Abby Wambach put the USA up early with an 8th-minute strike from about 35 yards out, over the head of Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Watch this beauty here:
In the 22nd minute, Alex Morgan was Alex Morgan, receiving a serve into the penalty area from Shannon Boxx, cutting around her defender, pulling Lindahl off her line and providing a perfect strike into an open net for her 25th career goal in 40 appearances.
“Oh my!” indeed.
Morgan nearly had a second goal to close out the first half, but she was just a step too late on a gorgeous cross from Megan Rapinoe that landed just in front of goal, and she skied it over the cross-bar.
Tobin Heath came into the match in the second half for Heather O’Reilly and in the 55th minute, took advantage of a disorganized Swedish defense to slip into an open penalty area and head the ball in for the third and final goal.
The Swedish defense looked extremely susceptible early, and it looked like it could be a repeat of the USA’s 4-0 blowout of Sweden in the Algarve Cup third-place match earlier in the year. But their midfield kept them in the game, taking advantage of their opponent’s miscues to win back the bulk of the possession in the second half and minimize the U.S.’s attacking chances.
Hope Solo provided some spectacular saves, including an 18th minute long-distance strike from Swedish forward Lotta Schelin that would have tied the game up at 1 apiece, and not a minute later, another from Schelin, crossing in from the left side of the penalty area. For me, Solo wins the Bud Light Woman of the Match, as she had herself in perfect position to cover for a very susceptible back line today.
The central midfield and back line were not up to par today, making Solo’s role especially critical. Heather Mitts started at right back, as Kelley O’Hara was out with a quad injury sustained during training camp, and Lauren Cheney started in the midfield in place of Carli Lloyd. I thought that Cheney starting alongside Boxx in the middle would provide more of a midfield attacking spark, and that she would wind up with a goal, but it wasn’t to be.
Rampone held the center and made some tough plays to drive Sweden’s attackers off the ball, and Becky Sauerbrunn filled in nicely for the captain in the second half, but for the most part, the defense was caught out of position and was forced to play catch up to clear away the ball before Sweden had a chance to strike. Lotta Schelin’s 35th minute goal was well-deserved, especially after earlier chances where she was stymied by Solo, but she really got the better of Rachel Buehler on the play.
The U.S. started quickly in the second half, catching Sweden off guard, and Megan Rapinoe nearly headed in a third goal in the opening seconds, but it went off the crossbar.
After Heath’s goal ten minutes in, they slowed down and couldn’t maintain possession through the midfield to give their attackers anything to work with. The back line had difficulty providing solid service forward that wasn’t easily intercepted by the Swedish midfield, and the USA found themselves unable to play the possession game, one of the trademarks of their game.
It really wasn’t until the final minutes of the match that the U.S. was able to build up pressure on a tired Swedish defense again. A long-range shot from Carli Lloyd, who subbed in for Boxx after halftime, threatened to give them a cherry on top but Lindahl was just able to get a hand on it for the save. Cheney finally got involved in the attack as the clock hit 90 minutes, but her strike from the center of the penalty area just went over the crossbar.
In about the 50th minute, technical difficulties from Universal Sports Network, caused a blackout and fans watching missed nearly five minutes of the match. Thankfully, they were able to resolve the issues just in time for us to catch Heath’s header, but I’ll be looking forward to NBC’s broadcast of USA-Canada in their Olympics sendoff match on June 30.
In the meantime, we’ll hope that Universal Sports resolves these issues before Monday’s match against Japan, who they have yet to beat in three tries since falling in penalty kicks in the Women’s World Cup Final. The match will air live on universalsports.com at 7:00am ET, and re-air on television (for DirectTV and DISH Network customers) at 10:00am ET.
What did you think of the U.S. WNT’s performance today? Comment here or drop us a tweet at @AerysSoccer.