Editors’s Note: The US Women are on the ground in Germany, TSG guest columnist Maura Gladys is taking a look at each positional group. Today, the midfield.
The midfield is both the strongest and weakest aspect of the United States’ game. There are no personnel issues, as the starting midfield will almost undoubtedly be Megan Rapinoe on the left wing, Heather O’Reilly on the right, and Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd in the middle with Boxx playing a holding midfield position and Lloyd creating more of the attack.
Despite knowing the likely lineup, there are still several kinks that need to be worked out, and not where you would think.
Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe are thriving on the wings, while the central midfield tandem of Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd are struggling to click, leaving the middle of the field dangerously vulnerable.
Rapinoe and O’Reilly’s play in the three warm up matches before the squad left for Austria confirmed the notion that the wings are the team’s strongest component. The two are playing like true wingers, sending in mouth-watering crosses, running at defenders and charging into the box when the moment calls for it. O’Reilly’s play in the friendly against Japan on May 18 is textbook for how a winger should play. She set up the U.S.’s first goal by working the wing, then finding Lloyd at the top of the box for an easy slot in. Then, she created a goal for herself, finding space and ripping a shot past the goalkeeper. While she hasn’t showed up on the scoreline lately, Rapinoe has been just as effective. She worked well with left back Amy LePeilbet against Mexico, and sent in several great services to Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez. She did flub a few chances in front of the goal, but seriously, who didn’t in that match.
In those warm-up games, a lot of the attack stemmed from the wings, so Rapinoe and O’Reilly will be expected to shoulder a lot of the offensive load in creating opportunities for their teammates and themselves.
One of the reasons that a lot of that offense will be funneled down the wings is because of the struggles of Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd to establish a strong presence in the middle. Lloyd and Boxx have enough caps between them to merit full veteran status. Yet, they just haven’t clicked the way you would think two players of their stature would this close to the World Cup.
They both have their strong and weak points. Boxx is a gritty, scrappy defensive mid, but she will often leave her position and get pulled up into the play, leaving the center of the midfield weak, and sometimes, (especially when a fullback has pushed up) hanging the defense out to dry. Lloyd excels at creating scoring chances for herself, but she struggles to distribute from the midfield effectively and often loses possession.
That said, the central midfield isn’t a mess. It’s just that not as much offense flows from it and it isn’t as tight as you would expect from two veterans with so much experience.
Substitute-wise, Lori Lindsay often relieves Boxx, while Tobin Heath and Kelly O’Hara pitch in on the wings. Forward Lauren Cheney can also sometimes drop back and play a midfielder roll, like she did in the game against Mexico. But, it’s not likely that many of them will see much time.