Sweden 2, USA 1: US With A Scandinavian Designed Squandering

This piece by TSG’s USWNT analyst Maura Gladys

The United States’ 2-1 loss to Sweden in its final group game in the Women’s World Cup is the kind of game that makes you want to re-evaluate everything about a team. It makes you want to re-think the lineup, the tactics, the style, the philosophy, the youth system, the type of athletes we crank out, everything. But with a  quarterfinals date with Brazil just four days away, that isn’t possible.

For Sundhage, a few riddles to figure out before Sunday...

Today, Sweden pretty much out-everythinged the United States. They out-played, out-strategized and out-muscled Pia Sundhage and her squad, and although the two goals that they netted were somewhat flukey, the scoreline reflected the better team.

Riding a wave of momentum from their 3-0 trouncing of Colombia, Sundhage stuck with almost the same lineup as that game, except for Megan Rapinoe on for Heather O’Reilly who was nursing a groin injury, and re-inserting Shannon Boxx back at defensive center mid. But Rapinoe had shown fire off the bench, and Boxx, although slightly ineffective as of late hadn’t played a full-out bad game, so there was no reason not to view Sundhage’s lineup as anything other than solid.

No signs of a slip-up showed in the early stages of the game either. But as the United States pushed forward and attacked, Sweden began to counter just as readily, and with better looks. Hope Solo made a reaction save off a breakaway

But soon Sweden began executing a strategy of targeting the United State’s weakest or more inexperienced players, forcing them to make mistakes, a strategy which would ultimately guide them to a win.

In the 14th minute, Amy LePeilbet clumsily took down Lotta Schelin in the box as the striker tried to collect a pass, a move that earned LePeilbet a yellow card and set up a Sweden penalty kick. Despite Hope Solo’s attempts to ice kicker Lisa Dahlkvist, and her correct guess at the direction of the kick, Dahlkvist sent a screamer into the back of the net, to give Sweden the early lead.

Then in the 35th minute, Sweden doubled its lead when a Nilla Fischer free kick from 27 yards out deflected off LePeilbet, and caught Solo moving the wrong direction, landing in for a goal.

While the deflection was unlucky, the true fault of the goal falls on Rachel Buehler, who was beaten by Therese Sjogran and made a foolish tackle from behind to cause the free kick.

Rampone didn't marshall the backline today and Hope Solo's shutout streak ended...

Both goals were products of a defense that was caught off guard and made foolish mistakes. By targeting LePeilbet and Buehler, two less-experienced players, Sweden were able to goad them into basically shooting themselves in the foot.

The United States put several decent chances on goal during the half, including two Lauren Cheney near-misses, and a nifty Amy Rodriguez chip that hit the cross bar, and it appeared that the United States still had a few goals in them for the game.

But in the second half, the United States was unable to get the two goals needed to equalize, only mustering an Abby Wambach shoulder goal off of a corner kick in the 67th minute. The goal was Wambach’s first of the tournament and second of 2011, but was not enough to spark the squad. There was about a five-minute period directly after Wambach’s goal where the United States could have.

The Stars and Stripes spent the rest of the match looking flat, and playing with almost no sense of urgency. While they did put in decent chances, there was nothing that goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl couldn’t turn away. For most of. the latter part of the half, the Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe launched balls in from 30-plus yards out, sending them in almost every direction but on frame. The one close call that the United States did have came in the 86th minute when substitute Kelley O’Hara put a ball wide with an open net in front of her.

Unlike the previous two matches, Sundhage’s substitutions and lineup changes didn’t pay off. Shannon Boxx was basically invisible, while Rapinoe, although she made some decent runs, struggled with distributing and only practiced her field goals.

Alex Morgan, who came on for Amy Rodriguez, did well to earn the corner kick that led to Wambach’s goal, but she didn’t provide the spark that many thought her presence would bring.

The most puzzling move was putting Kelley O’Hara, who replaced the injured Lindsay Tarpley on the roster, in for Megan Rapinoe. Sundhage has insisted that her team was 21 players deep and that she was prepared to demonstrate that, by inserting the inexperienced O’Hara. But you can’t help but think that maybe any other person on the squad puts in the cross from Lauren Cheney in the 86th minute that O’Hara put wide.

The loss means that the United States takes second place in Group C, setting up a match up with Group D winners Brazil on Sunday. While the United States will have a big boost with Heather O’Reilly back on the field, it seems like there are much bigger holes to fill in, including mending the communication and organization of the defense, syncing up distribution on the wings and most importantly re-calibrating the squad’s focus and motivation.

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24 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jared on 2011/07/07 at 3:59 AM

    Maybe she watched the Gold Cup and thought O’Hara was her Bedoya?

    I watched the game and Sweden looked more dangerous throughout. The US backline looks very slow and played way too flat for the speed of Sweden.

    Watching the US launch 30 yard shots was kind of sad. They just kept doing it and seemed to get further away from goal with each additional shot. Makes you wonder why Sundhage didn’t put a stop to that practice.

    Reply

  2. The U.S. seemed off it’s game from the start. The long ball was back. Consistently sending balls deep from back in the midfield was the old style and it seemed to have been shelved for good, but that was much of the attack yesterday. There was no bridge between Lloyd/Boxx and the forward players as has been beautifully featured up to now under Pia’s guidance. Was the absence of O’Reilly the factor? Is she the catalyst for much of the midfield passing that has created more intentional (and attractive) build-up? Her ability to run constantly (and quickly) may have been missing on the right flank, and it is those attributes that could have contributed to more ball control and less long balls. But the team needs more than the skills of one player to play passing soccer, so Heather’s absence is only one factor – what happened?

    Reply

  3. im not sure sweeden was that much of the better team.
    we unluckily didnt net 3 pretty sure goals. and they had the same for 1 or 2
    BUT they put in two pretty fluky goals (as you said)
    im not 100% this game was as bad as is being said.
    o rielly’s loss of pace was huge, ohara couldnt come in a shake the butterflies in time to make a difference.
    and rapinoe was MUCH better after the moved or left.
    and morgan just hasnt made a difference…YET
    a rod shouldnt have come out, she was playing great.
    i would have pulled rapinoe for morgan and shifted the set up accordingly
    i think offensive pressue from US would have changed everything in the second.
    and WHY do they keep going over the top like alex morgan is peter crouch? it WASNT working. every chance we got came out of play the ball up the middle or sides, and the occasional long ball to the corner, but never up the middle.

    Reply

    • i guess my point is, when we are ON, our game looks pretty and it looks like we are dominating. but when we aren’t, we look terrible but still get great chances. they are scrapppy girls and even when they are seemingly the second best team out there, they still have a great chance of winning.
      not to mention we have solo back stopping us.

      Reply

  4. “But soon Sweden began executing a strategy of targeting the United State’s weakest or more inexperienced players, forcing them to make mistakes, a strategy which would ultimately guide them to a win.”

    i have to say i disagree with this,
    lepeilbet is not inexperience or weak. she just isnt fast.
    and beuhler was the culprit on the second goal with the bad first touch that led to the turnover that led to the foul (that led to the fluke goal) and she is quite experienced as well.
    both slow but their games are prepared for that, they have the positioning and pressure to deal with most speed and only a perfect ball can beat them, which only happen once (leading to the penalty)
    the solo break away save was off of Lloyd (an accidental ball)

    Reply

  5. Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/07 at 9:09 AM

    Well put. This post caught most of the reasons why the United States disgraced their uniform and #1 world ranking. I wouldn’t even have been as charitable with Lloyd’s or Cheney’s performances, which were easily critical failures in midfield.

    I thought Pia substituted horribly. Tobin Heath instead of O’Hara would have given us a threat down the right (not to mention someone who could hang on to the effing rock), and even then, if Rapinoe’s coming off before lePeilbet, Buehler or Boxx, that’s idiotic.

    Our defense sucked, to be sure. But let’s not for a minute ignore that the midfield service to strikers was horrid all match, and not only did the defense out of sheer panic and isolation have to spray balls 60 yards forward just to clear their lines, but the aforementioned Lloyd and Cheney lost every bit of composure they’d ever had in their careers.

    Win the ball, pass once, fire over the goal (or 25 yards wide left) from 40 yards, and give the rest of your team an ‘oh, well, eff off’ look as you trot back out to the center line to contest the goal kick is the mark of a fundamental attitude problem that on any other team in the world gets you benched or sent home. You also can’t take 19 shots in the run of play and not put a single one of them on frame, and tell me you deserve to sniff the pitch. Rec league teams don’t have that bad of a case of the shanks.

    Finally, Wambach. Yeah, yay, she broke her duck from a set piece. But being like Wayne Rooney for England and dropping deep just to get a touch on the rock is a problem, not a strategy. It’s time to sit down with the rest of team and talk this out, woman to woman: do you hate Abby? would you rather not see her play? if so, who WILL you pass to?

    If the women’s team wants my support and attention, they can damn well take my criticism when they embarrass this country on the pitch like that.

    Reply

    • i agree heath instead of ohara could have been the difference.

      Reply

    • Nothing personal, but I believe you are way over the top on your condemnation. They didn’t play great, and I was frustrated, but your last paragraph is an indictment against you. Maybe you should consider that Sundhage is a highly respected international coach, and you are sitting home posting comments on a message board. Don’t misunderstand, obviously I am posting as well, but I think to come on and act as if you are the all knowing soccer/futbol guru is a bit much. Just my opinion, just don’t want anyone to leap to their death or anything.

      Reply

      • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/07 at 11:37 AM

        Just my opinion, but I thought much of Johninho’s comment was so over the top I didn’t even know where to begin.

        Reply

      • Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/07 at 11:45 AM

        Nothing personal, either, but welcome to a community where people care about soccer, and you’re way out of line trying to tell me what I should say. I didn’t say I knew everything, or even suggested as much. That said, I saw the whole match, and I’ve been in the sport for long enough to recognize the mistakes I listed.

        So if you disagree, tell me where. But to tell me I don’t rate being able to post (while you also, post) is very much the opposite of okay, whether it’s just your opinion, you’re ‘just sayin’, or whatever.

        Maybe you should consider you’re not the opinion police, and either challenge my post on its merits or get out of my face.

        Furthermore, Pia Sundhage isn’t exempt from criticism or above reproach for her coaching decisions any more than Bob Bradley is, and we’ve all buried him for much the same mistakes as I reported Pia made against Sweden.

        Many athletes would sacrifice greatly to play for their country, and they wouldn’t squander the opportunity like this team did yesterday.

        Have a nice day.

        Reply

        • Posted by gary on 2011/07/07 at 12:23 PM

          Sorry to offend. Just think that Sundhage is higbly respected by her peers which we r not. BB is not highly respected internationally. When someone is obviously one of the best in their feild, i think its pretty ridiculous for me to act as if i could have done better, or that i thought something she hadn’t. I respect her pedigree. Thats all i was trying to say. But i didnt do a very good job of it. I appreciate your passion, just trying to give a perspective.
          BTW if they beat Brazil all is fine again. Had to beat them sometime to win the cup anyway.

          Reply

          • Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/07 at 12:43 PM

            Thanks, it’s all good.

            Is there a criteria for that? I mean, what makes Sweats the crap magnet and Pia untouchable? I honestly don’t see it.

            For me, they’re both terrible at team selection and substitutions. They both lose matches our National Team could have won very much BECAUSE of that lack of selection acumen.

            Only two coaches in the history of American women’s soccer deserve that kind of treatment: their names are Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco. And I shouldn’t even have to say why.

            Reply

            • My thought on the Pia stuff, is that I don’t think the players are as talented as we have had in the past. In my opinion, no where near the athletes we had with Hamm, Lilly, Markgraff, Foudy, I forget the centerback who dominated for so long, etc… She is competeing against a world that takes the Womens Soccer much for seriously then in prior decades, with less talent. I do think there are a few exceptional athletes (Solo, O’Reilly, Rampone) but there are more than a few average athletes on the field every time we play(Buehler, Boxx, Rampinoe, Cheney). I think typically she gets a lot out of them.

              The only thing I can figure on the OHARA sub was trying to get her some time in case there were more injuries. She evidently has a lot of confidence in her. The subs in the first two games were very effective, this time not at all. And sometimes you do everything right as a coach, and the player for some reason plays horribly. Although i would not have made that sub, thats all.

              As for BB – well he is maddening to me. The love affairs with certain players drives me nuts, and I don’t think he is highly regarded, so i don’t necessarily bow to his pedigree or peers. That may not make sense to others, but it does somehow in my mind.

              Have a great day!

            • Posted by Tux on 2011/07/07 at 5:07 PM

              Akers was the CB you’re referring to there.

        • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/07 at 1:29 PM

          I have no problem with criticism of Pia. I don’t think much from what I’ve seen, and O’hara certainly made her look foolish, but to say the team was an embarrassment in a match I thought they could’ve won I think is over the top.
          I also didn’t see the body language or reluctance to pass to Wambach you cited.
          What you saw as an expression of “eff off” I saw as frustration at a game plan that isn’t working. What you saw as players not wanting to pass to Abby I saw as her being marked out of the game and not even trying.
          Passion is good, but calling people a disgrace is going too far imo.

          Reply

          • Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/07 at 2:01 PM

            The performance was disgraceful and an embarrassment, not the player, and I’m looking for anywhere I called any one person, including Pia, a disgrace. I don’t find it.

            But Wambach 1) scored our only goal and 2) had other shots on frame, unlike Cheney, O’Hara, ARod, Lloyd from 45 yards out, and despite, as you say being marked out of the game.

            Hope Solo made some stone dead saves, or this would have been at least 3:1.

            Sweden punished our mistakes. Brazil won’t even wait for us to make any.

            Reply

          • Posted by Ufficio on 2011/07/07 at 2:29 PM

            I’m with Kaya here. Cheating, engaging in thuggery, giving up on the team, belting Bruce Springsteen lines into the corner mic – these things are embarrassing and/or disgraceful. Having a poor performance? Happens to every team in sports from time to time.

            Reply

    • Posted by SamT on 2011/07/07 at 2:07 PM

      +1, Kaya.

      Reply

  6. Posted by kaya on 2011/07/07 at 10:48 AM

    I didn’t think Sweden dominated us by any means, but as Matthew mentions, they certainly did take advantage of a few keys spots. But the lack of bite in offense is at least as much of a problem as the defense. Sure, the US backline is slow, but if we’re trying to play the catenaccio here, it’s definitely the wrong tactic for our squad.
    I loved Solo’s attempt at disrupting the PK. Overall, it was actually a pretty fun game to watch because there were so many shots on goal. At this point, I’m not seeing how we’re going to get past Brazil. I think Brazil will be able to take Wambach out of the game like Sweden were. Marta and Rosana will be a nightmare for the defense…. I hope this won’t be a repeat of the 2007 semi.

    Reply

    • they took advantage on the penalty, but the 2nd goal was a complete fluke.
      hard to say the US lost this game. but its easy to say they didnt put forth the effort, and/or recognize the changes needed as the game slowly went on to find the comeback. which they could have.

      Reply

  7. Thoughts /Lineup changes:

    - O’Reilly sorely missed

    - The winner of Brazil v USA will probably be the team that can keep the other team pressed back in their own end the most. The US backline will have troubles tracking Marta. To relieve that pressure the US need to be a constant threat and win the central midfield battle.

    - With that in mind, Cheney needs to move back up top;
    Then the team has that added dimension of her ability to drop back, link up, and cover on defense. Boxx and Lloyd may get overwhelmed otherwise. Wambach should not be dropping deep to link. That is not why she is in there.

    - At the current moment, the assumption should not be that the attacking formation needs to be based around Wambach first and foremost. Not saying that Wambach shouldn’t start, she probably should in the holdup striker role. But it shouldn’t be the case that the second striker is picked based on who best compliments Abby.

    - On Wambach’s play: she has had good movement off of the ball, dragging and muscling up defenders, and being in good spots; But she seems 2 steps slow (possibly hampered by achillles), has not been great with the ball at her feet, unable to effectively take on her defender with the ball. She is obviously a beastly threat in the air, but her poor recent finishing is still not solved. I think a large part of that finishing is not getting fully settled for the finish due to getting there a second too late. On that through ball 2 matches ago where it goes off of Abby’s knee and the post, Rodriguez would have broke through on goal and made it there. All in all if it is agreed that Abby is no longer a superstar, then it is legitimate to wonder whether another more dynamic forward combo would trouble the backline with more pace. Say Rodriguez slightly above Cheney. Really difficult here since Wambach has the tactical knowledge advantage. Ultimately if the US controls possession a little more and doesn’t rush it, then Wambach will really pay off, if they are looking to counter though, Rodriguez or Morgan may be a better fit.

    - Rapinoe going back to LM would seem to add more defensive help like she previously did. LePeilbet or Cox could use the help.

    Reply

  8. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/08 at 8:53 AM

    I’ve really enjoyed watching this team and this game in particular was tremendously exciting but frustrating from a fan’s perspective.

    I think the disgraceful tag is quite over the top seeing the number of solid chances attempted but not taken. That is a trend that should not surprise as this has been the norm througout the tournament. 3-0 v Colombia was only accomplished with, no exageration, 15+ on/near frame chances that hit posts, were saved or just rolled wide. Similar to the MNT, this is a squad of MidF’s trying to score goals.
    In contrast to above post, I thought Cheney was outstanding and heroic in her abiliy to hold up and possess the ball out wide and get into shooting positions.
    As much as I’ve loved Lloyd in the past, she is badly miscast in the CMF role. Similar to Mikey, she doesn’t like receiving the ball with her back to goal and with her forwards mentality, makes one move and has to either shoot the ball or get rid of it. That’s why O’Reilly is so important as she is their linking system goes through the wide MF out from the CDM.
    I thought Boxx was influential actually and was always available as an outlet at both ends and willing to dribble penetrate and dish which Lloyd will not do. Her DNA says SHOOT! I think Boxx may suffer a bit from playing alongside an out of position Lloyd. I say drop Boxx back to CDM (ball winner and composed distribution), Cheney in the hole as the link behind Rodriguez and Lloyd.

    Reply

  9. Posted by kaya on 2011/07/08 at 1:09 PM

    I watched the studio 90 with Abby… I kind of thought her explanation of the team’s path through the WC sounded almost mystical… I hope I’m just reading it wrong, because I don’t think the “just go for it” attitude is all that’s needed to win.

    Reply

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