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.
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.
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.