Welcome back, Maura Gladys
For a little more than three weeks, the possibilities seemed endless for the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Oct. 27, Pia Sundhage named the 30 players headed into a two-week training camp in Arizona, to prepare for their upcoming match against Sweden. Peppered with a mix of 2011 World Cup vets and promising newcomers, including Whitney Engen, Brittany Bock, Ingrid Wells and Sydney Leroux the camp had the potential to produce a dynamic and lethal new-look squad ready to shed their World Cup identity and move towards Olympic qualifiers in January.
But the excitement for those possibilities died down this afternoon when Sundhage announced the 18 players named to the roster for today’s game. The squad features 18 of the 21 players from this summer’s World Cup squad, minus Hope Solo (who didn’t attend training camp due to her prior commitments with Dancing With the Stars), Megan Rapinoe (minor MCL sprain) and Kelley O’Hara.
Disappointing, to say the least.
So a game that was supposed to mark the official launching point of the team’s Olympic campaign still has a strong taste of World Cup 2011.
Today’s game could have provided the perfect opportunity for the team to move out of the shadow of their World Cup identity, by continuing to implement a new 4-2-3-1 lineup and testing out new, exciting talent against a strong, challenging team like Sweden.
Now, the next time Sundhage rolls out a lineup, qualification for the Olympics will be on the line, and there will be no room for experimentation.
The lineup doesn’t provide much room for speculation or imagination and unless something drastic happens, the same, already-tired narrative will play out, foreseeably, through Olympic qualifiers.
The frustration with Lloyd and Boxx in the midfield will continue and the defense will remain just strong enough to hold off their opponent, but hardly dominant.
The two bright spots that could come out of this game? The further development of the 4-2-3-1 and the continuation of the rise of Tobin Heath.
Sundhage unveiled the 4-2-3-1 formation during the two-game Celebration Series against Canada in September, to mixed results. However, it allowed several players, including Lauren Cheney, Carli Lloyd and Amy Rodriguez to thrive. A good performance within the system could solidify A-Rod and Lloyd’s place in the starting lineup come January.
One of the hallmarks of the system, the dependence on outside defenders to push up the flanks and attack will be tested greatly against a team like Sweden that likes to play balls over the top and quickly counterattack. It’s a tall, but achievable order for right back Ali Krieger and left backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy LePeilbet.
The most exciting thing to watch for today will be the play of Tobin Heath. Heath impressed against Canada, and is poised to assert herself as the heir to the U.S. midfield, especially within the 4-2-3-1. She has pinpoint accuracy, slick ball skills, and a playmaking eye, all of which shone through against Canada. Heath will have a tougher test against Sweden, who will no doubt try to push the lanky UNC grad off the ball frequently. But with targets like the versatile Lauren Cheney, the industrious Heather O’Reilly and the mercurial Abby Wambach, Heath should be able to use this game to convince Pia to hand over the keys to the U.S. midfield and let her coast.
Sundhage will be allowed to use six subs during the game, meaning all players will see time on the field. Maybe this means Alex Morgan will get a little more than a run-around this time, however Sundhage has yet to detour from any of her previous moves. So, it’s not likely.