Maura Gladys, as usual, with pinpoint accuracy on the state of the USWNT
It’s interesting what we talk about when we talk about the USWNT these days. The lineup is stable, their form has been great, and there is little room to nitpick their play on the field. (This is operating under the assumption that the defense was, is, and will continue to be leaky for the foreseeable future.) Instead, concerns focus on how the team starts and finishes a game.
The narrative has shifted from tactical to theoretical, a mark of a true championship-caliber team.
That shift, signifies an overall strength and health in the USWNT program, and was reflected in the United States’ group play performance. The squad came out of group play with three dominant wins, setting up a quarterfinal showdown with New Zealand, the weakest team still left in the tournament. Thanks to some other surprising results, the United States’ road to the gold medal match also got a bit easier.
After a bit of a rollercoaster ride against France, the U.S. settled down and easily handled Colombia and North Korea, downing them 3-0 and 1-0 respectively. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were stars during both games, with Rapinoe’s stunning vision setting up Carli Lloyd in the 77th-minute and scoring one of her own earlier in the game.
Morgan’s performance this tournament has been amazing. While Wambach is the force up front, muscling in goals, Morgan is the often the one that gets her there, with her speed and a stride that gobbles up grass at two times the rate of anyone else on the field, putting her in great positions.
If there is a weakness for the U.S., it’s how they fall into the rhythm of a game, and how they finish off an opponent. The U.S. has had a reputation of coming out flat for the past few years, a habit that has carried over into this tournament (uhhh, France, anyone?) Although, the argument that by coming out flat, the U.S. risks going down, say, 2-0 to a team early in a game, doesn’t seem as daunting after last week. But still. It’s never good to come out flat, and the U.S. should try not to.
The U.S. has the opposite problem when closing out an opponent. Against Colombia, the U.S. secured a 3-0 lead by the 77th minute, more than enough for an easy win. But, they kept pushing, throwing more attacks forward, charging at the goal, playing all-out. With a commanding lead, there was no need to keep stepping on the gas, risking unnecessary injury and fatigue. The Olympic tournament is intense enough, with a potential of six games in 16 days, that there’s no real gain from grinding during that last 15 minutes. It’s something the team might run into against New Zealand, and maybe even in the semifinals.
In New Zealand, the U.S. faces a team with very little fire power, and frankly, the U.S. should roll. New Zealand secured their spot in the semifinals as the second-best third place team, thanks to a 3-1 win over Cameroon.
More interesting is the potential semi-final match ups. A loss by Brazil and draw by Japan on the last day of group play, has put them in the same bracket, meaning that the U.S. will only need to beat one of the two teams in order to win a gold medal. The U.S.’ likely semifinal opponent instead is Great Britain, a strong team with an even stronger home advantage. But that’s getting too far ahead. For tomorrow, the U.S. needs to focus on bookending the game with strong performances to support the solid play that will almost certainly be there the rest of the game.