U.S. seek spot in World Cup Final: what they need to do to get there
The game against Brazil was by no means an easy one. But it did prove one thing to those that questioned if the United States had the ability to compete in the World Cup stage. The United States showed heart, determination and perseverance and did not give up. They fought to the final minute. They withstood the challenge of playing down one player against the quick and skilled Brazilian national team. And who better to score the goal that would send the game to penalty kicks than Abby Wambach, who struggled in the matches leading up to the World Cup. She seems to have hit her stride, scoring in the loss to Sweden in group play and scoring one goal against Brazil and converting her penalty kick during the shoot-out.
The path to the World Cup final looks clear for the United States. Germany and Brazil are both out of the running, and they will be playing France in the semifinals. However, that is no reason for the United States to relax, because as we’ve seen throughout this tournament, anything can happen. The U.S. will need to keep its eyes out for Japan who defeated two-time defending World Cup champion Germany in the quarterfinals. The Japanese women, ranked No. 4 in the world, are known for precise passing and being light on their feet. The United States has the speed of midfielder Heather O’Reilly and forward Amy Rodriguez to keep up with Japan, but if the United States meet Japan in the final, coach Pia Sundhage will need to make some adjustments on the defensive line. In the Brazil game, Sundhage switched Christie Rampone with Rachel Buehler to spread the speed over the back line. Buehler and Amy LePeilbet do not have the pace to keep up with the quick forwards and midfielders they will face. By separating Buehler and LePeilbet, they can recover better because Ali Krieger and Rampone have the speed to chase down balls that get behind the defense. Sundhage should make this switch a permanent move.
The United States will also need to be aware of Sweden, who has already beaten them once in the tournament. Sweden started forward Josefine Oqvist against the United States in their first meeting because she is extremely quick. Oqvist repeatedly snuck in behind the U.S. defense. Combined with the experience of Lotta Schelin up front and Nilla Fischer anchoring the central midfield, the United States had no answer for the Sweden attack. In order for the United States to be successful against Sweden, if they should face them in the finals, the defensive switch will need to be made for the United States: split up the slower LePeilbet and Buehler. Coach Pia Sundhage should also consider making some switches in the midfield. Sweden took control of the game by taking control of the midfield and keeping possession in the middle third of the field.
The United States just need to take one game at a time. The next game is the semifinal game against France. France has not been particularly threatening during the World Cup. The only real test they’ve had is against Germany during group play. This game will allow the United States the chance to make some changes in their lineup. Rampone and LePeilbet should play together on the left side again and Ali Krieger should play on the right side. They will also need to address who will take defender Rachel Buehler’s spot in the next game after her red card. Shannon Boxx did a great job stepping in as a central defender. Coach Pia Sundhage could put Boxx back in the central right defense to add some height and power, especially since France has some tall targets, and can strike with their heads. Adding Boxx to the back line will combat the tall presence of the French front line. If Boxx is moved to a central midfield position, Sundhage should insert Megan Rapinoe into the starting lineup in the midfield. She’s proved herself and has earned her spot back. She has one goal (and one penalty kick) in four games, and sent a perfect cross to Wambach to score the equalizer against Brazil. Coach Sundhage needs to consider making a switch in the midfield. Lori Lindsey should start for Carli Lloyd in the midfield. Lloyd has played every minute of every game so far in the tournament. In the Brazil game it took nearly 90 minutes for Lloyd to get herself involved in the game. Lloyd likes to strike from distance, but has not been taking smart shots. Sundhage needs to give Lloyd a break. Lindsey is a slower paced player, but she would make up for that with her ball-handling skills.
Abby Wambach will have an issue of her own to deal with: 6’1″ defender, Wendie Renard. Renard will undoubtedly be marking the 5’11” Wambach. Both have a presence in the air, and with Renard having two inches on Wambach, she’ll have more difficulty getting her head on the ball in the attacking third. Amy Rodriguez needs to find her stride. She has been almost non-existent in the last two games. She has had easy shots that she could not convert. Sundhage could start Alex Morgan for the first time. She came in as a substitute in the Brazil game and put the pressure on the Brazilian defense. Rodriguez has the speed, but Morgan has the height and the speed that would give France some difficulty. Morgan has been given the opportunity to come off the bench, but I’d like to see what she can do starting. The change would not hurt the United States starting line and I think that she could put a goal in given more time on the field.
I think the U.S. women have a leg up in the next competition. The U.S. has a deep bench and the freedom to explore its options with its lineup. The women have proved they will fight hard and fight till the end. After the challenges the United States overcame against Brazil, the team will be hard to stop.