The USWNT took on Sweden Thursday afternoon in the highly anticipated rematch of the Rio Olympic quarterfinal that sent the former gold medalists home much earlier than they hoped or anticipated. That heartbreaking match that lead to heated comments and an overall sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment among US fans as they searched for the ailment preventing their team from soaring to the heights they had before. Some of those feelings may be assuaged, though, after the USWNT took home the win today against their de facto rival.
USA on defense for most of the first half
The USWNT returned to their familiar 4-4-2 formation as opposed to the three back formation they experimented with earlier this year, and it served them well against Sweden’s organized attack. The Swedes moved the ball well and were able to find balls through the cracks in the American midfield. Their attacking mindset during the match was in stark contrast to their Olympic strategy, was to remain steadfast on defense and make the most of few offensive chances. Perhaps sensing the defensive insecurity in the rotating lineup over the past few months, Sweden repeatedly tested the defense, getting multiple shots off, including one that was almost converted after Allie Long made a goal line save and attempted to dribble out of the six-yard box. Many of the shots went over the top of the goal, but goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher still put on an impressive performance, making multiple saves to secure her ninth ever shutout with the USWNT. While the U.S. was still able to get on the attack for short stretches, there was not enough connectivity to produce something of substance and the half ended at 0-0.
Second half brings a goal and more energy for USWNT
After the lackluster first half, the USWNT dialed in on their strategy, and that is where the difference was made. Instead of inpatient long balls and wild clearances with no real recipient, the team was patient in their attack and looked instead for quality chances. It took only ten minutes of that diligence for it to come to fruition, with Chelsea FC Ladies’ Crystal Dunn slipping the ball to the Boston Breakers’ Rose Lavelle who took a few touches before slipping the ball in the back post in the 56th minute. The goal brought the team a much-needed burst of energy, and while Sweden still had a few chances, none were taken with quite the same energy as they had in the first half. Both teams attempted to build and change the numbers on the board, but in the end, it was the sole goal from Lavelle that made the difference, her second in five CAPs.
U.S. focus moving forward
While the USWNT did succeed in getting a much-needed victory today, there are still gaps that need to be filled before the team can consider themselves ready for any major tournament. The team is still being exposed on the wings, as much of Sweden’s chances came from Olivia Schough and Kosovare Asllani. Meghan Klingenberg’s rust from injury was evident as she was regularly exposed and taken advantage of. Once Jill Ellis figures out how to best utilize the talent she has currently on the bench (the name Christen Press comes to mind) the team will be in noticeably better shape, it’s just a matter of whether the potential will be realized before 2019.