Sports

USWNT explore options, show versatility vs. Sweden, France as Olympic prep continues


As we inch closer to the summer Olympics — dare I say, even in a whisper, I feel confident it will indeed happen — I will, of course, spend a lot of time dissecting the U.S. women’s national team. Given the roster size for the Olympics is only 18 players, my completely unscientific dissection will only intensify as we get closer to June.

But I digress. Let’s go back and review the two most recent games the USWNT played in Europe: their 1-1 draw vs Sweden in Stockholm on April 10, and their 2-0 win over France in Le Havre, France on April 13.

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Vlatko Andonovski, USWNT head coach, came into this two-game European swing knowing it would be the toughest test his side would face leading into the Olympics, and the U.S. came to Europe with a 15-0 win/loss record under Andonovski, the most wins by any U.S. coach to start their tenure. Until Sweden, of course. (Why does it always have to be Sweden?)

Sweden had different plans for this U.S. team. Only by the grace of god (aka there was no VAR being used), the U.S. women were gifted a penalty in the late stages to salvage a draw. Instead of what should have been a free-kick outside the penalty area, Megan Rapinoe instead placed the ball on the penalty spot… and we all know how that show ends.

All in all, Sweden played a tremendous game. Clean, tactically solid and defensively excellent, they matched the U.S. stride-for-stride for most of the 90 minutes. If Kosovare Asllani & Co. had been a little more clinical in front of goal, they could have secured the win. The U.S. did out-shoot Sweden 20 to 9, but just never found their rhythm. They were not as technically clean as we’ve seen them in the past, especially in the final attacking third.

The good news for the U.S. (beyond equalizing, of course) is that this back-and-forth game was a wonderful (and always needed) reminder of the work that still needs to be done. Those reminders, especially when relatively bruise-free, are gifts in life.

The other good news? This was the first of two games, which gave the U.S. a chance to address some of the shortcomings against France. As Andonovski pointed out after Saturday’s tie: “It is not good enough… not good enough to win the Olympics. This is a good thing for us. I don’t wake up wishing we don’t do well, but still you are exposed to something we hadn’t seen before… We will address it going forward.”

Well, address it they did. In typical U.S. fashion, the players extracted the lesson from the Sweden game and brought a renewed energy and focus to the clash with France. (One thing to remember: this was essentially France’s B-team.) They were missing six of their Lyon stars due to a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the club, meaning key players like Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Amel Majri, Sakina Karchaoui and Delphine Cascarino were unavailable. Yes, that hurts. They also did not start Sandy Baltimore or Kadidiatou Diani, two standouts from their own win vs. England days prior.

Baltimore came on in the second half, though Diani never saw time on the field. Also, PSG star and leading scorer in Ligue 1, Marie-Antoinette Katoto, only played the first half. In fact, only two French starters remained from that classic quarterfinal clash in Paris at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Contrast that with 10 of the starting 11 for the US. The only starter missing for the U.S. from that game was Tobin Heath, still out with an injury. France fielded a young and talented side, yes, but not nearly the French team we are accustomed to seeing.

The U.S. got off to a great early start (exactly what they didn’t do against Sweden) and were swiftly up 2-0 thanks to Alex Morgan. Morgan drew a PK in only the fifth minute, which Rapinoe of course calmly converted, and then Morgan herself finished a beautifully slipped-in ball from Christen Press, in the 19th minute. From there, the U.S. never looked back.

France sat in a low block most of the game, showing such little urgency in the second half that it looked as if the U.S. were the team down two goals. In full command, the U.S. even had a chance to try something they have never done before: bring in all four midfield stars together. Yes, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Lindsay Horan and Rose Lavelle finally got to share the field, and full disclosure: I loved it. Lavelle played up high on the right side and was very active coming inside. I’ve wondered of late if the four could play in a diamond, or if Horan could play as a false 9. There are lots of options, and the promising point is that it gives the U.S. another layer of versatility.

For some final good news, folks, we officially have a field of 12 teams who have qualified for the Olympics. The 12 teams, in alphabetical order, are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, USA and Zambia.

Say it in a whisper… I CAN SEE THE LIGHT.





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