group of death

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015: USA v. SWE

On Friday night in front of a packed house at Winnipeg Stadium in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the #2 ranked USWNT matched up against #5 ranked Sweden and former coach, Pia Sundhage. It was quite the battle, but ended in a 0-0 draw giving each team 1 point in their second match of the group stage (Sweden had 1 in the first game, U.S.A. had 3). The game (like one of the Fox announcers said) was a chess match. It was patient, strategic, and well-played by both sides who were unwilling to budge. Both teams had their fare share of possession and chances, the best being off a Sweden corner kick late in the game. For the U.S.A. what stood out the most in this match was the play of the backline. Defenders, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Ali Krieger, were relentless defending the Swedish attack and proved to be the biggest difference makers for the American side. Megan Rapinoe continued her solid play from Monday night by creating chances and keeping possession on the left flank. In the first half, the game started slow with a back-and-forth settled attack for both sides that didn’t really result in any close chances. Towards the end of the first half though, the U.S. attack was sparked by the undeniable chemistry from Rapinoe and Krieger, even though both play on opposite sides of the pitch. From the left, Rapinoe switched the play by finding Krieger on the right flank, who had space to push the ball forward and send crosses to the box. Despite the effort though, none of their opportunities were converted.

In the second half, the game’s intensity picked up as the scoring chances became more frequent and more dangerous for both teams. As mentioned, the best chance overall came from Sweden in the 77th minute. They were awarded a corner kick that was sent to the middle of the box and headed down by a Swedish attacker to the feet of Sweden’s Caroline Seger. She took a left-footed shot that curled to the far post which was covered by Klingenberg, who headed the ball away. The header hit the underside of the crossbar before it bounced away for a U.S. clearance. If Klingenberg did not make the stop, it would have been a sure goal for Sweden as the diving Hope Solo wouldn’t have got a finger on the ball. It was the play of the game for sure. It was also one of several times the USWNT’s backline came up huge. Julie Johnston, who started her first World Cup match Monday night, played with confidence as she thwarted away any attack that came at her. She also maintained possession well and tried to make plays to ignite the U.S. offense. Two-time NWSL Defender of the Year, Becky Sauerbrunn, who played almost every minute of the every match for the USWNT since the beginning of 2015, made a couple huge plays in the U.S. defensive end. Being a centerback, her play often goes unnoticed by many media personnel and fans alike. However, she is one of the most integral pieces of the USWNT. In a tournament like this though, her efforts will surely not go unrecognized for long as the games will get tougher and she will get called upon to make strong defensive plays to stop opposing attacks.

Of note, Morgan Brian made her first World Cup start as she was selected to play in place of Abby Wambach. Also of note, for the last two matches the play of the U.S. central midfielders, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday (Cheney) has been average at best. For the USWNT to succeed as the tournament progresses, these two will need to get better (Yep, I’m calling you out Cheney and Carlos!).

The U.S.A. currently sits atop Group D with 4 points and one match left to play in the Group Stage against Nigeria on Tuesday night in Vancouver. Right now, they have a pretty good shot at qualifying for the Round of 16, but they’ll still need to put in a strong effort against a fast Nigerian team. In the meantime, there’s another 3 days of agonizing waiting until women’s football’s finest take the pitch again. Another battle begins Tuesday at 8:00 ET on Fox as the USWNT continues their journey to settle the score. I hope you’ll be watching.

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The Countdown Continues: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Draw

Today was the draw for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, which begins June 6th. The results of the draw are as follows:

Group A – Canada, China PR, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group B – Germany, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Norway, Thailand

Group C – Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador

Group D – USA, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria

Group E – Brazil, Korea Republic, Spain, Costa Rica

Group F – France, England, Colombia, Mexico

So what does that mean for my favorite ladies in the red, white, and blue? Supposedly Group D is the toughest group in the competition with 3 of the top 10 teams in the world as part of it. Those three teams being the USA (#1), Sweden (#5), and Australia (#10). Nigeria is also the top African nation out of those that qualified for the Women’s World Cup (#35 in the world).

The media can say whatever they want about making it sound insanely tough for the USA just to build up a good storyline about the “group of death”, but the truth is the USWNT is the best in the world so there’s no reason to worry. Whatever group the USA was placed in would have been a challenge because every team in the world knows they’re one of the best. They’re no underdog. It’s theirs to lose. However, to be the best in the world, you have to play against the best in the world and win against the best in world. So in this way, the script for the USWNT in the 2015 Women’s World Cup group stage cannot be written any better. They have to bring their A game throughout the entire competition. Maybe it will allow them to be better prepared for games in the Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Finals assuming they make it to those stages.

Sweden will most likely be their toughest test in group play and it’s not like they haven’t faced them in the group stage before. Actually they’ve faced them in the group stage during the last 4 Women’s World Cups and have a 3-1 record against them. The loss came in 2011 where Sweden ended up winning the group. So it’s not out of the norm despite the hype.

The Women’s World Cup is still 6 months away and there’s a lot of soccer and preparation to take place until then. The USWNT plays in a tournament in Brazil beginning this Wednesday December 10, 2014 where they will kick-off against China PR. They’ll also play two more games against #6 ranked Brazil and Argentina. The final of the tournament is December 21st. In February the team will travel overseas for friendlies against England and France. Then, in March the team will compete in the annual Algarve Cup tournament which takes place in the Algarve region of Portugal. There may even be a few more yet to be announced friendlies that happen before the World Cup begins on June 6th. There’s plenty of time to prepare and I have no doubt when June 8th rolls around (the first match vs. Australia) they’ll be ready to begin their quest to rightfully be called the best women’s football team in the world. It’s gold or bust.