Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE
The USWNT takes on Iceland in group play as the 2013 Algarve Cup gets underway from Portugal.
The United States Women's National Team will take on Iceland on Wednesday at Municipal Stadium in Albufeira, Portugal to open its 2013 Algarve Cup campaign. The U.S. finished third in last year's tournament, topping Sweden 4-0 on the strength of an Alex Morgan hat trick. Iceland finished sixth in 2012, losing 3-1 to Denmark in the fifth place match. The U.S. and Iceland last met in the 2011 Algarve cup final, with the U.S. taking home the top spot in the tournament with a 4-2 win.
In addition to Iceland, the U.S. will face China and as well former head coach Pia Sundhage's Sweden team for the first time since Sundhage left the USWNT last fall, in Group B. Group A consists of Denmark, Germany, Norway and Japan, and the top three teams from each group will meet in the final, third, and fifth place matches next week. A third group, made up of Hungary, host Portugal, Mexico and Wales will compete for seventh through twelfth places. The fourth place team with the better record from Group A or B will take on the winner of Group C in the seventh place match, while the second place finisher in group C takes on the other fourth place team from Group A or B in the ninth place match. The bottom two teams from Group C, who are the only ones left if you've followed The World's Most Complicated Word Problem/Tournament Seeding, play for 11th and 12th place.
The USWNT and Iceland have met twelve times, the three most recent of those matches all in the Algarve, and the U.S. is 11-0-1 all time against Iceland, scoring 35 goals and allowing just six. Iceland hasn't played a match since October, when they defeated Ukraine in a two-leg playoff for a spot in the 2013 Euros. The U.S. meanwhile, is coming off a pair of friendlies against Scotland last month, and the 23-player roster Tom Sermanni is bringing to Portugal isn't much of a departure from the squad that appeared in those matches.
One notable omission is Hope Solo, who is out with a wrist injury. Sermanni will bring Nicole Barnhart, Jillian Loyden and the still-uncapped Ashlyn Harris to Portugal. Harris has been to the Algarve twice before, but never saw the field under Sundhage. This could change under Sermanni, who was handing out first caps like Halloween candy in his first two matches in charge. And speaking of first caps, while Sermanni relied heavily on the Scotland roster for his Algarve Cup squad, he did make one addition, forward Lindsey Horan. The 18-year-old striker decided to forego college soccer to sign with PSG in France, where she has 10 goals in 13 appearances. Horan will add more depth to an already deep striker corps.
Of course, strikers are hardly the problem for the USWNT. In addition to Horan, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Christen Press and Abby Wambach should all see time in Portugal. With 153 career goals, Wambach is just 5 shy of Mia Hamm's all-time record of 158, but Iceland's physical game could limit Wambach's impact. In particular, WPS fans may remember Hólmfríður Magnúsdóttir, once of the Philadelphia Independence and many crushing tackles. The Iceland midfielder also has 30 goals for her country. The U.S. will have to rely heavily on the speed of Morgan in particular for offense, and Leroux should be a good weapon off the bench after a less than impressive run as a starter against Scotland. Press, who was impressive in her first two caps, will have more of a test against a more physical Iceland side, but club experience both in WPS and Sweden should help in that department.
One of two real questions for the U.S. though, is if that attack will have any link to the rest of the team. The disjointedness that often plagues the U.S. midfield is something Iceland will surely take advantage of, and while Sermanni has been willing to tinker, don't expect a total overhaul just yet. We could see Yael Averbuch though, who unlike Lloyd and her penchant for trying to do it all, understands the role of a playmaker, something that could prove valuable against a team that will certainly stop anyone that tries to just dribble through all of everything.
The other question is the U.S. defense, which remains a work in progress. The return of Ali Krieger certainly helped, but there's still a big something lacking in the organization department, and that something probably isn't going to be fixed against Iceland. In addition to Krieger, Sermanni has a few options in relative newcomer Whitney Engen and actual newcomer Crystal Dunn, as well as usual suspects Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler, Kelley O'Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn, so expect some tinkering here too, especially with six subs allowed in each match.
The match kicks off at 9 a.m. eastern and is available on Pay-Per-View through Integrated Sports. Fox Soccer will re-air the match at 9 a.m. eastern on Thursday.