Ah, we meet again Pia Sundhage.
Sundhage was once the coach of the U.S. women’s national team, taking over in 2008 and bringing together a fractured team after things went haywire at the 2007 World Cup. She got them to gold in 2008, within a hairsbreadth of winning in 2011, and to gold again in 2012.
That team was a very, very different team than the one Sundhage will face tomorrow. For starters: no Abby Wambach. For another: so many other things, including the formation, the attacking style, the options at forward, the roles of the center backs, the shifting of the midfield, and the releasing of Lloyd to roam. The team is a full cycle beyond Sundhage’s fairly staid 4-4-2 formation and “find Abby with the long ball” approach and it shows, despite their struggles in group to find a better attacking rhythm.
As for Sweden, they have done their own fair share of struggling to keep their heads above water in this tournament. They squeaked through into quarterfinals as one of two best third-place teams, managing four points and a -3 goal differential in a group with Brazil, China PR, and South Africa. Three of those points were a lackluster effort against #52 ranked South Africa that came out 1-0. (Seriously, go look at the mess it took to get one of their two total goals.) They got handled 5-1 by Brazil. And they held up ok defensively but couldn’t find the net for a 0-0 against China PR. Or, as Pia Sundhage put it:
So the U.S. may not have as much to worry about against Sweden as they would if they’d ended up facing a team like Australia or Germany. But they seemed to lose focus at the end of group, leading to that 2-2 tie against Colombia, and this is the quarterfinals. You lose focus for a second, and someone like Lotta Schelin or Kosovare Asllani is going to pounce on your mistake and probably make you pay for it.
They’ve also got Nilla Fischer, who may not be Wendie Renard, but can also get in the box and take advantage of a bad mark or an out-of-position goalkeeper. Meanwhile, the midfield needs to watch out for Caroline Seger, who is well-known to many American fans after stints in WPS with the Philadelphia Independence and Western New York Flash, where she gained a reputation as a hard-nosed player.
Another point of concern: who’s healthy for this game? Julie Johnston has been rested two games in a row with a groin injury, so hopefully she’s back at full strength for this one and ready to team up again with Becky Sauerbrunn. Megan Rapinoe got about 30 minutes in the last game and looked like she was ready to dig deeper, and also withstood a couple of hard challenges, so she could also be a starter for a half, or go on the impact sub list.
Lindsey Horan did not have a good game against Colombia and it might be better to consider a midfield trio of Morgan Brian, Allie Long, and Carli Lloyd, if only Ellis would let Long push up more and keep Brian in the back. Tobin Heath could go back into the starting lineup as well after resting against Colombia, perhaps pushing Mallory Pugh right or having Crystal Dunn as Heath’s counterpart. Against a team that has struggled offensively like Sweden, it could very much be worth it to return to a Klingenberg-Heath left side, as they’ve shown they work together confidently in the attack.
At the top it’ll almost certainly be Alex Morgan again since she only played a half against Colombia. That could mean Press as her partner, expected to drop a bit behind to work the through balls, but it would be nice if Ellis considered switching the two, at least for parts of the match, since Morgan has shown herself capable of finding that incisive assist as well.
USA vs Sweden kicks off at 12 PM ET on Friday, August 12 in Brasilia. It will air live on NBCSN and will stream on NBCOlympics.com.