The United States kicked off today against the team that unceremoniously sent them packing from the Olympics. Sweden was in it to win it from the start, but ended up playing a pretty lackluster game over all. Fortunately for them, the United States was on the same page for a lot of the game.
Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Meghan Klingenberg, Casey Short, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Allie Long, Samantha Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Carli Lloyd, Mallory Pugh, Crystal Dunn
Any thoughts of lie deep/counter quickly were gone from minute one as Sweden was quick to pressure from the starting whistle. The US defended in a 4-4-2, with Becky Sauerbrunn often positioned to pick out Swedish passes through the middle, though Sweden clearly preferred to pull wide and send the ball in.
The US spent those early minutes looking for an incisive through ball up the middle, trying to get the ball on Carli Lloyd’s food in stride, but those were cut out as well. Neither team really established a passing rhythm, instead trading off possession in choppy bursts.
Rose Lavelle was positioned on the right to start but clearly given permission to drift central as much as she wanted, and it was centrally where she was able to do some work. Not that it resulted in much; Sweden muscled her off the ball a few times, and when she got herself into a good spot, the rest of the team didn’t really present her with options. Mal Pugh alone seemed to have an inkling that Lavelle would be looking for the short pass to wrongfoot the defense and made a couple of runs, but her timing was off.
Alyssa Naeher had one very sharp save in the 18’, tipping the ball over the bar off a hard distance shot, but other than that just needed to stay steady and calm to snuff out Sweden’s equally lacking forays into the box.
There was a panicky moment to close out the half as miscommunication saw Allie Long nearly put the ball into her own goal when she intercepted it in the six even though Naeher was already diving for it. Long had to clear it from the line, and both teams milled around a bit on the field until the ref blew halftime, leaving them at 0-0.
The US started the second half with two subs, Lindsey Horan on for Lloyd, and Abby Dahlkemper on for Klingenberg. Dahlkemper paired up with Sauerbrunn at CB, which let Casey Short shift back out to the left. Horan went higher in the formation to help the US attack, which was often a 4-2-4 going forward.
The US continued poking around the attacking third until Crystal Dunn and Rose Lavelle opened up the field; Dunn got the ball in the midfield and took off, while Lavelle rounded her defender on the right. Dunn laid the ball off perfectly and Lavelle’s finish far post was textbook, making it 1-0.
✌️ ⚽️ in caps for @roselavelle.— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) June 8, 2017
Read more about : https://t.co/4IV0kVXkaq pic.twitter.com/u0hbU4ggq3
The US picked up a little momentum from the goal, with Dunn making some runs as Pugh looked to feed her the ball. They had a good sequence in the 66’ with very fast ball movement out of the back hitting Horan in the midfield, who picked out Pugh, who once again tried to feed Dunn, but the final angle wasn’t right.
The third US sub was in the 75’ as Dunn came off for Christen Press, who ostensibly slotted in as a central attacker with Horan, but had the fluidity to move around the front line as needed.
As the half wore on into the final 10 minutes, the US finally began putting together more coherent possession. Pugh continued to try to put in her teammates, but her balls were predicated on the assumption of a teammate making a good run, and so the opportunities went begging.
There were two late subs, with O’Hara out in the 84’ for Julie Ertz, and Lavelle off in the 93’ for Megan Rapinoe. Neither one really had time to do much; instead Ertz had to help smother a couple of hairy moments for the US. First in the 86’ when a Swedish corner had Naeher off her line but not quite in position to actually grab the ball. She was just able to throw her hands up on a point-blank shot and push the ball over the bar. Second was in the 92’ when defensive entanglements almost let the ball squirt through for Lotta Schelin, who got sandwiched by defenders before Naeher jumped on the ball.
Overall it was a pretty lackluster game and 1-0 was a fair showing for it. Sweden’s bright start faded quickly and neither team had any rhythm going forward. The US was best when players like Lavelle, Dunn, and Pugh were running into passing channels, but either they didn’t get the ball or their balls didn’t reach a target. Allie Long didn’t really manage to hit anyone from a deeper position and Carli Lloyd was ineffective in the midfield until she subbed out. Still, Lavelle and Pugh continue to look like young, intelligent players who are able to see the game developing a step ahead of everyone else.
Defensively the team looked okay; Sauerbrunn’s positioning had her immediately cutting off several Swedish balls looking for gaps in the first half, and Dahlkemper kept up with her. But O’Hara fluctuated on the right, and Klingenberg wasn’t doing much on the left except exposing the space behind her.
We’ll see if the team looks more coherent in their game against Norway. This was their first game together in a while and after international travel. We’ll also see if Jill Ellis decides to start two center backs at the same time or if she decides any four defenders at all will do.
USA vs Norway kicks off at 1 PM ET on Sunday, June 11. It will air live on Fox.