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SheBelieves: Previewing USA vs Argentina

Come on, make that back line interesting Vlatko.

SOCCER: FEB 18 SheBelieves Cup - USA v Canada Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Argentina has had a rough go of it this SheBelieves tournament. They’ve lost both their games, the first one going down 4-1 against Brazil, and the second cruelly losing 1-0 to Canada at the last minute despite doing their best to open up the game and make it end-to-end.

Argentina’s bad night was capped by the announcement that midfielder Lorena Benitez indeed tore her ACL when she had to be stretchered off, and so they’ll be facing the US without one of their most watchable and creative playmakers.

In his press conference the day before the game, Vlatko Andonovski talked about some of the general tactics he expects might come into play:

From the attacking standpoint, they have a very good strong center forwards...and a very technical wide forward in [Yamila] Rodriguez that I think is a brilliant one-v-one player. So definitely will test us a little bit on the flank. And they scored four out of six goals on crosses, last six goals on crosses, so definitely defending crosses over there or defending in the box will be an area that we’re gonna have to be focused on. But on the other side, they’re very concentrated in the middle channel, very compact, and very, very tight in the middle channel. We saw that in the game against Canada that they don’t allow a lot of passes, a lot of combinations in the central part of the field. So obviously the areas on the side is where we’re going to have to operate quick and aggressive and then from there be able to penetrate towards the central channel.

Those wide channels have been an on-and-off problem throughout this tournament, particularly in their game against Brazil as Emily Sonnett didn’t have her best game ever. But there’s a lot of options here to shuffle up the back line and try to maximize two-way action from his fullbacks while also giving less-capped players more field time, namely looking at Casey Krueger and Midge Purce, while also pushing Crystal Dunn higher. Losing Dunn at fullback could be completely fine because a) at forward she might keep Argentina defending higher and b) Krueger already has experience in the position and could certainly provide the defensive underpinning to maintain advantage and momentum on the left. There may also be a chance to Tierna Davidson at center back here, even if only to rest someone like Becky Sauerbrunn.

Another difference here is in the strength of midfields Argentina is facing. With respect to Canada after that tough 1-0 win over them, the US midfield is stronger and has better bench depth. The real question is if the two games they’ve had so far have been enough to get their execution on par with what they want to do. Losing Sam Mewis while she rehabs an injury is definitely enough to throw them out of whack, but that doesn’t explain the lack of crispness on the ball and the sometimes uninspired movement off of it. Vlatko has emphasized that almost everyone is out of season; their last real game would’ve been a month ago during the Colombia friendlies, and they’re not in regular training environments yet. So yes, it’s fair not to expect them to leap from “rusty” to “World Cup form” over the course of three games. Note: they won’t have Catarina Macario available in in the midfield because, as agreed prior to the tournament, Lyon have recalled her so she can start her mandatory quarantine process to be available in time for their Champions League game on March 4.

The other thing to keep an eye on is who starts in the front line. This tournament has been a tale of two front lines - slightly slower and more static but able to probe with Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, and faster and free-flowing but a little bit chaotic (in part due to that rust) with Christen Press and Alex Morgan. Andnovoski has started Rapinoe/Lloyd and subbed in Press/Morgan, then vice-versa, and honestly the team has probably looked a bit better with the Press/Morgan start. Rapinoe and Lloyd not being able to play for as long in the high press (sorry Carli, please don’t block us) is just fine when they come on with 30 minutes left and the other team is already gassed. Press and Morgan create a lot of opportunity from multiple areas of the field through their combined abilities to take on, hold up play, turn, get behind, and shoot from range or crash the box. (This is not to neglect the presence of Lynn Williams, but she’s been fairly steadily doing the job that Andonovski wants her to do, and whoever plays across from her on the field, she’s been a dependable presence on the right who isn’t provoking a ton of questions about starter vs. sub.)

USA vs Argentina kicks off tonight at 7 PM ET. We’ll have a match thread and how to watch for you later today so come join us in the comments!