4 Thoughts from the U.S.’ U-20 World Cup Victory

September 9, 2012

On Friday, the U-20 USWNT won the U-20 World Cup being held in Japan with a dramatic 1-0 victory over rival Germany. The win became the third U-20 World Cup championship for the United States, adding to its victories in 2002 and 2008.

Here are four thoughts from the U.S.’ win.

Look for Julie Johnston, Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai on the USWNT sooner rather than later

Johnston, Dunn and Ohai all had spectacular tournaments and all had key parts in the U.S.’ final win as well.

Johnston covered well for her fellow defenders throughout the game and provided the U.S. with clutch clearances all night long. By my count, Johnston had eight potentially game-saving clearances for the U.S. in addition to a number of routine ones. Johnston also had a huge tackle that prevented the Germans from equalizing in the 92nd minute.

Dunn’s contribution to the U.S.’ victory was evident in each game and the final was no different. Dunn provided the game-winning assist on Kealia Ohai’s goal with a hard endline run that beat two German defenders. It was Dunn’s second game-winning assist in the tournament and tied her for second in assists on the U.S. for the tournament. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone playing as a right back.

Ohai was spectacular in the final again. Not only did she score the game-winning goal, her hard running and constant work-rate threatened the German backline all game long. Ohai also worked back hard defensively, helping out left-back Mollie Pathman for much of the game. Ohai finished the tournament with two goals and two assists and has a combination of world-class speed, fitness, finishing ability, competitiveness and technical ability that will make her a force for years to come.

The defense was fantastic

In addition to Dunn and Johnston’s efforts, the entire backline had a great night against the Germans. In the only game the Germans were shutout, Mollie Pathman did a great job out wide and Cari Raccaro made a number of key clearances and tackles to keep the U.S. in the game.

Credit also needs to be extended to Vanessa DiBernardo and Sarah Killion who did the dirty work in front of the backline all night long. Killion was also key on the sequence for the U.S.’ goal, playing Dunn in behind the German defense with a nice chip.

Bryane Heaberlin saved her best for last

Heaberlin, who had a couple of nervy moments earlier in the tournament, did her job Friday night, putting in a mistake-free performance.

Although she wasn’t tested much on the night, she caught the ball when necessary and had two nice saves late in the game in the 91st and 93rd minutes.

Perhaps Heaberlin’s biggest contribution on the night was her forceful and constant communication with her backline. She could be heard all night directing traffic, encouraging her defenders and calling out marks.

Did the team win because of Steve Swanson’s tactics or despite them?

Throughout the tournament, Steve Swanson refused to change his tactics, even when they were unsuccessful. That’s either a testament to his resolve, or a testament to his lack of awareness.

Swanson kept the U.S. in a 4-3-3 all tournament long, even in games when the central striker remained isolated for long periods. He also stayed with three strikers all tournament even when it became obvious that the U.S. didn’t have three strikers capable of being effective.

Katie Stengel and Kelly Cobb were rotated as the center striker for five of the U.S.’ six games, but neither contributed a single goal or assist in the tournament.

Chioma Ubogagu had the game-winning goal on an open header in the quarterfinal, but her lack of understanding, poor technical foundation and terrible possession made her a suspect choice even though she played in every game for the U.S.

In the final, Kealia Ohai was tracking back on the left side of the pitch, but Maya Hayes, deployed on the right, was not. That either represented an odd tactical decision by Swanson or a lack of understanding of the game plan by Hayes or Ohai. In the final, when Hayes was replaced, Ubogagu moved out to the wing where Hayes had been for much of the game. Immediately, Ubogagu began tracking back defensively.

Samantha Mewis, who led the team with three assists in the tournament, didn’t start a single game. And, when she was used, she was generally subbed for or around the same time as Maya Hayes, limiting their ability to play together, even though they connected for two goals in the first game of the tournament.

The U.S. only made the knock-out round of the tournament on goal differential after a 1-1-1 record in group play and came through a much easier side of the knock-out bracket than Germany.

Still, it’s tough to argue with results. And, many times, there are reasons for decisions that coaches make that do not become public. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe Swanson was forced into some of his questionable decisions. He does need to be given credit for leading the team to the World Cup championship. He is widely considered to be a candidate to replace Pia Sundhage as coach of the full national team.

John D. Halloran

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One Response to 4 Thoughts from the U.S.’ U-20 World Cup Victory

  1. DE Dupuis on September 9, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    In Johnston we trust, oh my Ohai, and give it to Crystal and they’re Dunn.
    Couldn’t agree more with you about these three. They are golden.
    If super mom finally retires we are in good hands with JJ.
    I’m thinking Morgan, Laroux, and Ohai; sucks to be the other team.
    And our right back problems are completely solved, you could say its Crystal clear.

    I actually thought Stengel did a pretty good job holding the ball up.
    Hayes was not a big help.
    But for the most part it was a super team effort.
    And every member of the team knew the words to the Star Spangled Banner – well done.

    The 3 games I saw, SK, N, and G all were terrifically coached.
    4-3-3 is officially preferred for US teams.
    There are many good reasons for this from a developmental point of view, but since I’m a 4-3-3 kind of guy – of course we should play a 4-3-3. Confusion seems nearly universal about what’s supposed to happen on the wings in a 4-3-3, amongst those more used to a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. The whole point is to outnumber the other team in the middle of the field, and therefore the midfielders must be kept relatively central, the wings are covered both offensively and defensively by the fullbacks and the outside strikers (I don’t know why Hayes didn’t seem to know this, Ohai sure did, and Dunn and Pathman sure did.) If your team doesn’t possess the ball well, then your outside players better be fit, and Ohai, Pathman, and Dunn sure were. With the exception of Hayes, the team always looked really well coached – the shape held, and for most of the second half against Germany I thought we looked the more likely to score – only at the very end did Germany look a bit dangerous. I love Heaberlin’s smile after making her game saving stops – it was way more effective than any smack talk ever was. If Swanson wants the job, I’d give it to him, his team played beautifully as a team.

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