Bringing four fresh faces into the lineup, Pia Sundhage’s USWNT cruised to a fairly comfortable 3-0 final scoreline. While the backline once again stole the show, looking solid once again, the front four in the new look 4-2-3-1 took over 60 minutes to break down the Canadian defense and struggled to get into a comfortable rhythm for most of the night.
Sundhage once again went with Abby Wambach as the lone striker, with Megan Rapinoe as the withdrawn forward/attacking midfielder and Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly on the wings. While Rapinoe was more involved in the run of play last night compared to her debut at that position last Friday, she still lacked the subtle short passing game and composure on the ball to truly be the American “maestro”.
Tobin Heath, who came on for Rapinoe as the attacking midfielder in last Friday’s game, again came on at the half, but this time was deployed on the wing. Heath is more comfortable on the ball than any other American player, and could flourish as the attacking midfielder. This would allow Sundhage to deploy Rapinoe wide, where she devastated her opponents in the World Cup with her rampaging runs down the flank and her pinpoint long service to her teammates.
Lauren Cheney, who once again played as a holding midfielder, would be another great choice for this role. Cheney has spectacular field vision, pinpoint passing, strong 1 v. 1 skills and can score from distance. She also plays as an attacking midfielder regularly with her club, the Boston Breakers, and played the same position in college.
The lone striker formation has also seemingly handcuffed Sundhage into using either Abby Wambach, or Alex Morgan, despite the fact that the two are clearly the most threatening U.S. attackers and had worked well together playing in a 2-striker set during the World Cup. So far, albeit only two games into this new formation for the team, Sundhage has seemed unwilling to use Morgan as one of the wide attackers, despite the fact that she has a much more impressive goal scoring record over the past year than perpetual starter, Amy Rodriguez.
Over the past year, Morgan has scored six goals for the USWNT in just 695 minutes. That’s a goal every 115 minutes, compared to a goal every 252 minutes for Rodriguez. With Morgan and Rapinoe on the wings and either Heath or Cheney as the attacking midfielder, the U.S. would have its most potent attackers all on the field at the same time in their most natural positions.
If Sundhage is unwilling to deploy Morgan on the wings, she must find another way to get Wambach, the American’s most consistent scoring threat, and Morgan on the field together.
One way to do this would be to put Wambach at the withdrawn forward/attacking midfielder position and keep Morgan high as the lone striker. Wambach’s ability in the air and ability to hold the ball up with her back to goal would help generate the U.S. attack while Morgan’s pace would stretch the opposition’s backline. In this setup, Wambach would also be able to make late runs into the box to get on the end of services from the flank making use of her strongest skill set.
While the U.S. defense looked solid again last night, even while rotating both outside backs and both holding midfielders, if the U.S. attack cannot get into a consistent flow early in games, they leave themselves vulnerable to fluky results. Canada, playing without their best player, Christine Sinclair, managed a tie against the U.S. last week and held the U.S. scoreless for 60+ minutes last night. Canada also hit the bar once last night and had several deep runs into the U.S. defensive third.
With the Olympic qualifier rapidly approaching and the U.S. needing to finish in the top two with both Canada and Mexico pushing for those spots, Sundhage must make some necessary changes.
John D. Halloran