Fielding arguably their strongest lineup, the United States Women’s National Team played to an uninspired draw with Japan early Sunday morning.
In a back and forth first half in which both sides exchanged good spells of possession, Japan was the first to take advantage scoring in the 32nd minute off a nice combination to get in behind the U.S. defense.
U.S. forward Alex Morgan brought the game back to 1-1 off a nice finish in the 72nd minute. After the equalizer, the game drew to an unexciting conclusion with neither side being able to create a quality chance to win the game.
Here are four thoughts from the game.
New converted left-back Kelley O’Hara saved the U.S. on multiple occasions
Kelley O’Hara, who faced almost insurmountable competition for an attacking place on the U.S. roster, recently made the conversion to outside back.
Her quality at the position was evident during the U.S.’s recent Olympic qualification run and she continued to impress Sunday morning.
On multiple Japanese attacks, O’Hara’s speed was the difference as she was able to recover in behind other defenders to keep the U.S. in the game.
With the recent injury to U.S. stalwart Ali Krieger, O’Hara’s presence has become a necessity to a depleted U.S. backline.
Pia Sundhage’s substitutions missed the mark
In a game that was screaming for the introduction of Megan Rapinoe, Sydney LeRoux and Tobin Heath as early as the 60th minute, the U.S. manager waited until the 73rd minute before introducing her first substitute.
Playing against the only team in the world that can keep up with the U.S.’s fitness and work rate, the U.S. needed to introduce its substitutes earlier to give them a chance to truly influence the game.
Sundhage’s second and third substitutions did not come until the 82nd minute, far too late to help the U.S. find the winning goal.
And when they did come, LeRoux was introduced for Morgan, who was finally finding space in behind the Japanese defense instead of Abby Wambach who looked to be out of gas.
The other substitution at the 82nd minute was Amy Rodriguez instead of Megan Rapinoe for Heather O’Reilly.
Choosing a formation remains a complex question
After the World Cup, Pia Sundhage made the brave decision to change from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 in an effort to give the U.S. better possession in the midfield.
And, while the switch did help the U.S. accomplish that, the team struggled to score goals in the new formation with Abby Wambach playing up top by herself.
The other problem with the 4-2-3-1 was that Alex Morgan was kept off the field as Sundhage did not see fit to play Morgan out wide or drop Wambach into the attacking midfield role.
Realizing that Morgan and Wambach both needed to be on the field, Sundhage switched back to the 4-4-2 for the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament.
However, using the 4-4-2 brings the U.S. back to the same problems they faced before in the formation with a lack of possession in the midfield for long stretches of the game. The 4-4-2 also pushes Lauren Cheney out wide which does not take advantage of her natural abilities as a maestro playing underneath the forwards.
With the Olympics only a few weeks away, it is unlikely the U.S. would look to make another major formation switch, but one wonders if the U.S. would be more effective in a less-traditional 4-3-1-2 or 4-1-2-1-2.
Without Hope Solo, the U.S. would be in the weeds
Solo was outstanding yet again Sunday morning proving she is far and away the best goalkeeper in the world. Without her, the U.S. could have easily lost the game by three goals.
The U.S. is clearly one of the best teams in the world in women’s soccer, but without Hope Solo, it would struggle to compete with the best teams.
John D. Halloran