USWNT: Positives to Take Towards World Cup 2015

August 10, 2012

On Thursday, the USWNT defeated Japan 2-1 in a thrilling match to re-establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent soccer team.

Following the celebrations will come a three-year lull before the next major international competition, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Canada.

Here are three positives the USWNT can take towards that competition.

The USWNT is, once again, the world’s best

Last summer, it became apparent that the rest of the world had rapidly caught up to the USWNT.

Even though the U.S. has always had its traditional rivalries, whether it be China, Norway, Germany, Brazil, Japan or now even Canada, the USWNT was always considered the team to beat.

That reputation had begun to slide a bit over the past year as sides like Japan and France made tactical evolutions developing possession styles that the U.S. struggled against.

While the USWNT still won most of those battles, it was becoming more and more due to their athleticism, fitness, competitiveness and work rate rather than being the most technically or tactically advanced side.

And while one could still argue that Japan is still more technically or tactically advanced, there is no doubt that the U.S. has upped its game in those departments over the last year.

Following the disappointment of the 2011 World Cup, the USWNT made several tactical moves including implementing a system which emphasized pressure further up the pitch. The USWNT also began focusing more on a possession-oriented system and replaced traditional American “hustle” players with players who are more technically adept.

Those changes, combined with the advantages in athleticism, fitness, competitiveness and work rate that the U.S. still maintains, has pushed the USWNT back to the top of the mountain in women’s soccer.

Even with impending retirements, the USWNT roster is DEEP

The current USWNT roster has seven players on the wrong side of 30 including Hope Solo, Christie Rampone, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach.

No one knows which of these players will be retiring before 2015, or which players may lose their roster position over the next three years. But one thing is for certain. The USWNT is still the deepest squad in the world.

Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath and Kelley O’Hara are all under the age of 25.

Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe, Rachel Buehler, Ali Krieger, Stephanie Cox and Becky Sauerbrunn will all still be in their prime years come 2015.

And youngsters such as Christen Press, Meghan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen are all waiting in the wings.

There is talk of a new women’s professional league in the United States

One of the biggest worries for fans of the USWNT, and certainly the players themselves, has been what would happen to the players in the lull between the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

With the folding of the WPS earlier this year, the women of the USWNT scattered to a variety of semi-pro leagues, such as the W-League and WPSL.

However, just before the Olympic Gold medal match kicked off, reports emerged that talks had begun to resuscitate a pro league in America.

Many fans have been fearful that once the Olympics were over, their favorite USWNT players would be forced to go to Europe to play professionally.

Such a move, as has already been taken by many American players such as Ali Krieger and, more recently, top American prospect Lindsey Horan, could be a death blow to U.S. dominance in the sport.

With Americans unable to watch their favorite players play on a regular basis, whether in person, or on television, interest in women’s soccer in America would inevitably decline.

The possibility of professional soccer coming back to America is a welcome, and ultimately necessary, undertaking to help maintain America’s dominance in the women’s game.

John D. Halloran

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5 Responses to USWNT: Positives to Take Towards World Cup 2015

  1. DE Dupuis on August 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    The USWNT has been the team to beat since the XC.

    Solo is a keeper and should be good for another olympic cycle at least.
    Lloyd and Amy LeP are both just 30 and I’d think they would stick around for another olympic cycle.
    Of our core players, only Abby, super mom, and Boxx will probably not play in the next WC. Boxx will be missed but is really already replaced, Abby and super mom are going to be BIG holes.

    What we really need is a complete upgrade in how we play, we need an organic US style (the men’s team too).

    A potentially new US style was leapt into life during the last 3/4s of the France game. Cheney and Lloyd owned the middle of the park with tough constant ball pressure defending and moving the ball quickly around, often with one or two touches, and constant movement off the ball. We looked much more like RM than Barca – which seemed to work very well for us. (Then Pia wouldn’t leave things be so the players could really work on this, instead back to the half field passes, most often to the Japanese.)

    Many US players have excellent technique: Heath, Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Cheney in particular – however because our style doesn’t always demand super technique, players with great technique aren’t really required on the team. Also, the tactical intuition developed by possession based teams aren’t developed by, can’t be developed by poorer technique teams.

    The films of the France game should be studied and a new style developed based on what appeared to emerge spontaneously during that game – I don’t think it could have been planned because Lloyd wasn’t planned to start. To my eye that Real Madridish style is just the ticket for an athletically superior team which we will continue to be.

    What was killing us against Japan was our defensive shape and the just kick it clearances that were opted for much too often. How many times was the ball played forward to a Japanese wing player (often #8) with O’Hara backed off by 30 yards. No one seemed to know who was supposed to prevent that pass, mark that player, or pressure the ball. And this continued during both halves. This a systematic problem with the 4-4-2 when the fullbacks are not given clear instructions to pick up the first attacker on their wing. Both the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 offer systematic fixes to this problem. I’m pretty sure Pia is NOT the person to change our team to do justice to our fantastic players.

    • John D. Halloran on August 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm

      I love 4-2-3-1, but Pia tinkered with that between the World Cup and the Olympic qualifiers. The problem was that Morgan kept coming on as a sub for Wambach and scoring in 10 minutes of playing time ruining the idea of playing with 1 forward. I thought Pia might put Morgan in as one of the wingers, but she instead went back to 4-4-2. Honestly, for this cycle it probably was the best option in my opinion. I think you want Morgan and Wambach both playing off each other in a 2-front.

      Of course, Leroux could make that obsolete, unless her and Abby start splitting time which could happen as Abby is not exactly young anymore. (Although still playing at a very high level)

      Cheney, Rapinoe and Heath are all so versatile that it does create a lot of options, although personally I like Rapinoe better out wide. Pia played her as the attacking mid in the 4-2-3-1 last fall. I did not like her there. Her tendency to take a lot of touches got her in trouble. The same thing could happen with Heath if she is played there. We’ll see.

      The U.S. is going to need a destroyer if it goes 4-3-3 and with Boxx leaving, who is that? Maybe Lloyd could do it as she will be 33 by 2015, but those two goals in the final show she can still contribute to the attack. Heath’s vision would make her a good deep-lying midfield passes; I wonder if she could handle the defensive responsibilities and 50/50 challenges.

      Cheney could do it as well, her ability to tackle impressed me in the Olympics. Of course, that kind of feels like a waste as she can be an offensive threat too. Her passing from that position though would be outstanding.

      • DE Dupuis on August 13, 2012 at 6:02 am

        There are two pretty well established ways of working the midfield in a 4-3-3.
        Both form a rough triangle of the 3 midfielders. In one the triangle points back toward our own goal and uses a true holding midfielder ( your destroyer – although that seems to have some sort of “just kick the hell out the ball” connotation about it), the chief proponent of this system is Barca. In the other, the triangle points toward the attacking goal and uses an attacking midfielder with two sort of all purpose playmaking/holding midfielders, Swansea (among others) played this system under Rogers, and to my eye Lloyd and Cheney fit this latter mode perfectly and this is pretty much how they played against France. Heath is the obvious attacking midfielder. Yes she does take too many touches on the ball and often dribbles into phone boothes, but it is far easier to teach someone with really good technique (which she has) to play with fewer touches than it is to teach someone good technique. This 4-3-3 would free up Rapinoe, Morgan, Laroux to strike – this all assumes Abby retires someday or starts playing less to save on the wear and tear. That sounds to me a very dangerous attacking 6. Oh, and they would actually have to play together consistently to get good together – so this could never happen under Pia.

  2. Bud on August 11, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Another positive may be that they have three years until the next competition. In those three years they can shift their style to a better mix of technique and physicality if they so choose. They also have the three years to develop the replacements to the players that will be retiring.

    Given the discussion on age, I looked up the ages for the Japanese players. They only have two players over 30: Sawa, who announced her retirement, and Ando, who was relegated to the bench. This makes the USWNT developments over the next three years even more critical.

    • John D. Halloran on August 11, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      Well that’s terrifying news about Japan.

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