USWNT v Sweden: Four Thoughts from the Win

June 16, 2012

The United States Women’s National Team took on Sweden Saturday morning earning a solid 3-1 win.

Here are four thoughts from the game.

Pia Sundhage deserves credit for experimenting

The U.S. lined up in a 4-4-2, which has been typical of the team since Olympic qualifying ended, however, this time, their four midfield players were arranged in a diamond rather than straight across.

The change appeared to be intended to bring Lauren Cheney, the team’s maestro, into a more attacking role, where she seems best fitted and a role which many U.S. fans have been eagerly awaiting.

The formation change had some negatives

The change, at least on paper, appeared to be done to put Lauren Cheney in more of a “playmaking” role. However, Cheney struggled to get involved during the game and, conscious of her defensive responsibilities, seemed to be too far away from the forwards to truly impact the attack.

The other issue with the formation was the single holding midfielder. First Shannon Boxx, and then Carli Lloyd after the half, were placed in the role by themselves which opened up a lot of space for the Swedish forwards who were adept at exploiting the additional time and space to continuously breakdown the American backline.

Where to go from here?

If the 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders is too defensive, and a 4-4-2 diamond does not get Cheney involved in the attack enough and creates defensive problems, how can the U.S. make adjustments going forward?

One option may be the 4-2-3-1 the U.S. used in the months after the 2011 World Cup and during the Olympic qualifying tournament. The issue with the 4-2-3-1, while it created outstanding attacking play and kept the backline tight, was that Alex Morgan’s outstanding play created a selection problem for the lone forward role as Abby Wambach is still a world-class striker.

Sundhage could never seem to use Morgan as one of the wide attacking players and thus, was forced to revert to a two-striker system. However, if Sundhage could be convinced to play Morgan in a wide attacking role with Wambach as the hold-up forward and Cheney underneath as the team’s maestro, a 4-2-3-1 may be the way to go.

Heather Mitts was torched all day long

The U.S. started the game with Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler at center back, Amy LePeilbet on the left and Heather Mitts at right back.

With the injury to Ali Krieger, the U.S. has lost some depth at outside back, but Heather Mitts is clearly not the answer.

Over the past few years, Mitts has started to struggle against better teams, a problem which has become increasingly obvious over the past six months.

Sundhage needs to utilize Sauerbrunn, either as an outside back, or as a center back and pushing Buehler wide, or play Amy LePeilbet and Kelley O’Hara as the outside backs.

Another interesting proposition to provide some depth to the backline could be to turn Amy Rodriguez or Heather O’Reilly into defenders, as the U.S. has recently done with Kelley O’Hara to great success.

John D. Halloran

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5 Responses to USWNT v Sweden: Four Thoughts from the Win

  1. Alan Brommel on June 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    The 4-4-2 is fine if you play it somewhat flat with left to right, Rapinoe, Lloyd (NOT as the attacking mid), Cheney and O’Reilly. Back line until Ali gets back O’Hara, Rampone, Boxx and A-Rod! Now you have good attackers on the back flanks who have speed and can be taught how to defend. Obviously Morgan and Abby on top, that would be a much stronger team.

    • John D. Halloran on June 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm

      I like all of that except Boxx in the backline. I think she would get beat.

      • John D. Halloran on June 16, 2012 at 12:52 pm

        I think O’Reilly would make a sick outside back. She plays with a defender’s determination, has great speed and is so competitive. Heath could replace her on the outside.

  2. Keith on June 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I don’t think it’s the formation. It’s the players. I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that the US was playing better soccer with the 4-2-3-1 than the 4-4-2. Against solid teams with that formation they encountered the same problems (draws on home soil against Canada & Sweden towards the end of last year). Plugging the middle of the field with more players wasn’t resulting in better possession or structure. Their best game in the qualifying tournament was undoubtedly the final against their strongest competition in CONCACAF Canada, where they began employing the 4-4-2. Unless you believe mismatches against teams such as Guatemala or Dominican Republic are a great showcase to display the desirability of any given formation. In my opinion match-ups like these tell us very little.

    • John D. Halloran on June 16, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      I agree about the Guatemala and DR games, but I think the reason they did so much better/have done so much better with 4-4-2 rather than the old 4-2-3-1 is because Morgan is on the field. They also struggled in the 4-2-3-1 in many games because they deployed Rapinoe in the center attacking midfield role rather than Cheney. Don’t get me wrong, Rapinoe is an awesome player, I just feel she is much better when on the wing than in the middle.

      Overall, the problem remains how to get Cheney further up the pitch without sacrificing midfield possession and getting both Wambach and Morgan on the field at the same time. Alan suggested staying with the 4-4-2, but playing Lloyd and Cheney together in the middle. But then Boxx is off the field. (He had her as a center back in that set-up)

      In the end, if the 4-4-2 is producing results, and with a 3-1 win against Sweden, the #4 team in the world, on their own soil, it is hard to argue against it. It just feels like we rely so much on Morgan and Wambach to create their own chances rather than connect passes through the midfield. Maybe those two, plus our wingers are good enough to do it without moving the ball through the center of the pitch.

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