With a USWNT vs Sweden Win, They Draw Spain and France
In today’s 2-0 USWNT vs Sweden victory, the US women opted to take the path of most resistance. There was a lot of discussion surrounding tournament schemes and deliberately throwing the match. Because of the 2019 World Cup draw, the USWNT will face Spain in the round of 16 and most likely France in the quarterfinals. Just this January, both Spain and France were difficult opponents for the USWNT. In the two friendlies, the USWNT lost 3-1 to France and won 1-0 against Spain. Neither of those signify ease. While Spain can prove admirable, France is the team with best advantages against the USWNT. Not only is France host nation of the World Cup, it is arguably the best (or second-best) team in the tournament. Compounding those is the fact that France consistently gives the USWNT trouble.
Recent France vs USWNT Results
The last time the USWNT beat France was in the 2016 SheBelieves Cup. Despite the victory, it was still only a 1-0 win and Hope Solo was in goal. Since then, France beat the USWNT 3-0 in the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, tied the USWNT 1-1 in the 2018 SheBelieves Cup and handily won 3-1 in a 2019 international friendly. Granted, Jill Ellis was experimenting during those years with different rosters and formations, but it doesn’t excuse the losses. France is a strong team with growing confidence and home-field advantage. That’s nothing to mess with.
The Path of 2012 Japan: Merit in Throwing a Match
With sports, merit and honor are always in question. Coaches and management are crucified for throwing games or seasons. But, doing so for positive results is worth considering. Rebuilding teams utilize their losing game-plan to trade away assets for picks, free up salary room, and acquire top picks in the draft. When teams commit to losing and rebuilding with analytical strategy, they experience resurgence. Just look at the Philadelphia Sixers or the Cleveland Browns. It’s unpopular during the escapade, but it works.
Like this, attempting to lose or tie to draw a better tournament schedule is also a valid strategy. In the 2012 Olympics, Japanese coach Norio Sasaki largely changed his lineup against a weaker South Africa team. Then, he told his players to not push for a winning goal. Because of this, his players avoided a five-hour drive to Glasgow for the next match. Ultimately, the Japanese women advanced to the final match. So, there are certainly advantages to giving your team the easiest path to victory. If Jill Ellis instructed the women to lose in the USWNT vs Sweden match today, it wouldn’t be uncalled for.
Losing for Strategy Wasn’t Not an Option for the USWNT vs Sweden
Despite any consideration fans and analysts give losing for tactical advantage, there was no way the USWNT would do this on purpose. Players and coach alike, there was a multitude of reasons against this strategy.
USWNT vs Sweden Revenge Game
First off, these women are proud athletes. The largest stain on their campaign is the 2016 USWNT vs Sweden loss in the Rio Olympics. This loss marked the end of Hope Solo’s career and catapulted the USWNT into uncertainty. Obviously, athletes love to win. But more importantly, athletes and fans feed on rivalries and pride. They don’t want anyone to second guess them.
“We want to freaking play France.” “Fingers crossed obviously. But at the end of the day it’s, like, mind-boggling that people would think we would actually want to lose a game going into the knockout rounds. We want to continue those winning vibes.”
“(Beating Sweden) is huge.” “It makes a huge impact on the world to see that we are not messing around, we are here to win. We are here to win every game, to score as many goals as we can to prove that we are the best team in the world. Each game is the biggest game of our lives. That’s how we are taking it [moving] forward.”
In today’s match against Sweden, the USWNT didn’t hesitate to score and erase that stain.
These Women are on Fire
Yes, there is a lot that Jill Ellis could do to stifle the USWNT. She controls the lineup, not the players. But, even if Jill Ellis wanted to stop the USWNT from scoring, this team is on fire. Stopping them, even with a different lineup, was an impossible challenge.
Against Thailand and Chile
65 Shots (30 on Target)
8 Different Goal Scorers
Alex Morgan scored 5 goals in a Single Match
Carli Lloyd Scored in 6 Consecutive World Cup Matches (2015 and 2019)
3 Shots Allowed (2 on Target)
75% Possession vs Thailand and 68% Possession vs Chile
Without a doubt, the USWNT is the team to beat right now. They broke records in their win against Thailand and didn’t tilt from the hate. Against Chile, even though they rested seven starters from the Thailand game, they still won handily. It gave Jill Ellis a chance to rest and test. Her stars got a break and her substitutes got playtime. Players like Carli Lloyd got to prove that they’ve got it and should be respected. Young and veteran alike, there were too many talented, scoring options for the USWNT vs Sweden.
The USWNT Doesn’t Show Fear
Last, everyone needs to remember that this team despises fear. For goodness sake, Hope Solo lost her job because she called the Swedish team “cowards” for sitting back and playing defensively. Think the USWNT players would throw the match and allow anyone to call them cowards? Not a chance.
Although many argued avoiding France early was the best strategy, it’s not in their playbook. Their best way to win this tournament is to never lose. Obviously. Just like NFL teams that go for it on fourth and two, the US women refuse to punt. Continuing to press into the attacking third and relentlessly strike the ball is the USWNT way. They are in incredible form right now, dangerous as ever. Relenting, even if it is for the “greater good” is not something they will or even can do.
“I don’t think we would even understand how to play that game.”
Winners. These USWNT athletes are winners, through and through. They aren’t afraid to take the difficult path to victory, even if that means taking on France in the quarterfinals or taking on U.S. Soccer in a pay-equity lawsuit. If the USWNT want to win this tournament, they have to keep the gas-pedal to the floor. This isn’t a defensive team, tactically or mentally. They’re out for blood and don’t care who the opponent is. Whether it’s the USWNT vs Sweden or Spain or France, they continue to press and attack. They are fearless, talented warriors, ready for another title.
To everyone calling the USWNT unsportsmanlike after their recent 13-0 win, please stop. These women are warriors and this is their job. Winning, even if by the largest margin in World Cup history, is completely within their rights. It should be nothing but praised. Yes, it was the USWNT vs Thailand and not the USWNT vs France or Germany. Nonetheless, dominating at the international level is exactly what the USWNT need to do at this World Cup.
This is the World Cup
First off, this is the FIFA World Cup. It’s the world’s most prestigious sporting event, aside from the Olympics multi-sport compilation. For this reason alone, letting off the gas is not a concern. These are the world’s greatest athletes. It’s not the USWNT’s job to stop scoring. It’s the opposing defenses job to do that. Additionally, blowing out the other team is not unsportsmanlike. At all. This isn’t youth sports and it’s not an adult rec-league. There’s no need to keep things close to encourage the other team to keep playing. It’s not about fun, friends and having a good time. It may be a game to many, but this is their job. They are all professional soccer players. Their motivation already comes from pride, country and paycheck.
Celebrating Doesn’t Make the USWNT Classless
Even so, the celebrations looked “classless” to many. Why is it okay for Megan Rapinoe to celebrate after she scored the USWNT’s ninth goal?
Well, it’s okay because this is a tournament that happens once every four years. This is the FIFA World Cup! These women are playing for their country, in front of the most eyes women’s soccer ever receives. Most men and women never play in a World Cup, let alone score in one. For some of these athletes, this will be their only World Cup. They’ve worked tirelessly towards this tournament. It’s the pinnacle of their profession. So, celebrating a goal scored in the biggest moment of their lives should not be an issue.
Practice is Great. But In-Game Experience is Better, even a 13-0 USWNT vs Thailand Match
Additionally, that USWNT vs Thailand win was excellent for player form. Athletics are about form, rhythm and confidence. Practice can only do so much. In-game experience is completely different. Players have to find their top level quickly. Not adjusting from practice to the real deal is costly. At major tournaments, form and confidence swing like a pendulum. Teams catch fire or drop out. Even the best players in the world catch the “yips”. Jill Ellis and U.S. fans should be nothing but excited about seeing Alex Morgan and company at the top of their game. For goodness sake, seven different women scored a goal for the USWNT.
Alex Morgan (5 goals)
Rose Lavelle (2 goals)
Lindsey Horan (1 goal)
Sam Mewis (2 goals)
Megan Rapinoe (1 goal)
Mallory Pugh (1 goal)
Carli Lloyd (1 goal)
In their spectacular victory, the USWNT set records for:
Goals scored in a World Cup match (men’s and women’s)
Largest margin of victory in a World Cup match (men’s and women’s)
Most individual goal scorers in a World Cup match (women’s)
Debuts and Veterans
Adding to that is Alex Morgan’s historic, five-goal scamper. With five goals, she tied the World Cup match record for individual goals scored. For a team with goalkeeping and defensive question marks, firing on all offensive cylinders is absolutely necessary. Especially considering how many young stars are in their first major tournament. Not only do these young stars get critical experience and minutes, they get to test their powers. Unlike Carli Lloyd, who continues to find the back of the net no matter her age or club form, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis and Mallory Pugh scored their first ever World Cup Goals. Any anxiety about their first World Cup disappeared when that ball hit the back of the net. Not every game is going to be the USWNT vs Thailand. They are going to have more difficult opponents, so this win is good for rhythm and form.
This is Their Job
Also, it’s important to reemphasize that this sport is their profession. It’s not a hobby or a game. To them, it is their livelihood. In any other profession, winning big and celebrating is encouraged. America, perhaps more than any other country in the world, praises revenue and gains. Companies don’t discourage their salesman and saleswomen to share the market with their competitors. That would be ridiculous. Small business and corporation alike, increasing individual margins is a top goal. Change inevitably happens and successful people strike when the iron is hot. They utilize opportunity and advantage. In the same way, the USWNT are making the most of their time and talent. This World Cup is short and goal differentials become monumental tiebreakers. Scoring big helps the USWNT stay ahead and lock their eyes on one goal: win the 2019 FIFA World Cup.
USWNT vs. U.S. Soccer
Most importantly, the UWSNT are earning their paycheck. As discussed in a previous article, the USWNT are locked in a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer over pay equality. This victory adds fuel to the USWNT’s case. In the men’s last three World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014), they scored 12 goals combined. In just one victory, these women outscored that. Unlike the lackluster men, the U.S. women are as impressive as the Golden State Warriors or New England Patriots. With each highlight they create, they add audience, revenue and respect to women’s soccer. When they win, women’s soccer wins. Sports and pay are already stacked against female athletes. Instead of jeering them for celebrating victory, support them and assist their rise.
The USWNT Forwards Are The Strength of the U.S. Team
At last, this roster coverage turns away from the goalkeepers, defense and midfield and to the strength of the U.S. Women’s National Team roster: the forwards. Attacking ability is the utmost importance to the Americans. Oddly enough, even with the talent of the three starters (Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath), Jill Ellis brought four additional forwards. Some of them, especially a clutch veteran like Carli Lloyd, could see action as a midfielder as well. They have incredible depth at the position, filled with diverse talent. Any other country would dream of this level of security and upside. Creating scoring opportunities is what the USWNT forwards do better than anyone else. Here is the most dangerous attacking group in the World Cup.
The USWNT Forward Projected Starters
Alex Morgan | Age: 29 | Caps: 163 | ST | Team Captain
When soccer fans think of U.S. soccer, Alex Morgan is who they think of. She is the face of the USWNT. Morgan is among the most prolific goal-scorers in U.S. history. Morgan’s 101 goals rank 6th all time and her 0.62 goals per game is elite. Morgan was the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in 2012 and 2018, in addition to being the CONCACAF Player of the Year in 2013, 2016, 2017 and 2018. She is, beyond a doubt, a pure goal-scorer, through and through.
Peculiarly, Morgan never found her footing in the NWSL. Her 0.36 goals per game is significantly lower than her international average. Additionally, Morgan never earned an NWSL Best XI appearance. She also was only NWSL Player of the Week once in her career. In the NWSL, Morgan is just another player. But internationally, Alex Morgan is sensational.
For the USWNT forwards, Morgan is the electricity. When she broke out for the USWNT, Morgan displayed game-breaking speed and a knack for scoring. She was raw, fast and powerful. Morgan’s skillset gives her the ability to get behind the defense. She routinely gains position with speed and strength. Her athleticism and shooting ability were always dangerous. But, in recent years Morgan’s developed into even more of a threat.
Alex Morgan Evolved
In her growth, Morgan evolved into a well-balanced striker, willing to also be a role-player. In games, Morgan is seen making clearing runs or setting up the pass before the assist. She sets up her surrounding teammates for success. Her intelligence and knack for field position have also upgraded. Morgan makes phenomenal off-ball runs and has an impeccable first touch.
So, remember that Morgan can and likely will score in plenty. She has incredible upside, scoring 28 goals with 21 assists in 2012. In her arsenal, she has:
Three. In her soccer career, Megan Rapinoe has suffered three different ACL tears. But, each time she has returned to all-pro form. Her last ACL tear was in 2015 and many have placed partial fault of the USWNT’s loss to Sweden on Rapinoe’s recovering knee. But no more. Rapinoe is back and dangerous as ever.
There are two words that describe Rapinoe best: versatile and creative. Rapinoe is comfortable and a threat with either foot. She beats opponents on the left side to send in assists from the byline or cuts inside to create her own right-footed shot. Rapinoe can score or assist from every piece of grass on the attacking third.
Based off of her assist count, Rapinoe is an easy choice for playmaker. Her 57 assists ranked 5th all-time for the USWNT. In the 2015 World Cup, Rapinoe serviced up key passes on the regular. Her vision and feel of the game is brilliant. She is the Andre Pirlo of the UWSNT forwards. Rapinoe can and will set up her teammates to succeed.
After fouls, Rapinoe is at her most potent. Her dead-ball service is top of the world. She delivers upper-v strikes to the back of the net or lofty passes to a teammates head. Rapinoe’s intelligence and placement is unmatched. When, not if, the opposition gives her a dead ball opportunity, be ready for the spectacular.
Tobin Heath | Age: 31 | Caps: 150 | RW
Get your highlight reels ready because Tobin Heath’s footwork is ridiculous. It always has been. In her first USWNT cap, on her very first touch on the ball, Heath nutmegged two Canadian defenders. This is her story. Heath is confident and aggressive with her foot skills. She’s much like Brazilian footballers in that way. Why dribble around a player when she can nutmeg them?
Best of all, Heath is entering the 2019 Women’s World Cup in her best form. She notched 10 international goals since the start of 2018. Additionally, Heath earned an NWSL Best XI in 2018 and Best XI in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship. Her seven goals and six assists in just ten games in 2018 are exceptional.
On the right side of the pitch, Heath can be left alone. Because of her technical strength, Heath is difficult to guard one-on-one or even two-on-one. She can beat people off the dribble on any touch, has pace to run down a through ball, and plays through contact. Heath frequently makes professional and international defenders look inadequate.
In her third World Cup, Heath is expected to be great. She made four appearances in the 2011 World Cup and started five of the seven 2015 World Cup games. Big tournaments are not foreign for Heath. She is 31 years old and is a veteran winger. Barring injury, Heath should start all seven games and continue her 2018 success.
Wait. Carli Lloyd is a reserve? That’s almost as shocking as watching the NBA playoffs without LeBron James. To those new to the soccer world, Carli Lloyd is a USWNT legend. She’s ranked in the top-ten for caps, goals and assists. In the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Lloyd was clutch as could be. She scored in each of the USWNT final four games. In the final, Lloyd unleashed the beast and scored a hat trick to push the USWNT into victory. She was unstoppable, topping off her hat trick with a half-field strike.
Lloyd, after that ridiculous finals effort, was obviously granted the tournament’s Golden Boot. She was also the 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year. Everything went right for Lloyd and she is the last memory of the 2015 FIFA World Cup.
After the World Cup, Lloyd spent a few professional seasons with sub-star levels of performance. Adding to that is her age. Lloyd is 36 years old, 37 in July. She’s not fit enough to efficiently play a full-90 anymore. But, with the talent around her, she doesn’t have to be.
Instead, Lloyd gets the chance to come off the bench as a super-sub. Ellis moved the attacking midfielder to a reserve forward for one reason: come off the bench and shoot. Lloyd never hesitated to shoot as a midfielder and will certainly not pause as a USWNT forward. She always goes for goal, aggressively and determined. Though she’s not as fast as her younger self, Lloyd can play technical and crafty. Judging by her latest performances on the USWNT roster, it appears she’s once again found her footing. Lloyd scored five times in her last three matches. Once again, Lloyd is ramping up her international clutch gene. Get ready to watch the return of a legend.
Christen Press | Age: 30 | Caps: 116 | ST
If ever there was a player you don’t want the opposition to bring off the bench, it’s Christen Press. Press is a track-star, soccer player with incredible speed. She is a change-of-pace phenom with a high ceiling. Press will use her acceleration, along with a lethal cut back to her left-footed shot, to drive the ball into the back of the net.
At her best, Press is a goal-scoring machine. She set Stanford’s all-time scoring record with 71 goals. Press was the fifth player in USWNT history to score double-figure goals in three consecutive years (2014-2016). She slotted in with USWNT giants Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Tiffany Milbrett and Carli Lloyd. In those seasons, she also earned a spot on the NWSL First XI in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Additionally, she captured the 2013 Damallsvenskan Golden Boot. Those years were excellent for the striker.
Tale of Two Christen’s
But since then, she’s taken more of a backseat in USWNT scoring. After scoring 41 international goals from 2013 to 2016, Press only has 7 goals since 2017. Again, Press has game-breaking abilities. On four occasions, Press tallied an international hat trick. In one of those, she had four goals. Also, Press recently was Damallsvenskan Player of the Month after scoring four goals in three games in April of 2018. When she’s on, she’s on.
However, Press’ inconsistency as a USWNT forward is an issue. Then again, as a reserve, Press holds unbelievable upside. Her speed and scoring ceiling can open up large leads for the U.S. team. Whatever the case was for her slip in goals since 2017, Press remains an excellent reserve with World Cup experience and the ability to catch fire.
Mallory Pugh | Age: 21 | Caps: 53 | LW/RW
At just 21 years of age, Mallory Pugh already has 53 international caps. Amazing. She is without a doubt a rising star on this USWNT roster. Pugh was U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Athlete of the Year in 2015 and Gatorade’s National Female Soccer Player of the Year in 2016. For good reason.
Pugh is Technically Sound
On the USWNT forward depth chart, Pugh is a pure winger. She doesn’t hesitate to take on defenders directly with strong dribbling and precise footwork. When on the field, Pugh provides consistent, progressive runs. Attacking the defense like a seasoned veteran is what she does. Pugh has fantastic spacing and makes great runs off the ball. She understands the game and what the defense gives her. Her position makes it easy for teammates to find her. She is a technically savvy winger and that is deadly.
Adding to her winger skillset is a natural ability to score goals. In her first cap against Ireland, at just 17 years of age, Pugh came in off the bench and score. In her first cap. At 17! In 2016, she also became the youngest American player to score in the Olympic Games. Pugh knows how to get the ball in the back of the net. She is an excellent winger and will continue to rise.
With that being said, Pugh is still not as good as Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath. And that’s okay. Those are elite players. Pugh is still so young. She has more time to develop and master her craft. Still, if she is called upon this 2019 Women’s World Cup, she undoubtedly will shoot. Pugh is impressively efficient and has an uncanny ability to score.
Jessica McDonald | Age: 31 | Caps: 7| ST
Though she’s 31 years old, Jessica McDonald is the least experienced on the team, internationally speaking. She only has 7 caps to her name, gaining her first call-up in 2016. The reason behind her lack of international play is mostly because of injury and pregnancy. During her rookie season in the WPS, she suffered a devastating, knee injury with an 18-month recovery. During recovery, McDonald also became pregnant. By age 23, every other player on the USWNT roster had at least one call-up. McDonald, on the other hand, had an injured knee, a pregnancy and the dissolving WPS to worry about.
But, like many hero’s journeys, McDonald continued to persevere. It wasn’t simple either. In the last ten years, she’s played for nine different professional teams. In her son’s first two years, she played for four different teams, one in Australia. Being traded from team to team and moving from city to city, as a single mother, is not easy. Even so, McDonald made the most of her opportunities.
Paving Her Own Path
After moving back to the states for the inaugural NWSL season in 2013, Jessica McDonald began to make waves. She was the first player in the NWSL to reach 33 regular-season goals.
Even so, she still played off the bench or jumped from team to team. It wasn’t until 2017 that McDonald played on the same team for consecutive seasons. Because of their loyalty, the North Carolina Courage got the best of McDonald’s play. She helped lift them to two NWSL Shields (2016, 2017) and an NWSL Championship in 2018. In the closing moments of the 2018 season and the playoffs, McDonald was exquisite. She finished the regular season with four goals and four assists in her final seven games. Then, McDonald scored the only goal in the NWSL semifinal, then two goals in the title game and earned an NWSL Championship MVP.
McDonald may be 31, but her play is peaking. She’s finally getting the respect she deserves and a spot as a USWNT forward. McDonald is the best substitute striker in NWSL history. Now, she gets to patiently await her opportunity to strike.
If the Defense Falters, the USWNT Forwards Need to Score Multiples
After review, the USWNT forwards are without a doubt the strength of this squad. They will send volleys of shots at opponents, no matter the score. Ellis is an attacking-minded coach and her seven forwards display this. Each of them could earn a roster spot on another country’s team. This depth will serve the USWNT roster well. Especially considering the lack of depth, experience, and health at defense and goalkeeper. In order to win, the USWNT needs to score multiple goals in every game. Their defense and style will fail to shutout opponents. Nonetheless, they have the firepower needed to do so. Get ready for goals. And goals in abundance.