The United States finally faces a true challenge at the Women’s World Cup, as today’s game against Sweden looms as a big one both in Group F (the winner takes first place in the group) and in the USWNT’s psyche. Despite the U.S.’s success in World Cups and Olympiads, the USWNT has not defeated Sweden in a serious competition since the group stage of the 2007 World Cup (a 2-0 win thanks to an Abby Wambach brace).
That’s not some fluke of the fixture list. The Swedes beat the Americans 2-1 in the 2011 World Cup’s group stage, held them to a 0-0 draw in the 2015 World Cup, and famously knocked the U.S. out of the 2016 Olympics on penalties. Obviously anything other than a win boosts the pressure on the USWNT, but for the team’s mentality, overcoming this hurdle (and getting revenge for 2016?) seems to be more important than just another group stage game.
Update 5:09pm: The USWNT won an intense, but still relatively easy game 2-0. Lindsey Horan’s 3rd minute goal following a lovely touch from Sam Mewis on a rehearsed corner set the U.S. on their way, and Tobin Heath’s 50th minute strike (later, changed by FIFA to an own goal for dubious reasons) made sure of the win. The match featured some tough tackles and physical play between two old rivals, but ultimately it wasn’t a very difficult match against a Swedish side that rotated several starters.
Among the Spirit’s representatives, Rose Lavelle played 63 minutes, while Mallory Pugh came in for Megan Rapinoe for the final 7 minutes.
The USWNT will face Spain in the Round of 16 on June 24 in Reims.
Key player: Rose Lavelle
Look, this site is pro-Washington Spirit, so today we are especially invested in Lavelle and Mallory Pugh putting on a show. However, against a Sweden side that figures to play a low block, Lavelle’s role is particularly important. The USWNT has spent the last 3 years preparing for a team of Sweden’s talent level sitting deep, and they’ve done a ton of tinkering to figure out how to break down stronger teams.
However, ultimately this is still a player’s sport, and players like Lavelle and Tobin Heath still need to bring the magic for any of these tactical ideas to pan out. Sweden will surely crowd the midfield and are likely to take a rough-and-tumble approach to shutting Lavelle down. Can she escape that physical play long enough to find the seams? Will she have the fortitude to hold onto the ball and draw defenders, knowing that it will probably mean getting kicked or sent tumbling?
If the answers to those questions are positive, the U.S. attack should have enough ideas to put some goals on the board.
USA (433): Alyssa Naeher; Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn; Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Samantha Mewis; Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe
Sweden (433): Hedvig Lindahl; Nathalie Björn, Amanda Ilestedt, Linda Sembrandt, Jonna Andersson; Julia Zigiotti, Kosovare Asllani, Caroline Seger; Sofia Jakobsson, Stina Blackstenius, Olivia Schough
Julie Ertz is being rested with what US Soccer is calling a “minor” hip contusion, but they sure are insisting pretty hard about that, which is...curious. It sounds like Jill Ellis plans on moving Horan into her role, with Mewis playing the no. 8.
Location: Stade Océane (Le Havre)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Available TV: Fox, Telemundo
Available streaming: If you subscribe to fuboTV via this link, your friends at B&RU get some cash!
Here are your other options: Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer Match Pass, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Over at Stars and Stripes FC, B&RU regular Donald Wine II wrote up this preview, and yours truly has a look at the tactical takeaways from the win over Chile.
What are you drinking?: Might get wild during the work day and get some iced tea going in here! Big party!
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