The United States can’t avenge last summer’s stunning Olympic defeat against Sweden today. The Swedes went on to the Gold Medal game, after all, while the USWNT had a minor crisis that extended into a dismal performance in March’s SheBelieves Cup. Today, in a very rare friendly played outside the US, they’ll be looking to show they can succeed against a conservative foe that isn’t hopelessly overmatched (sorry, Russia, but you know it’s true).
Key player: Sydney Leroux
Normally this would be all about Mallory Pugh because we are homers, and Pugh plays for the Washington Spirit, but this is Leroux’s first USWNT call-up since her pregnancy last year. Since then, the pool of US forwards has gotten pretty crowded. Lynn Williams was sensational in the 2016 NWSL season, Crystal Dunn has looked better as a central player than out wide, Christen Press is having arguably an MVP season with Chicago right now, and Jill Ellis is finally giving real thought to making Carli Lloyd into a full-time forward rather than trying to make things work with her in the midfield. Oh, and Alex Morgan is still Alex Morgan, and Pugh can play up front as well.
In other words, Leroux - who wasn’t exactly tearing it up before she had to take a break from the game - finds herself with a lot more competition up front than she ever had to deal with previously. She’s started to show some form in front of goal (unfortunately for the Spirit), but there’s still some sharpness missing in terms of movement and involvement in the build-up.
To stay in the frame for the US, Leroux needs to bring her strengths - power, pace, and the sort of bravery verging on recklessness that no one in the current squad can match - to bear while also making progress on the mental and technical sides. Seeing Leroux convert chances is a big step, but she’s going to have to be at her very best in all facets of the game to stand in with the players mentioned above.
Location: Gamla Ullevi Stadium (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Kickoff time: 1:30pm Eastern
A nearly unchanged team from the one that demolished Russia two months ago, but I think Ellis knows there’s some potential here, playing out of a 442 in which both nominal wide players drift into right-central and left-central attacking midfield roles, and the fullbacks provide most of the width. I know I mentioned Leroux as the key player, but I suspect she’s going to have to make her case as a sub (plus possibly starting against Norway on Sunday).
Sweden proved in the Olympics that they can frustrate the USWNT, but in this look they’ll have to account for more players in attacking positions, and more players in positions they can thrive in. The Dunn-Lloyd forward partnership is particularly promising on paper. Will that, plus the skillful dribbling of Pugh and Lavelle, be enough to break down Sweden’s bunker? That’s the test today.
Available TV: ESPN2 (English), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: WatchESPN (English)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Over at Stars and Stripes FC, the focus is more on seeing evidence that the process is worth trusting than it is on the scoreboard.
What are you drinking?: 1:30pm game? I’ll be at a desk with a fresh cup of coffee most likely, but if there’s no time to make some then it’ll be good ol’ tap water.
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