New England Soccer Today

Ready to Roll

Photo credit: Debby von Winckelmann/Prost Amerika

Photo credit: Debby von Winckelmann/Prost Amerika

The long-awaited showdown that we’ve been looking forward to since the draw is only hours away with the second-ranked United States set to face fifth-ranked Sweden on Friday at Winnipeg Stadium.

On paper, Sweden appears to be well-matched against the U.S. But Tuesday’s match against Nigeria exposed a number of concerns that should worry coach Pia Hundhage.

For instance, central defenders Nilla Fischer and Lina Nilsson both looked slow, and they were repeatedly beaten by the speed of Ngozi Okobi, Desire Oparanozie, Francisca Ordega and Asisat Oshoala. As a result, they will likely have to keep one center back playing deeper at all times.

Another worrisome development for Sundhage: outside backs Emma Berglund and Elin Rubensson weren’t especially great in 1v1 situations. Their main motivation should be to contain and then watch for a wall pass. On several occasions, they allowed Okobi and Ordega around them for a cross instead of containing them on the wing.

But the biggest problem is for Sweden is their defense in transition. All three goals allowed by Sweden came from poor transitioning when they were in possession in the middle third. They allowed themselves to be beaten about 35 yards away from their goal, and it led to easy transition goals from Nigeria. The issue was not so much communication as it was carelessness. They paid dearly for sloppy passing, and Sundhage will have to address that quickly against a U.S. side that leans heavily on sound passing to pick its opponents apart.

That said, the U.S. cannot afford to stumble out of the gate the same way they did against Australia on Tuesday. If they sit back and let Sweden have the ball, then the slow pace of play favors the Blågult. A loss all but eliminates them, while draw keeps them alive. Ideally, the U.S. should try and pressure the ball, and force Sweden to make mistakes rather than waiting for a mistake to be made.

However, if Sweden’s midfield and forwards can get a slow moving game going where they pass around the US then this will lead to a low scoring game – a game that would play into Sweden’s gameplan.

Even so, the U.S. might be tempted out cautiously against Sweden because a loss would greatly hurt their chances of moving on in the group. A win all but puts Jill Ellis’ squad through to the next round, and a draw would be fine because Nigeria – which awaits the U.S. in their final Group stage game – poses a lesser threat than Sweden.

All of this, of course, is set against the backdrop of Sundhage’s recently-published comments about the U.S., whom she coached at the last World Cup. While she wasn’t afraid to take a few of her ex-players to task, the barbs shouldn’t affect the U.S.’s collective mentality heading into the match. After all, it wasn’t as if they weren’t already excited and ready to beat a side that handed them their only group stage loss four years ago in Germany.

Predictions for the game:

*Abby Wambach shows us that she’s still got it.

*Hope Solo maintains her form from Tuesday game

*Megan Rapinoe’s passes continue to lead to many chances.

*Alex Morgan remains on the bench, but comes on late to work toward full fitness

*Score prediction – U.S. wins 4-1.

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