New England Soccer Today

Something to Prove

Photo credit: Debby von Winckelmann

Photo credit: Debby von Winckelmann

Great athletes are taught to have short memories. With that in mind, the U.S. Women’s National Team will need to put Friday’s frustrating performance against Sweden on the back burner and focus on the here and now in their Group D finale against Nigeria on Tuesday at 8 pm.

Nigeria entered the tournament as the pushover in the Group of Death because they were the only side ranked outside of the top 10. But they stunned everyone clawing back from a 2-0 deficit at half time to draw Sweden 3-3 in their opening match.

With four points and a spot at the top of the table theirs entering Tuesday’s tilt, the U.S. doesn’t need to win to move on in the group. But they do need to win to prove their performance against Sweden – which ended in a 0-0 draw – was just a fluke. One thing going for the U.S.: Nigeria does not have the same quality of depth – and it’s not even close. Their brightest players are 21-year-old Ngozi Okobi, who’s all 180 minutes so far, and 20-yearold Asisat Oshoala, who’s collected 174 minutes.

Nigeria has plenty of speed up top, and will try to play the same game they played against Sweden when they meet the U.S. on Tuesday. They concede possession in the back without pressing, and allow the U.S. to slowly move the ball up field. But when they see a point where Julie Johnston has committed herself to being part of the attack, the Nigerian players will pounce and hope for a counter attack.

Although the U.S. are the heavy favorite going into this match, they’ll have to tighten up a few thing to ensure they don’t suffer the same embarrassment Sweden dealt with in their Group D opener. Case in point: if Abby Wambach isn’t performing well in practice, then don’t play her at all. She provided a spark for the crowd when she came on last match, but did little on the pitch to warrant calling her as a sub.

Meanwhile, Christen Press needs to distribute the ball if she’s not going to score. And if she’s going to distribute, she needs to put a little pace on the balls she’s passing. Several times her passes got picked off by defenders in the attacking third of the field. It’s clear she also hasn’t developed a chemistry with strike partner Sydney Leroux. Like lines in hockey, soccer forward pairings are important. The two best available players don’t necessarily play off of each other well.

Nigeria needs to win to have any chance of moving on in the group. If they’re down a goal or level around the 65th minute, they’ll likely change into an attack-heavy formation to get the goal they need, and employing kick-and run-style of soccer that brings breakaways and leads to goal scoring opportunities. The U.S. should be able to punish this approach if the likes of Press, Leroux, Wambach, and other attacking players get their wall passing together.

Prediction: the U.S. plays with 10 women behind the ball in the first half, remains conservative on the attack, and clinches a 2-0 win.

Leave a Reply