The U.S. women's national team cruised through the group stage of World Cup qualification, amassing a +12 goal differential. But John D. Halloran can't shake the feeling that something is off with this squad.
John D. Halloran
WITH A 6-0 WIN OVER HAITI
October 21, 2014
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on Monday night in Washington, D.C., the United States women’s national team won its World Cup qualifying group and will now advance to Friday’s semifinals where a berth in the 2015 World Cup will be on the line.
Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach (2), Meghan Klingenberg, Christen Press, and Morgan Brian all scored for the Americans. Here are three thoughts from the match.
What is the U.S.’s Best XI?
With such a packed qualifying schedule and blessed with depth that no team in the world can match, the U.S. once again rotated its starting lineup on Monday night.
Megan Rapinoe reprised her role as the U.S. No. 10, with Wambach playing center forward flanked by Press and Tobin Heath on the wings. Lauren Holiday and Lloyd took up their usual spots in the center of midfield. Kelley O’Hara started at right back in place of Ali Krieger and Christie Rampone came back into the starting lineup for Becky Sauerbrunn at center back.
Rapinoe and Heath, who were both excellent on Friday night, delivered mixed performances against Haiti, but it was obvious from the opening whistle that Press was ready to play. Throughout the match she made excellent diagonal runs, showed a willingness to run at defenders, combined well with her teammates, and provided some excellent service into the box.
Wambach seemed to have a quiet night, rarely getting involved—except, paradoxically, when she was scoring or creating goals. Throughout the tournament, Wambach has looked slow, but there is no doubt she is still very good at what she does best—posting up in the box and wreaking havoc.
Wambach created the U.S.’s first goal by challenging the Haitian keeper and forcing her to parry rather than catch the ball, causing a rebound that Lloyd calmly took down and deposited in the back of the net. Wambach also tallied two herself, both opportunistic finishes on loose balls in front of the net.
Klingenberg Continues to Impress
Only four players have started all three U.S. group stage games: Lloyd, Holiday, Rapinoe, and Klingenberg. The first three are World Cup and Olympic veterans; two months ago, many considered Klingenberg a long shot to even make the roster.
Parlaying two strong performances in September against Mexico into a roster spot, Klingenberg is now slowly cementing her name into the U.S.’s starting XI. To be fair, the teams she has played well against as of late (Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, and Haiti) are not world beaters, but Klingenberg has done her job and done it well.
Her 1 v. 1 defending has been solid and she has gotten forward exceptionally well. Her services from the left flank have been excellent and she hit an absolute stunner of a goal on Monday night.
For the time being, Klingenberg has won the spot on the left, over players like Stephanie Cox and Kristie Mewis (who didn’t make the World Cup qualifying roster) and over Kelley O’Hara, who was the U.S.’s starter at left back in the 2012 Olympics.
Don’t worry, be happy?
It’s difficult to get overly excited about three group stage wins over CONCACAF minnows. However, three wins are three wins and advancement to the semifinals is advancement. It’s also worth noting that the U.S. finished group play with a +12 goal differential—not too shabby.
Still, it feels like the U.S. has underachieved so far in this tournament. On Monday night, the U.S. looked disjointed in the attack for most of the first half and struggled from a combination of bad touches, poor service, and missed chances.
It also feels like this team is still in transition two years after former coach Pia Sundhage left. Since then, the federation has hired and fired one coach, Tom Sermanni—who looked to shake things up by broadening the player pool and implementing a more possession-oriented style—and has moved on to current head coach Jill Ellis.
The team has seemingly struggled for an identity over that period and is still suffering, at times, through the growing pains of a tactical shift away from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3—a change largely implemented under Ellis.
To be sure, the competition level in this CONCACAF tournament hasn’t helped. The U.S. still doesn’t know how it stacks up against elite teams and plenty of questions still remain. But as disjointed as the U.S. attack has been, it hasn’t been easy for the U.S. playing against teams that are often bunkering five defenders and four midfielders behind the ball.
Perhaps this is an instance in which U.S. fans simply need to shut up and be happy about three wins, but something still feels off. The swagger the U.S. once took the field with is missing and the “fear factor” that teams once had when playing against the U.S. simply isn’t there.
Maybe the U.S. is just waiting until next summer to kick it into high gear, but the sneaking suspicion remains that this team isn’t ready to compete against the likes of Sweden, Japan, Germany, and Brazil next summer.
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.