The USWNT plays Germany today in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. Prepare yourself for a doozy, as the US gets their first real test of the tournament.
To be fair, Australia and Sweden were strong opponents in group play, as both made it to the knockout round, but Germany is of the US’s caliber: a two-time champion and perennial contender. Today’s match pits the #1 and #2 teams in the world, unfortunately they are on the same side of the bracket.
The good news is the US put together their best showing against China on Friday. And they did so without Pinoe and Holiday, t’boot. US fans have been waiting for a coming-out party by the team, but this team only kept scraping by. Though Friday was just another 1-0 win, the US finally looked like the US. We possessed, we attacked, we passed cleanly and, best of all, we looked like we had a plan.
Jill Ellis’s management finally impressed me. Starting Rodriguez up top with Morgan, and committing to the high press was smart. Rodriguez has speed and energy to burn (and probably a huge chip on her shoulder for fuel). Her and Morgan play a similar style at forward, and though that can be a problem, both players complemented each other in the press. Our pressure kept an inexperienced China team frazzled, and didn’t allow the Chinese to play paddy-cake with the ball and bleed the clock in bunkered fashion.
I am sure China would’ve loved to milk a draw, looking for a quick counter or just settling for PKs. Instead, the game was way more open than I expected. Our game plan (wow it feels good saying that) forced China out of their mold, and opened up their tight defense to exploitation. The USWNT’s possession in the final third was lights out.
The team is finding itself. Tobin Heath is a starter. With Pinoe out, Heath was a major creator. Morgan Brian had a chance to prove her worth in the middle but was mostly, unfortunately, a nonfactor. Holiday’s return will be timely, considering Carli Lloyd is getting in a hot streak. The big lineup question now: will Ellis go right back to Wambach and the boot-and-chase? I’d like to see the swift-attacking Rodriguez and Morgan, but high-pressing Germany could be catastrophic. To press or not to press, that is the question.
Bold Prediction: Germany barely beat France, so they are vulnerable. I didn’t catch the entire game, but that was France’s match to lose. The Germans played all 120 minutes, and so will be less rested on three days off. I doubt Ellis wants to go for the throat, she seems too conservative. But she can still take advantage of our fitness by starting slow with Wambach up top, before subbing in Rodriguez for the last half hour to really harry Germany when their legs start to fail.
Germany is a juggernaut. Ask Ivory Coast, Thailand and Sweden. Les Bleus were a quality opponent, but their D was shaky and Germany pounced. Germnay steamrolled us 3-0 at home in the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup, but this year our defense is a rock. We’ve only allowed one goal through five games. If we keep our shape and discipline, Germany will have a difficult time getting one past Solo. And we have the firepower, whether it’s Abby’s head, or Pinoe’s genius, or Llyod’s golazos or Morgan’s hustle. USA 1-0.