The World Cup is about to get real. The USWNT plays Colombia today in the win-or-go-home knockout round. Though we haven’t looked great lately, we won the “Group of Death.” Australia, a team we beat on a bad day 3-1, advanced past Brazil yesterday. The US should, should, have no trouble with Colombia.
The big narrative for the Yanks is whether coach Jill Ellis can figure out the lineup. Against Nigeria, our eleven was the strongest of our Cup so far. Alex Morgan, making her first start in over a year, grabbed the headlines, but it was Tobin Heath who made the difference. Our midfield finally worked together against Nigeria. Coach Ellis had been forcing out-of-position players to the fill the winger role opposite Rapinoe. In the first game it was natural forward Christen Press; in the second, natural centermid Morgan Brian. The confusion in the midfield snuffed the connection between the center third and attacking third and limited the strengths of midfielders like Lloyd and Holiday.
Tobin Heath is a winger. Occupying the space along the touchline, flying box-to-box and pumping in crosses is her bailiwick. She is positionally aware and has a high soccer IQ. That said, I don’t think as an individual player she is exactly top flight: at times she gets beat 1v1 and has limited technique. But just having her on the pitch makes the whole team better. She allows the midfield to be a midfield, she allows Holiday and Lloyd to be at their best.
The US has a wealth of riches up top. I understand why Ellis was trying to get Press on the pitch earlier: she is very, very talented (that goal against Australia). You have the US goals-scored leader in Wambach and the speedy quality of Sydney Leroux also on call. And, oh yeah, Amy Rodriguez, only the highest scoring American in the NWSL last year. With Alex Morgan back, the logjam at forward further congests.
Ellis has tried Leroux and Wambach up top, Press and Leroux, and Morgan and Wambach. This last duo has made the most noise for the Stars and Stripes, but looked rusty against Nigeria. Hopefully they can rediscover their chemistry on the fly. Morgan has energy and hustle and she fought her whole 65 minutes on Tuesday, which is a great going forward. I think Wambach starts again up top because Ellis is so committed to boot-and-chase.
The Nigeria game was boring, it was mid-Century footy in the worst possible way. After we got the header from Abby, Ellis showed no desire to push for another score. In a way, I can understand. Nigeria attacks well, so why keep pushing and open yourself up to an unnecessary counterattack? And yet we didn’t just park the bus, we parked the whole damn cruise ship. We ceded all possession to a quality attacking team for a little over half an hour. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster. But we have a great defense and it worked Tuesday. Let’s hope it works again today.
Bold Prediction: To Colombia’s credit, they have done something we haven’t at this World Cup: scored in every game so far. Los Cafeteras advanced from a difficult group, getting results from the 33rd and 25th best teams in the world. They only lost to #6 England. This team is not a push over, especially with Andrade on the pitch.
However. This game will be decided by the USWNT. If we field a team that works together and knows themselves, we win in a rout. If we are still working the kinks out against a team that shocked France 2-0, we could be the next big team to suffer an upset. I think Morgan is the catalyst and I hope Heath starts. If so, US 2-0.