By Shannon Hovan
0: Before Japan’s remarkable win over the United States in the Women’s World Cup final last July, it beat the US 0 times in over 20 matches, dating back to the 1980’s.
Since that win [a heartbreaking loss for USWNT fans] Japan is 2-0-1 against the US. The July 2011 game has given birth to a US/Japan rivalry, and a turning of the tables it seems. The US has had two opportunities to heal the wound and gain some retribution since, but have fallen short in attaining a decisive victory.
The two squads met in March in the Algarve Cup with the US losing, 1-0. And a more recent match-up during the three-nation Kirin Cup in Japan, with the US going down early, but managing to net the tying goal in a 1-1 draw. The US remains No. 1 in the FIFA world rankings, but one cannot help think that avenging last summer still weighs on the team’s minds.
Abby Wambach has been quoted in saying that the Algarve Cup meeting between the two countries was circled on her calendar, as soon as she found out they would be playing Japan. Recent failed attempts have only further fueled the fire of the US squad heading into the Olympics this summer. And, how sweet it would be if these teams played for a medal?
12: The number worn by Lauren Cheney.
Anyone who thinks Lauren Cheney is not the most dynamic player on the US Women’s National Team has not been paying attention. Cheney is a playmaker. Cheney threads the needle. Cheney makes things happen.
When the US plays 4-4-2 it can get a bit static and too much space can develop between the midfielders and the front line. I am aware the US has been the best team in the world for years and for just about that entire time its played the 4-4-2. But, the growing maturity and impact of players like Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan have expanded the 4-4-2 conversation.
With the dynamism of Cheney — her strength, vision, skill and general attacking mentality — it is imperative that she is in a position to use all of those things. In the 4-4-2, with Cheney out on the wing, she is a secondary option rather than primary one, and she has no business being anything other than primary. She tends to drift inward in an effort to bridge the gap between Wambach, Morgan and the midfield.
In the 4-2-3-1 she is already there, commanding the space that is oftentimes searching for a resident in the 4-4-2. She’s a natural-minded striker, so put her in a position to score. She has an incredible ability to turn nothing into something. She has the body to attack rebounds and win balls in the air. So, put her in a position to do all those things. Don’t put her out on the wing, where her job is essentially to run up the flank and send crosses in.
I know what you’re thinking, Heather O’Reilly plays out on the wing and she makes runs in the middle, take shots and scores goals. That is absolutely correct. In the 4-2-3-1 O’Reilly can do all of those things she is best at, and Cheney moves into the slot with the freedom to do what she does best. Everybody wins, and our opponents usually lose. Cheney is the cog that makes the US machine so strong and dangerous.
Pia, I implore you, shred the 4-4-2 and switch consistently to the 4-2-3-1. With the pace and depth on that roster it should be attack, attack, attack. And it all starts with Cheney.
17: The number of players who saw time on the pitch throughout the two-match Kirin Cup in Japan.
If 17 played during the Kirin Cup, and 18 are allowed on the Olympic roster, that doesn’t leave much room for anyone else. Players who did not see time during the two-game campaign include, midfielder Lori Lindsey, defenders Heather Mitts, Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg, and goalkeepers Nicole Barnhart and Ashlyn Harris. Sensibly, the 17 players that saw significant time will be named to the roster for London along with a goalkeeper to back up Hope Solo. That goalkeeper will likely be Nicole Barnhart, who has 43 caps to her name and is no stranger to the international stage, having started consistently while Hope Solo was out with an injured shoulder.
Veteran players like Heather O’Reilly, Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx have nothing to worry about. The versatile play of Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez and Tobin Heath will likely round out the midfielder. The question mark remains with the consistency and compactness of the back line in filling the void that was Ali Krieger.
The back line looked a bit shaky in the Kirin Cup matches two weeks ago, but with a player pool like Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox, Amy LePeilbet, and recently converted Kelley O’Hara and a backbone like Christie Rampone, they’ll get there. The obvious remedy is time, and there is still four months to sort it out.
27: Number of players called into Florida camp.
Christen Press, former standout and teammate of Kelley O’Hara’s at Stanford, to most fans jubilation, finally received the call from coach Pia Sundhage. I am one of those jubilant fans, elated, even. As if there wasn’t already enough depth and pace on this US squad, Pia has decided to bring in some more. Fantastic. This will surely shake up the competition at forward, as I would guess is it’s only purpose, though still encouraging.
With a small 18-man roster for the Olympics, Sundhage is likely to bring along four forwards at the most. There is no doubt those four will be the usual suspects: Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. The only player I could see Press perhaps beating out for a spot is Leroux, but that is unlikely. Leroux has adjusted well, and quickly. But, do not forget that Press played alongside Wambach up top, and with other US team members, Megan Rapinoe, Shannon Boxx and Christie Rampone, as members of magicJack FC last summer in the WPS. That familiarity and chemistry may be something Sundhage is interested in seeing.
This call up for Press is positive, and will hopefully lead to other U23’s added into the mix in the near future. Talents the like of Melissa Henderson [Notre Dame], Camille Levin [Stanford] and Sarah Hagen [UW-Milwaukee] to name a few. But, again, don’t expect many changes for the Olympics. With Sundhage’s contract coming to an end at the close of the Olympic games, and her potential departure back to Sweden, expect her to stick with what she knows heading into what may be her last international tournament as the US head coach: an attack-minded squad of strong veteran play and young energy.
41: The number of days until the US opens play in the first of their two home friendlies before they embark on the London Olympics.
The United States will host China PR at PPL Park (home of the Philadelphia Union) in Chester, Pennsylvania on Sunday May 27 at 7 p.m. One month later, on June 30, it will host Canada in Sandy, Utah. That match will be the fourth meeting between the two countries over a 10 month period, and will be broadcast live on NBC. A third friendly to be played overseas is rumored to be scheduled somewhere in between. Tickets can be purchased on ussoccer.com.