Summer Olympics: USWNT v. FRANCE Reaction

By Shannon Hovan

1.CAN’T COUNT US OUT

The U. S. Women’s National Team’s start to its opening match of their 2012 Olympic campaign against France was shaky.

The major question mark that has been lingering since Ali Krieger, the best right back in the world, tore her MCL and ACL in her right knee against the Dominican Republic in January during the Olympic qualifying tournament, has been what can be expected from the USWNT back line? The first 15 minutes of the match shook the the team to its core.

Since the conversion of forward Kelley O’Hara to left back, it was known that it would take some time for the defense to get back to its once solid and nearly unbreakable self. But, 2 goals in 14 minutes? No one expected that. While the rest of Twitter expressed shock and short-lived doubt, what has always got the US out of situations like this and kept them at the pinnacle of women’s soccer, began to show: the intangibles.

The disparity in the women’s game is a topic never short of discussion: it’s the USWNT and everyone else. Perhaps so. In recent years that the gap in talent and skill closes. I would argue it has closed. Countries such as Germany, Japan and Sweden are right up there with the USWNT, among others. What continuously sets the USWNT apart from the rest, what allows it to keep the bar set so much higher, is the intangibles that the squad possess. The heart, sheer will and unwillingness to settle is what won the match yesterday. When the USWNT was down and out, skill took a back seat and strength, passion and mental toughness overran France. I would imagine most who closely follow our girls did not panic, and neither did they.

 

2. RUN AND GUN

Without getting too technical, a ton of defense and hail mary’s is what characterized the play of the US yesterday. Possession in the midfield was lacking, and because of that the flank midfielders, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, were virtually irrelevant. They didn’t start to show themselves until the second half.

The loss of Shannon Boxx in the early part of the game was a blow, yes. But, the play of Carli Lloyd cannot be condemned. She played very well. It seems being removed from the starting XI has lit a fire in No.10. Having removed Boxx, acting as clean-up crew in the midfield is the role Lloyd had to assume. Cheney’s playmaking took a hit due to her lack of possession, and as a result, nothing could really get started in the middle of the pitch. The US was left to defend the attacks of the French and rely on the long-ball to Alex Morgan. Not that it didn’t work, but the USWNT is better than that. It is imperative that the team remembers that, and shows the world just as much if a gold medal is going to be won.

 

3. GOT HAO?:

The most noticeable absence in the USWNT lineup with the exception of Ali Krieger was without a doubt Heather O’Reilly. In the send-off match against Canada in June saw head coach Pia Sundhage unveil her “best XI”, which surprisingly did not include O’Reilly. What is even more surprising was that she was not even used in the match at all yesterday. By the end of the first half, Rapinoe and Heath touched the ball less than Hope Solo.

HAO’s game was what the US was lacking; fearless 1 v 1 attacks and determined runs to the end line resulting in a slicing cross into the box. But, at the start of the second half, no O’Reilly. While part of me appreciates Pia’s faith in her XI, the other half can’t get over the absence of O’Reilly on the pitch altogether. The depth of the USWNT has always been both a blessing and a curse. O’Reilly sitting on the bench is far from a blessing. As much as I am in awe of the skill and vision of Tobin Heath, and what her and Lauren Cheney’s chemistry might yield, I’m not convinced it’s enough to bench, arguably, the best midfielder on the roster.

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