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USA update from Tony DiCicco from The Algarve Cup
The USA is training and playing matches to try to become only the 2nd team in history to be Olympic Gold Medal and World Cup Champions at the same time. The USA women won the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in London with a 2-1 win over Japan. Japan beat the USA in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup via a penalty kick shootout.
The only team to have held, at the same time, the Olympic Gold Medal and World Cup Championship medal is the team I coached in 1996 and 1999. Players like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Julie Foudy and others were the stars of that team. Also, that was the last time the USA has won the FIFA World Cup so…it’s about time (after 16 years) to get it right in Canada this summer.
Above is a picture of the 1999 World Cup Champions, USA team. The game was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA and more than 90,000 fans were on hand (still the largest women’s sporting event in history). By the way, number 3 (far left) is the current Captain of the USA team, Christie Rampone. Who can name the rest of the players?
For the answer go to the end of this article.
So how good is our current USA team? Where are they in their preparation?
Head Coach Jill Ellis’s goal is to get the USA to peak between June 8th (1st match vs Australia) and July 5th (World Cup Final in Vancouver).
The USA team is very talented. They have, in my opinion, the best goalkeeper in the world in Hope Solo. Now Hope has had her challenges off the field but on the field, she is focused, talented, athletic and confident. By the way, Hope Solo was a camper at SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School. The defense is just OK in my opinion but, the good news, is they are getting better. Christie Rampone has been injured and will turn 40 years old during the World Cup but is still very important to the team. Becky Sauerbrunn has improved and is vital as a partner center back to Rampone. On the right flank is Aly Krieger who has also improved and on the left outside back position is, most often, Meagan KIingenberg. Kling as she is known played for my World Championship U20 team when we won the World Cup in Chile in 2008 so I am very proud of her. A newcomer who stepped in as center back for the Algarve Cup and did really well is Julie Johnston. She scored the first goal in the FINAL vs France, a game the USA won 2-0. Yes, defenders can score!
The midfield is talented but is a work in progress. The USA is playing a 1-4-4-2 that shapes up as a 1-4-2-2-2. The deep 2 in front of the defense are Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian. These are two very good attacking midfielders that are trying to learn how to read defensive cues better and help the back line when things break down. Their instincts defensively to mark up open attackers and cover for each other are still suspect but they both have great stamina and ability to “cruise” the midfield. The 2 midfielders in front of Brian and Holiday are Carli Lloyd and Christen Press. Carli Lloyd is the hero of the Olympic Final scoring the winner and continues to be an excellent scorer as she, most recently, scored both goals (2-1) in a come from behind win against Norway in the Algarve Cup 1st USA match.
Christen Press is a young and very talented attacking player. She is very fast, is a “take-on” artist when matched up 1v1 vs defenders and can score goals. For the USA to reach its full potential at the World Cup, Press will have to be productive with creating and scoring goals.
The two forwards are well known stars with the USA, Abby Wambach, the most prolific goal scorer in international soccer history (men or women) and Alex Morgan. Alex was also on the U20 World Cup Championship team in 2008 and it is no surprise to me how well she is doing. Alex had a long injury break missing more than 7 months in 2014 but is back and starting to find her old form and that is a big problem for opponents.
Another starter when she gets back from injury in Megan Rapinoe who is tricky, talented, can score goals and continues to improve and impress. The reserves and players fighting for starting positions is also very deep. In goal Ashlyn Harris has proved that she is a good back-up if needed. In the center of defense, Whitney Engen is very solid and can start whenever needed. On the flank in defense is Kelley O’Hara, Crystal Dunn and Lauren Chalupny. In the midfield…not as much depth but veteran Shannon Boxx has great experience and is trying to get back to previous national team form. In attack, the USA is so deep with players like Sydney Leroux (2008 U20 World Champion); Tobin Heath; Heather O’Reilly; and Amy Rodriquez.
So how good is this team? If they win, they can boast being the best team ever for the USA along-side my 1999 team…but they need to win this summer in Canada.
Where is the USA in their preparation? After a disappointing tournament in Brazil in December (3-2 loss and 0-0 tie to Brazil and 1-1 tie to China), they played France in France, England in England. The France game they loss 2-0. Yes, they were missing Christie Rampone; Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo but the French clearly outplayed the USA. Next came England and the USA looked improved defensively and with their ability to circulate the ball in possession won 1-0 on a Alex Morgan head goal from a cross from Lauren Holiday.
Most recently, at the prestigious Algarve Cup 6 of the top 10 teams in the world are competing, they won a difficult game against #12 in the world, Norway with Carli Lloyd, the best goal scoring midfielder in the world scoring early in the second half to tie the game and then converting the winner from the penalty stripe.
In the second game of the Algarve Cup, the USA beat world cup bound team Switzerland 3-0 with Morgan scoring early in the 2nd half followed by substitutes Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach.
Progress is being made, goals are starting to go in, the defense in the midfield and the back line is looking more cohesive…all good signs but England, Norway and Switzerland, they should beat without great challenges.
The team took a step backward in their 3rd group game vs Iceland with a 0-0 score line. Coach Jill Ellis started some players for their first time it the tournament. Kelley O’Hara started at right back; Lauren Chalupny started in the midfield; Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath started at flank midfield but Iceland with their organized and combative style created challenges for the USA and kept them from scoring.
The teams that will compete with the USA, ranked #2, for the World Cup title, the real contenders are: Germany ranked #1; France ranked #3; Japan ranked #4 and Brazil ranked #5. Sweden, ranked #6 is a long shot in my opinion. Japan also struggled in the Algarve Cup and will need to improve their performances if they have any chance to repeat in Canada this summer.
The Algarve Cup FINAL was played between France, a team that has been playing the best soccer and the USA. Early in the game, the USA was awarded a questionable free kick in the flank. Lauren Holiday sent in a dangerous cross and Julie Johnston flick it past the French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi for the first goal. Later in the 1st half Christen Press picked up a ball in midfield and slalomed through the French defense and slotted a smart placement shot on the ground past Bouhaddi for the 2-0 lead. The French pushed hard in the 2nd half and earned a penalty but Hope Solo made the save and any chance of a French comeback was put to rest.
So what is next for the USA? They will play 4 games leading up to the FIFA World Cup. The first opponent will be World Cup bound New Zealand. The game will be played April 4th in St. Louis and a big crowd is expected. The following games are May 10th in San Jose vs Ireland; May 17th in LA vs Mexico and May 30th in New Jersey vs S. Korea. Both Mexico and South Korea are World Cup bound.
I’ll give another update before the World Cup and then an update or two during the World Cup. Go USA.
Tony in additional to being an Analyst for Fox Sports during the FIFA World Cup, is the Founder and Technical Director of SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School and FieldPlayer Academy. For information on SoccerPlus Camps go to www.soccerplus.org or call 1-800-533-7371
Answer to Pictures question on page 1 – left to right: Christie Pearce (now Rampone); Cindy Parlow; Lorrie Fair; Tiffany Roberts; Mia Hamm; Briana Scurry; Shannon MacMillan; Joy Fawcett; Kristine Lilly; Brandi Chastain; Julie Foudy; (Capt) Carla Overbeck
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