The US Women’s National Team completed its Send Off Series on Saturday evening with a 0-0 draw against Korea before getting ready to head to Canada before its first 2015 Women’s World Cup game on Monday, June 8.
Here are 3 things we learned from the entire USWNT Send Off series.
1. Abby Wambach can still be a valuable option
Abby Wambach’s decision to forgo playing on a club team until the World Cup could pay off. The world’s leading scorer tallied four goals in 196 minutes.
Her best work came against Mexico when she was used as a substitute early in the second half. She scored two goals and tallied an assist, but more importantly she showed flashes of energy and power against a Mexican team that was starting to fatigue. In comparison, against South Korea, she was awarded the start and showed nothing for it in the team’s last send off game.
Scoring a handful of goals against lesser opposition is not the same as carrying a team through an entire tournament. However, Wambach looked fitter and sharper then any previous performances over the last year. The 34-year-old may simply be motivated by her last chance to win a World Cup, but she proved she is still capable of providing a spark to the U.S. offense, especially off set pieces and crosses.
It will be critical that USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis uses Wambach at the right time in the World Cup. Wambach will best be used as a substitute late in the game where she can comfortably poach goals. She will work best against teams that are starting to show exhaustion, by using her power to tower over players and snag balls out of the air.
2. Lack of offense stems from a lack of wing play
Shortly after the World Cup roster was announced in April, Ellis promised to focus on the offense during the team’s residency camp, stating that the final step in preparing for Canada was building a unified attack.
Unfortunately, Ellis’s determination to play Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian in the midfield is a flawed game plan. With three naturally central players, wing play was lacking at times during the team’s Send-Off Series, particularly against South Korea.
When the U.S. chooses to forgo playing a natural outside midfielder, they are forced to play through the center of the pitch. When wingers play through the middle, one of the few options for attack feature long balls over the top.
When Megan Rapinoe played on the wing against Ireland and Mexico, the US featured several different layers of attacking options. When Rapinoe is in the lineup, wing play is effective as the outside mid often dribbles deep into the final third before sending crosses back into the middle. She finds space on the outside through combination play before using her pace and creativity to attack the space down the field.
The U.S. needs to play with a natural outside midfielder if they want to display a balanced attacking force. While Rapinoe was a late scratch in the game against South Korea, it’s curious why Ellis chooses not to play with Tobin Heath or Heather O’Reilly. If she makes similar coaching calls in the World Cup, the U.S. offense will continue to underperform.
3. Still missing a forward pair
For all that has been made about the depth and diversity of the forward position, the U.S. forwards have little to show for it. Even before the Send-Off Series, the U.S. forward line was struggling in the final third with their finishing touch. And they’ve been unable to find any answers in the past three games.
Christen Press has provided assists but not goals. Amy Rodriguez has had few minutes, fewer chances and virtually no goals while Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan have both been dealing with injuries leading up to the tournament.
With the midfield already struggling to get into a rhythm, the U.S. needs a forward that can take charge of the offense. One of these forwards needs to demand the ball, make plays and score goals … all on a consistent basis.
The most likely combination to start the World Cup will be Leroux and Press. Ellis stated after the game against South Korea that they will be working to build Morgan’s minutes through the start of the tournament.
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