Wednesday July 6th, 2011

Three thoughts after the U.S.'s 2-1 loss to Sweden gave the Americans second place in Group C and set up a U.S.-Brazil Women's World Cup quarterfinal on Sunday:

The U.S. won't make the semifinals playing this way. After the U.S. won its first two games against North Korea and Colombia, it made sense to wait until the Americans played top-level opposition before saying too much about the U.S.' form. And sure enough, Sweden took the game to the Yanks early on, using speedy forwards Lotta Schelin and Josefine Öqvist to blow past the U.S.'s static back line. U.S. goalie Hope Solo stopped one early Schelin breakaway, but the Swedes kept threatening and broke through for two first-half goals: a penalty (that Schelin drew on the beleaguered Amy LePeilbet) and a deflected free kick that slammed off of LePeilbet to wrong-foot Solo. The U.S. is vulnerable against fleet forwards, and it won't get any easier against a Brazil team that has Marta, Rosana and Cristiane.

Coach Pia Sundhage needs to make some changes. The coaches of both Germany and England have made smart lineup changes to include in-form players, and the U.S. will need to do the same against Brazil. The obvious call is to bring on midfielder Lori Lindsey to replace Shannon Boxx, who just isn't as active as she needs to be at this level anymore. The second change would be to replace forward Amy Rodríguez with Alex Morgan, who was a second-half upgrade on Wednesday. (If you're making a sub at halftime and the replacement is a consistent step up, that means the sub should be starting.) And the third change would be to start Stephanie Cox in place of LePeilbet, a converted centerback who's having a rough tournament at left back. Sundhage can't afford to be using one of her valuable subs on a defender, and she has had to bring on Cox in the past two games. Time to go with her from the start.

U.S.-Brazil could be a quarterfinal classic. Nobody expected the U.S. to have to play one of the world's other top teams so early in the tournament, but that's the opponent it's facing as the result of the Sweden loss. Brazil has more firepower than the U.S., but the Brazilians have been somewhat inconsistent as well so far, due in part to their limited pre-tournament game schedule. (The Brazilian federation schedules an embarrassingly low number of games for its women's team.) The U.S. will have to tighten up its defense and start finishing its chances -- Abby Wambach finally got her first goal in 12 games on Wednesday, shouldering in a corner kick -- but the Americans should have plenty of motivation to avenge their 4-0 loss to Brazil in the '07 World Cup semis. If the Yanks can get by Brazil they wouldn't have to face favorite Germany until the final, which wouldn't be a bad thing. Nor will the U.S. forget that teams have lost before in tournaments only to come back and win the whole thing. Just ask Spain at last year's World Cup -- and the U.S. women themselves in the '08 Olympics.

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