HARRISON, N.J. — Playing before a sellout crowd of 26,467, more than four times the size of its World Cup send-off game here four years ago, the U.S. women’s national team controlled the entire game against South Korea but couldn’t manage to break through in a 0–0 tie on Saturday at Red Bull Arena.
You can trace the U.S.’s resurgence in popularity over the last four years to Abby Wambach’s miracle goal against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals, which caused a viral sensation and has carried over into increased attendance figures for the U.S. ever since.
The raucous crowd left with a mild bummer based on the scoreline, but the scoreless tie will also leave the U.S. motivated for the World Cup starting on June 6 in Canada.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
1. The U.S. missed Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
Morgan sat out another game with a knee contusion and now hasn’t played a competitive game in 49 days. That’s not what you want from your star striker when you’re just nine days away from playing in the World Cup. Yes, Morgan’s absence was said to be “precautionary” by coach Jill Ellis, but Morgan hasn’t been training at full speed either, and we’re now at a point where it would be surprising if Morgan did start in the World Cup opener against Australia on June 8 in Winnipeg.
Morgan’s absence showed on the field, too. The U.S. was lacking her dynamism and cutting edge up top. Winning a World Cup will be a much tougher proposition for the U.S. if Morgan isn’t at 100%. As for Rapinoe, she sat out the game with a minor thigh issue. With her on the bench, the U.S. didn’t have the high level of creativity and unpredictability on the wing that Rapinoe brought against Mexico.
2. At times the U.S. looked like a team that hadn’t trained much together in the last two weeks.
The Americans only gathered in the New York City area on Wednesday, and while they conceded little on the defensive end, they also didn’t seem as sharp as they usually are on the ball, especially in the first half. Unforced giveaways came from a number of sources, including Morgan Brian, Ali Krieger and Lauren Holiday. For a player of her talents, Holiday hasn’t made a major impact in a U.S. game in quite a while.
A lot of that has to do with her positioning as a deep-lying playmaker who’s also responsible for defensive duties. While U.S. men’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann tends to play Michael Bradley too high in the central midfield, Ellis does the opposite, playing Holiday too low. She’s a menace when she can get into more advanced positions.
3. The U.S. got out of here without picking up any injuries.
Honestly, the most important thing any time you’re playing the last game before a World Cup is not picking up any new injuries heading into the Main Event. That didn’t happen for the U.S., which will take its originally-named squad of 23 to Winnipeg later this week. As far as injuries go, the main concern will be Morgan, especially if Rapinoe’s thigh issue is as minor as it appears. In the big picture, Saturday’s score won’t matter at all—how many results of final send-off games do you remember from over the years?—but the U.S. will no doubt know that it can show much more in Canada.