Three Thoughts on the USWNT's 1-1 friendly draw with Canada
After going down a goal in the first half on a corner kick, the United States women battled back through a second-half Sydney Leroux marker to tie Canada, 1-1, in a friendly match in Winnipeg.
Here are three thoughts on the game and the current state of the U.S. women's national team:
• Canada matched the U.S.'s physical style and outplayed the Americans for large spells. From the beginning, the home team established a firm line, particularly through West Virginia University freshman center back Kadeisha Buchanan. The 18-year-old was not shy in her tackling, taking down direct adversary Abby Wambach several times before advancing to nod home a corner kick in the 35th minute. In general, Canada pressured the U.S. well and induced multiple turnovers to keep the U.S. under pressure. At the same time, Canada was able to knock the ball around meaningfully and create opportunities.
The U.S. came out with renewed energy in the second half and made Canada defend, which it did admirably until Sydney Leroux scored once more against her country of birth. After the one-sided nature of the U.S.-Canada rivalry in recent matches, Thursday was a big step forward for the Canadians. They played a well-rounded game and showed they have developed the tools to compete under head coach John Herdman.
• Jill Ellis, a finalist for the U.S. head coaching job, probably needed her final tryout to end differently. Since Tom Sermanni's dismissal, Ellis has been at the top of most experts' lists to replace him, having served as the interim coach once before. While a 3-0 win over China in April helped her, as does the fact that she is undefeated in charge, tying Canada makes Tyresö manager Tony Gustavsson look more like a serious option.
Gustavsson also has experience with the U.S. as Pia Sundhage's assistant, and his club team in Sweden has cut an easy path to the UEFA Women's Champions League final later this month. By all accounts, he also has the personality to deal with the character of the U.S. women, and his team plays the exact opposite of the U.S.'s current dour, direct style.
• Speaking of style: if the U.S. wants to be the true No. 1 team in the world again, it needs to start evolving again. Since Mia Hamm's golden generation that won the 1999 World Cup, the U.S.'s progress has been more sideways than forward, resulting in three failures at crucial points on the world's biggest stage since then. In the meantime, the rest of the world has been catching up — and even surpassing the U.S. in many areas. Germany won two World Cups, Japan won the third since 1999, and France's ascent has been predicated on its technical ability rather than its athleticism and physicality, which is what the U.S. still relies on.
It's time for a change in style of play and the federation's player development philosophy — areas Sermanni was trying to jump-start before he was fired — or the rest of the world will continue to gain while the U.S. treads water. To see the effect of a supportive federation in the face of a generational transition, look no further than the opposite bench on Thursday. Herdman has been praised for relying on youth and having the patience to develop young players, starting a largely under-20 lineup against the U.S. and giving them the confidence to succeed, while Sermanni was fired for phasing in younger players when it didn't work right away. The U.S. players have projected confidence in the team through the media, and they should never be expected to do anything less, but real questions lurk underneath that brave façade.