Meghan Klingenberg is the shortest player on the USWNT, but she and her fellow defenders stood tall on Friday, helping the U.S. draw with Sweden and maintain its place atop the Group D standings with one group game left.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Meghan Klingenberg is a University of North Carolina grad who happened to be standing on the left post of the U.S.’s goal on Friday night when she made one of the most important goal-line clearances in U.S. World Cup history.
It made you think of Kristine Lilly, a University of North Carolina grad who happened to be standing on the left post of the U.S.’s goal in the 1999 final when she made one of the most important goal-line clearances in U.S. World Cup history.
What did both players say afterward? The exact same thing.
“Just doing my job.”
Left back Klingenberg is the shortest player on the team at 5'2", but she can sky when she wants to. Teammate Julie Johnston said she thinks the Artist Known As Kling has the highest vertical jump on the team, and Kling wasn’t going out of her way to deny that on Friday after the U.S. and Sweden played to a scoreless draw.
“When you’re this short,” she said, “you have to be able to make up for it somehow.”
The play that saved the U.S. came out of a corner kick in the 76th minute, as Sweden’s Caroline Seger rifled a shot that was heading to the upper corner. U.S. goalie Hope Solo had no chance. But Klingenberg rose from her spot on the post and headed the ball off the underside of the crossbar and clear.
“We’ve been practicing set-pieces a lot because they can win or lose World Cups and games in the World Cup,” Klingenberg said afterward. “This is something we’ve been practicing all week. I know when Hope slides across I need to slide in and make sure I’m covering the line because I’m her far side. That’s what I did. Luckily I got my head on it and it went out.”
Klingenberg, who once played in a UEFA Women’s Champions League final for the Swedish club Tyresö (with U.S. teammate Christen Press), made sure these Swedes didn’t leave Winnipeg with their third straight victory over the Americans. Nor was Kling the only backline stalwart. Center back Julie Johnston was a monster all over the field. Her central defense partner Becky Sauerbrunn was positioned so well that she rarely had to exert herself too much, save for one fast retreat play in the second half. And right back Ali Krieger had a solid performance at both ends of the field.
Where the U.S. needs to improve is in the midfield. For the second straight game, as midfielder Megan Rapinoe noted, the U.S. needed to be more aggressive in its movement, both on the ball and off the ball.
When asked what opposing teams are trying to do to stop the U.S. midfield, Carli Lloyd said: “They’re sitting in. At one point Sweden had five in the back. So the things we like to do, I like to bounce things off players, kind of play it through the center-mid and combine and run off of it. Today the gameplan and focus was just for us to get it and switch the point of attack and get it wide, but we couldn’t get it going.”
Coach Jill Ellis’s decision to start Morgan Brian out wide instead of Tobin Heath, who was terrific in Game 1, was a bit of a head-scratcher. And the U.S. attack often looked disjointed, with the usual connections and link play largely missing. Both teams made a lot of unforced errors with the ball and sent passes harder than they intended over the endline.
Lloyd, for her part, addressed the comments made in the New York Times by Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. coach. Sundhage had said Lloyd played well when she felt like the coaching staff believed in her but not so much when she felt like they didn’t.
“I’m not hurt or bothered by what anyone says,” Lloyd said. “If you worry about what everybody says in life, it’s going to get you nowhere. But I’d say I was a bit more confused. Because I’ve don’t nothing but respect Pia 'til the day she left [in 2012]. In 2008, she showed she had faith in me, and I helped her win [the Olympic gold medal] in 2008.
“In 2012 she had no faith in me. Still helped her win. So the comments were very confusing. I don’t change my gameplan for any coach no matter who the coach, whether the coach likes me or not. I still bring it 100%.”
She’ll get another chance to do that on Tuesday in Vancouver against Nigeria. Win the game, and the U.S. wins the group. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.