KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Man, the start of Women’s World Cup qualifying wasn’t supposed to be this hard for the United States. But a disjointed U.S. attack combined with a well-organized Trinidad and Tobago defense to make the U.S.’ 1-0 win a lot more challenging than anyone expected on Wednesday at Sporting Park.
Abby Wambach’s 55th-minute goal from Alex Morgan’s cross allowed the U.S. to break through after a supremely frustrating night and a standout performance by T&T goalkeeper Kimika Forbes.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• U.S. coach Jill Ellis’s team needs to get it together in the attack
The biggest challenge facing Ellis has been taking over a U.S. team in May with just 12 months to prepare for the 2015 World Cup. And judging by this performance, a lot of work remains to be done if the U.S. is going to beat the world’s best team in Canada. The U.S.’s 4-2-4 never really clicked and suggested that cohesion will be an issue moving forward. On Wednesday, Lauren Holiday looked like she was being underutilized as a deep-lying playmaker when she could be making a bigger difference higher up the field. Defensively the U.S. was O.K., but the back line and goalkeeper Hope Solo made some uncharacteristic giveaways that a team like Germany would have pounced on. If you’re the U.S., it can only get better from here in this tournament.
• Trinidad and Tobago looks like a team that can make its first World Cup
Coached by two former NCAA title winners -- head coach Randy Waldrum (Notre Dame women) and assistant Lincoln Phillips (the legendary former Howard men’s coach), T&T was well-organized in defense and able to break occasionally on the counter. This wasn’t a team parking the bus. Forbes made several big saves to frustrate the Americans, and T&T had a few scoring chances of its own. Considering how tough its pre-tournament camp was -- the team arrived in Dallas with just $500 for everyone -- this was a remarkable performance by the Trinis. At this rate, they should advance to the semifinals (Guatemala and Haiti aren’t nearly as good) and be in a position to qualify for their country’s first Women’s World Cup. What a story that would be.
• The U.S. will likely take out some frustration in the next game
Judging from what we saw on Wednesday, Guatemala will be overmatched against the U.S. on Friday in Chicago, and we could well see something similar to the 13-0 U.S. blowout of the Guatemalans in the qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics. Will we learn anything from that about the U.S. team? Probably not. It’s fair to say, though, that the pressure on Ellis and the U.S. team will only increase if these games that were supposed to be cakewalks continue turning into something else entirely.