The United States Women’s Soccer team opened the World Cup with a 2-0 victory over North Korea. The team entered the tournament with questions about chemistry and the merit of its #1 world ranking. The team has yet to hit a groove and play to its full potential, as it needed an extra play-in game just to qualify for the World Cup. Therefore, the team and its supporters had a nervous excitement for the tournament, held in Germany.
The opening game for the United States was impressive, chaotic, frustrating, and encouraging all at the same time. In the first half, there were many offensive opportunities that lacked the proper timing to execute an effective shot on net. For example, Amy Rodriguez was able to use her speed and ball control to beat the North Korean defenders and create crossing opportunities in the box. Abby Wambach is a very talented forward, and will undoubtedly be a key for the US moving forward, but was unable to consistently put shots on net with any velocity. She put herself in good position to create scoring opportunities for herself, and simply needed to finish. Lauren Cheney, a controversial choice to start at forward, was very effective on the offensive end. The three forwards all played very well in the first half, but didn’t play well TOGETHER. One could sense that chemistry was only a half or two away, and then the trio would then be extremely dangerous.
In the second half, Wombach was able to notch an assist, and Lauren Cheney justified her start with a goal. The offensive combination of Wambach, Cheney, and Rodriguez (who may become the overlooked key player on this team), along with Alex Morgan off the bench, will allow the United States to match any country’s front line at the World Cup.
The midfield is a different story. Because the United States decided to start Cheney at forward, moving from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 strategy, one of the usual midfield starters was forced to sit. That midfielder was Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe’s presence was missed, especially in the open field, in the US’s defensive half. North Korea was able to launch far too many uncontested shots on net from outside the box; there simply was no pressure from the American midfield on the North Korean strikers. These long distance, uncontested opportunities will hurt the United States against more talented offensive teams.
Which brings us to the defensive line. The defensive lineup was untouched entering the World Cup, the only phase of the starting lineup (aside from the goaltender position) where the usual personnel was not changed. The defense still left many North Korean attackers with opportunities to score on crossing passes and passes within the box. Far too often, US defenders were forced to reel as North Korean attackers crept behind the defense within just yards of goalkeeper Hope Solo, who made multiple solid saves en route to a 2-0 shutout. The defense, along with the midfield that is a player down from the traditional 4-4-2 layout, needs improvement if the United States wants to continue to advance in the tournament once it qualifies out of the group stage.
So the main question is, how will the US be more successful: With a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 strategic alignment? While the 4-4-2 is more traditional, and it would limit the amount of long distance quality shots from the opposition because of the extra midfielder, the 4-3-3 allows the forwards to work better together and produces many more scoring opportunities than a 4-4-2. For this team, the 4-3-3 gives the team a better opportunity to win, and the US simply looks more comfortable in this formation. With more time to adjust to the new formation, the forwards will improve chemistry quickly, as was evident from the 1st to 2nd half in the opening game. The United States will play Colombia on Saturday at 11:30AM, and will need Rodriguez to set the table, Wambach to finish these scoring opportunities, and Cheney to be the everything-type player. The three forwards have been the story for the United States thus far in the World Cup, and these women will continue to write the story for the US National Team in the next 3 weeks.