June 22, 2011

Group C Preview: United States

United States (#1)
Region: Concacaf
Coach: Pia Sundhage
How They Qualified: Finished 3rd in Concacaf Region Qualifying, then defeated Italy in playoff.
Prior Cups:
2007: 3rd Place
2003: 3rd Place
1999: Champions
1995: 3rd Place
1991: Champions
Returnees from 2007 WWC:
(8) Barnhart, Solo, Cox, Rampone, Boxx, Lloyd, O’Reilly, Wambach.

Roster (Average Age: 27.71)
Nicole BarnhartGKPhiladelphia Indep.2939/0
Jillian LoydenGKmagicJack261/0
Hope SoloGKmagicJack2994/0
Rachel BuehlerDFBoston Breakers2558/1
Stephanie CoxDFBoston Breakers2573/0
Alex KriegerDFNone2617/0
Amy LePeilbetDFBoston Breakers2948/0
Heather MittsDFAtlanta Beat33115/2
Christie RamponeDFmagicJack36234/4
Becky SauerbrunnDFmagicJack2610/0
Shannon BoxxMFmagicJack33145/22
Tobin HeathMFSky Blue FC2327/2
Lori LindseyMFPhiladelphia Indep.3121/0
Carli LloydMFAtlanta Beat28110/27
Kelley O’HaraMFBoston Breakers225/0
Heather O’ReillyMFSky Blue FC26143/29
Megan RapinoeMFmagicJack2530/10
Lauren CheneyFWBoston Breakers2341/13
Alex MorganFWWNY Flash2218/7
Amy RodriguezFWPhiladelphia Indep.2464/17
Abby WambachFWmagicJack31156/118

Recent Matches:
6/5/11MexicoFriendlyW 1-0
5/18/11JapanFriendlyW 2-0
5/14/11JapanFriendlyW 2-0
4/2/11EnglandFriendlyL 1-2
3/9/11IcelandAlgarveW 4-2
3/7/11FinlandAlgarveW 4-0
3/4/11NorwayAlgarveW 2-0
3/2/11JapanAlgarveW 2-1
1/25/11ChinaFour NationsW 2-0
1/23/11CanadaFour NationsW 2-1
1/21/11SwedenFour NationsL 1-2
11/27/10ItalyWorld Cup PlayoffW 1-0
11/20/10ItalyWorld Cup PlayoffW 1-0
11/8/10Costa RicaConcacafW 3-0
11/5/10MexicoConcacafL 1-2
11/1/10Costa RicaConcacafW 4-0
10/30/10GuatemalaConcacafW 9-0
10/28/10HaitiConcacafW 5-0
10/6/10ChinaFriendlyT 1-1
10/2/10ChinaFriendlyW 2-1
7/17/10SwedenFriendlyW 3-0
7/13/10SwedenFriendlyT 1-1
5/22/10GermanyFriendlyW 4-0

They are the number team in the world according to FIFA rankings. They have won the World Cup twice in their history and finished third three times. They might be the most experienced team at the World Cup. They are definitely the oldest team at the World Cup and it’s not even close. They are the United States.

And they have been criticized recently as too old, too slow, too this, too that. Some of the criticism is valid, some a little over-the-top. Whether this will give them a chip-on-the-shoulder, it’s us against the world mentality for this Cup, I don’t know.

The United States appeared to reach their pinnacle in May of 2010 when they easily defeated Germany by a 4-0 margin in Cleveland, Ohio. Truth be told, they haven’t looked nearly so dominating since. Their long unbeaten streak extended into November, when it looked like they were cruising to another easy qualification for yet another World Cup. And then, the unthinkable happened. They lost to Mexico.

For a short time, there was a possibility that they would not even qualify. They went on to defeat Costa Rica in the Concacaf third place match and then defeated Italy twice by 1-0 to become the 16th and final qualifier for the 2011 World Cup.

This year has brought mixed results. They won the Four Nations and the Algarve Cup, defeating Canada, Japan, and Norway in the process. However, they also dropped a match to Sweden at the Four Nations and were outplayed in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of England in April. So where will they finish in Germany?

One good sign is the return of Hope Solo, arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. Shoulder surgery last fall put this World Cup in doubt, but she appeared to be 100% in recent friendlies. She’s only been scored upon in one game out of her last 13 appearances dating back to early 2009.

Abby Wambach is the focal point of the US attack. One of the best target forwards in the world, she has no peers in the air. Joining her at forward will be the relatively young trio of Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Cheney, and Alex Morgan. Morgan has become the “supersub” of the United States, scoring several important goals late in contests.

The midfield is very experienced with Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx, Heather O’Reilly, and Megan Rapinoe. They did receive a blow when Lindsay Tarpley went down with an injury just a month before the World Cup. It is the central midfield that will be one of the keys for the United States. Lloyd and Boxx need to be at the top of their game if the United States are to have a good tournament. They have started nearly every game over the last several years when they have been healthy.

Defense may be the biggest question mark. First, there are the injuries. Christie Rampone, Amy LePeilbet, and Heather Mitts have all been nursing injuries this year, with Mitts just barely making fitness under the deadline for Germany. Second, there is age. This is a fairly old group and they have been exposed in some matches recently, certainly in the loss to Mexico in November. Finally, there is left back, where Pia Sunhage has tried several players. Right now, it appears she will opt for either center back LePeilbet or natural outside back Stephanie Cox.

This will be a critical World Cup for the future of this team. A bad showing may signal a changing of the guard and the need for a substantial turnover in personnel. A good tournament would prove that Sundhage’s quiet confidence in her team was more than warranted.

Note: Some information for this article was obtained at www.fifa.com and www.ussoccer.com.