FOX Soccer Exclusive
USA shows no signs of slowing down
The United States women’s national team have played four times thus far in 2013. And they’ve won all four games convincingly.
Two February friendlies against a hapless Scotland were as easy as you’d like – with 4-1 and 3-2 victories respectively – and two games into the annual Algarve Cup in Portugal, the US is cruising.
On Wednesday, Iceland pressed and harried the US well in the first half. But the thoroughly excellent Heather O’Reilly and the Americans broke the resistance when Rachel Buehler headed in on a Lauren Cheney corner early in the second half. When Shannon Boxx used her head to the same effect some time later, the game opened up and the US finally found its rhythm, culminating in Abby Wambach’s 3-0 – her 154th international goal, four off Mia Hamm’s world record.
Sermanni changed out ten-elevenths of his lineup for the US’s next game on Friday, leaving only Alex Morgan in. They demolished China 5-0 all the same. They too gave the US trouble in a sluggish first half, as the field grew soggy in the torrential rain. China was actually the better team for a few stretches in the first half. In fact, the US’s 1-0 came on a counter-attack. After a fine save from Nicole Barnhart, Sydney Leroux undertook a 50-yard run that she topped off with a cool finish to put the US ahead in the 14th minute. Alex Morgan, who should have had several goals of her own but was imprecise in her shooting, met Ali Krieger with a pin-point cross to make it 2-0 some time later.
Right on the heels of halftime, when the weather and the field dried up, Megan Rapinoe, who had a nightmarish first half but later redeemed herself, saw her hard free kick deflected into goal by a defender. That’s when China threw in the towel. Increasingly dejected and disinterested in defending, they surrendered one chance after the other. Christen Press scored on a pretty shot to make it 4-0 and Whitney Engen tapped in the fifth and final tally, but it could have easily ended with a 10-0 score, given the barrage of shots the Americans put on the Chinese goal towards the end.
With six points out of six, the US needs no more than a tie with Sweden on Monday to win Group B. That will take them into Wednesday’s gold-medal game against the winner of Group A, where 2011 Women’s World Cup champions Japan have already been eliminated.
If this threatened to be a time of transition for the women’s national team, with a new head coach in charge in Tom Sermanni and nine regulars aged 30 or older, it’s not looking like it will be anything of the sort.
In spite of lacking a domestic professional league for the past year, which has helped other countries like Japan and France develop quickly, American talent continues to bubble to the surface.
Christen Press has scored four times in her first four appearances. Crystal Dunn and Whitney Engen look like viable options in the back. Lindsey Horan hasn’t showed much yet but at 18 her talent is nevertheless abundantly evident. Meanwhile, 26-year-old retread Yael Averbuch had such a strong game against China, hitting the post and being denied a penalty, that her added value in midfield is obvious.
If the US lacked sharpness in the first halves of their Algarve Cup games and some players have some rust to shake off yet, their dominance is showing no signs of abating any time soon.
The trick now will be to sustain it through 2016. There’s a serious flaw built into the women’s international soccer calendar, which plays its major tournaments, the World Cup and the Olympics, in consecutive summers, leaving three long years without any form of serious competition other than the Algarve Cup.
The US’s continued dominance now means very little if they can’t retain that sharpness until the summer of 2015, when the next Women’s World Cup kicks off in Canada. The Olympics in Brazil are on the docket for the following year.
So Sermanni’s biggest challenge will be to build his team for the long run and ward off the temptation to leave a winning team untouched. He’ll have to adjudge not who will help him win now but who will still be of use to him in three years while introducing a younger generation of stars for the future.
The US women’s team is in good health, but to stay at the top, some forward thinking is needed. The next World Cup is still a long ways away, after all.
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