Off the Bench with Backline Soccer: US v. Sweden and NWSL Week 9

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Welcome to Off the Bench, Week 9!

Backline Soccer Recap:

USWNT v. Sweden Recap:

With no NWSL games to ponder over this weekend, the USWNT filled the void Thursday morning when they took on Sweden in their first match-up since their heartbreaking quarterfinal exit in the Rio Olympics. (But enough talk about that horrible day for all of the USWNT fans as both Ian Darke and Julie Foudy covered it plenty and we have suffered enough.) 

The U.S. started off in a standard 4-4-2.

The game opened up with Sweden on the front foot, while USWNT fans looked on with their hands covering their face. The US looked a bit lost, and many of the players seemed to have trouble with a slippery pitch.

Things remained scoreless and relatively uneventful until the 56th minute, when a combined effort from Crystal Dunn and Rose Lavelle put the USWNT up 1-0. That would be the only goal of the game, although there were plenty of chances from both sides in the final half hour. Alyssa Naeher earned her ninth shut-out and the USWNT finally won their first match against a Pia Sundhage coached Sweden side. 

Now let’s break down a few key moments and observations from the game.  

As I mentioned before, in the opening stretch the US looked a little out of sorts and unsure about the game plan. Whether that was the weight of who they were playing, or just not having enough time together, it’s hard to say. But either way the start of the game was short on quality with both sides seeming a bit lackluster. Chances were blown, finishes were incomplete, and the overall level of play was below what we’d expect from these teams. Rose Lavelle looked bright at times, trying to move centrally and get things going, but she found little backup and had some trouble with that previously mentioned slippery turf. Carli Lloyd was the intended target on through balls, but found herself frustrated as Sweden’s defenders regularly cut out that run. On the other side, Becky Sauerbrunn did much the same with Sweden, swooping in to intercept their passes through the middle. In a game lacking in many top-notch performances, Sauerbrunn was the best exception.

In the 44th minute, the U.S. had a panic moment when Allie Long almost sent in an own goal. A miscommunication occurred as she intercepted a ball that Alyssa Naeher was going for and had to run back and clear the ball from the goal-line, to prevent her mistake from turning into goal. That seemed to be the biggest panic moment of the first half. It ended with no goals and some re-tooling needed in the locker room.

The second half started with two subs. Lindsey Horan came in for Carli Lloyd and Abby Dahlkemper came in for Meghan Klingenberg. Shortly after these two were subbed out, the game seemed to settle and open a bit more for the USWNT. This saw Casey Short shift to left-back and Dahlkemper patrol the center with Sauerbrunn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two natural center backs worked well together and Short looked more comfortable at fullback. On the other end, with Lloyd off the pitch and no longer the center of the attack, the U.S. seemed to settle into a bit more of a passing rhythm.

The big blow came from Crystal Dunn creating an opportunity out of nowhere, finding Rose Lavelle on the right, who then executed as clinical a finish as you could hope to see.

This seemed to finally spark the US, who played with a bit more confidence and forcefulness from that point forward.  

There were, however, some panic moments in the last 10 minutes of the game. One saw Naeher needing to field a corner kick but, once she hesitated coming off her line, she was left scrambling to just barely get enough her fingertips on a ball blasted over her head. Then another panic when a defensive miscue put Lotta Schelin through. However, some stout recoveries kept Sweden out, and the US took home the win.

Still, despite the final result, this game did not show much evidence of progress. This year has seen a lot of experimentation, but sometimes it seems like Jill Ellis is doing so just for the sake of saying she has done it. We will see if more settling and less travel from the USWNT produces a better performance against Norway on Sunday.

Aside from the performance itself, anyone watching will have noticed the team’s new look. The USWNT is celebrating Pride this month and wore jerseys with rainbow numbers on them for this match and will again wear them for the match against Norway on Sunday. It was great to see the jersey’s on the gals and to see U.S Soccer standing up for equality. 

And most of all. I really liked the You Can Play video put together by both USWNT and USMNT players.

The Scouting Report:

We went live on Monday night with our Week 8 TSR, recapping all of the NWSL games from the weekend. A reminder that you can catch TSR live every Monday night at 8pm EST on our YouTube channel. And make sure to follow the podcast on Twitter @ScoutingPodcast. 

In case you missed this week’s episode, catch up here:

https://www.spreaker.com/user/brewsports/the-scouting-report-season-5-week-8

Come back next week when I will back to regular programming previewing the weekend’s NWSL games!