While there are no NWSL games this weekend, the U.S. Women’s National Team will play two matches in Scandinavia this week. First up for the U.S. is a match against Sweden, the #6 ranked team in the world and reigning Olympic Silver Medalists. This will be the first match between the two since Sweden advanced over the U.S. on penalty kicks in the Rio Olympics.
During the match in Rio, Stina Blackstenius scored in the 61st minute to give Sweden the 1-0 lead. Just 16 minutes later, in the 77th minute, U.S. forward Alex Morgan brought the U.S. level, forcing the game into extra-time in the heat and humidity of tropical Brazil. Once it went to penalties, a save on Morgan and a missed kick from Christen Press saw the U.S. fall 4-3. Sweden would go on to receive the silver medal after losing to Germany in the gold medal match.
The match against Sweden on Thursday will be the first time the team has played outside the U.S. since the Olympics and their first games since a pair of wins against Russia back in April. The U.S. will certainly be looking to make a statement–both in response to their elimination at the Olympics and to reverse course from the disappointing results of the SheBelieves Cup in March. For Sweden, this match and the match against Scotland on June 13 will be the last opportunities to prepare for the upcoming UEFA European Championship.
Two players to keep an eye on for this match will be Sydney Leroux and Lynn Williams. Leroux is making her return to the national team after giving birth to her first child. While she joined the team during January camp, this will be the first chance to see Leroux with the national team at full fitness. She currently has three goals for her club team FC Kansas City and was named Player of the Week in Week 7. Williams, meanwhile, was a late addition to the team after Alex Morgan’s injury in the UEFA Champions League final for Olympique Lyonnais. Williams struggled a bit to start the season–finding plenty of chances but having trouble converting–but has seemed to find her stride in the past few weeks. She currently ranks in the top five in both assists and goals in the NWSL. It will be interesting to see if Williams gets any playing time on this trip.
Now, eight weeks into the NWSL season, these players should be near peak fitness levels. However, a few players seem to be carrying minor knocks, which may influence who head coach Jill Ellis selects for the gameday rosters. As for Sweden, coach Pia Sundhage will have a full roster of players who have just finished their seasons, and who will be looking to stay sharp heading into the Euros.
Whenever these two teams come together, it’s always a fun and entertaining match. With the added tension generated by last year’s Olympic quarterfinal, there should be plenty of fire in this one.
The one downside for many fans is that, with the game being played in Europe, it will be an early kickoff in the U.S., starting at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. So set those DVRs. Or even better, just let your boss know that you might be a little preoccupied on Thursday afternoon.