Let’s try something new. Instead of doing player ratings after each USWNT match (because each player would have gotten a 1 after the first half [kidding] and a 10 after the second [kidding again], we’ll try thinking of buzzwords that help sum up each player’s performance. So here goes:
Hope Solo: Unruffled. North Korea didn’t really test the agility of Solo’s reportedly suspect right arm with long-range efforts. Solo wasn’t called upon often, but when she was, she parried shots away with sharpness and confidence and just that smoldering Solo-like intensity.
Ali Krieger: Calm.
Probably Definitely her best national team game yet. Early in the first half Krieger provided service to O’Reilly on the right flank. When North Korea began bunkering, she dropped back into defense and manned the position well – even when the defense began to cave under growing pressure. There was a reason why North Korea didn’t bother pressing up the right flank. Her crossing was also more on point than not. It was her initial lob that resulted in Buehler’s goal, after all. Great game.
Christie Rampone: Satisfactory. Not a great performance, but not a horrific one either. Rampone deserves credit for regrouping the defense in the second half, as the communication definitely seemed like it had improved. Still just a meh outing, which means there’s still things to be desired from the veteran center-back.
Rachel Buehler: Resilient. Buehler had a difficult first half, trying to help cover for Breakers teammate LePeilbet on the left. In doing so, she got caught out of position and left a gap immediately in front of Solo which North Korea managed not to exploit. In the second half she looked more comfortable and less underwhelmed. The goal was a nice moment as well. She’ll continue to be a threat in the attack, as she always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Amy LePeilbet: Liability. LePeilbet’s improved second half performance wasn’t enough to gloss over the first half. The natural center back’s inability to cut and turn became apparent, just like it had in the England friendly. In the last 20 minutes of the first half, Kim Su Gyong had her beat. It was Marie-Eve Nault-level bad. Cheney’s intervention (and the U.S.’ control of possession) helped fix things in the second half, but that left-back position looks to be a trouble area. LePeilbet just isn’t a left-back.
Heather O’Reilly: Quiet. The consummate work horse showed flashes of vintage HAO; she combined well with Krieger on the overlap in the first 10 minutes and also served up a particularly beautiful cross to Wambach in the first 15 minutes of the second half. But besides that, she was rather anonymous.
Shannon Boxx: Taxed. Boxx looked exhausted, just as she did in the first Japan game. And possibly for similar reasons: Boxx assumed a mostly defensive role in both games, and got absolutely inundated with pressure in the first half of each. She lacked the sharpness to help turn possession for the U.S. in the first half, and by the second half, North Korea had stepped off. Still a conundrum.
Carli Lloyd: Improved. More errant passes and misreads in the first half. But again like in the Japan friendlies, Lloyd bounced back and help the U.S. control the midfield in the second half. As a result, North Korea quit pressing up the center which allowed Lloyd more time on the ball to make better decisions. While not being excessively productive, she helped marshal the middle third. She does have a scorching shot on her; you just wish she’d show it more often.
Lauren Cheney: Integral. Fantastic performance. It seemed (anyone have confirmation?) that each and every one of Cheney’s shots was on frame. There’s this interesting OptaFranz stat, and at least half of those shots must have been come from Cheney. Granted, her shots in the first half were all driven directly into the goalkeeper, but the fact that she actually got them on frame means a lot for a team that has had recent issues doing just that. Sundhage put Cheney at outside mid for that precise reason: her ability to shoot, and shoot with accuracy and power. The fact that mobility isn’t one of her playing characteristics isn’t an issue. Every time Cheney got a glimpse of a look, she took the shot (and none sailed over the crossbar!). Her ability to track back and help defend should also be noted. Cheney’s tenacity alone should keep her in the starting line-up.
Abby Wambach: Adaptive. Wambach had a frustratingly quiet first half. Her central midfielders weren’t getting her involved, and she had a difficult time finding space to work in when they did. In the second half she shifted to the wing and it worked. Wambach really showcased her skill on the ball, as well as her ability to cross. So she used to be a striker, then she became a no. 10, and now she’s a winger? If she keeps providing assists like she did for Cheney’s goal, she can be whatever she wants.
Amy Rodriguez: Latecomer. It took about 60 minutes, but A-Rod finally looked dangerous when she began combining with her fellow forwards. Her speed helped flummox a tiring North Korean defense, and her movement looked good. The thing is it took about 60 minutes.
Alex Morgan: Hungry. All Morgan needs is one touch, and she can create something out of nothing. It didn’t quite happen on Tuesday, but if she remains aggressive and elusive, she’ll get her goal.
Megan Rapinoe: (Almost) Vindicated. From all intents and purposes, Rapinoe takes rejection well. Her goal was rightly called off (even though the contact seemed to be incidentally simultaneous rather than intentional). She’ll be a good weapon to call upon off the bench, as she’s clearly capable of moments of individualistic flair.
Pia Sundhage: Correct. Time to eat crow. Well, kind of. I mean I never really questioned Sundhage’s Cheney-over-Rapinoe decision as a positional move. The timing of it just seemed a bit weird, and it made one wonder if A-Rod was going to slip into the left mid role instead. The switch paid dividends for the team, however, and judging by her attempt to fight off a smug smile in her post-match interview, she knew it.
Immediately following the Mexico friendly, Lauren Barker and I were talking about how easy it is to scout this team and joked that once the World Cup rolled around, Sundhage was going to fool everyone, drop one of her favorites, and try something new. Who are we kidding, we told ourselves. But hey! It happened! And it worked!
(Also, apparently all it took was a complaint from Cheney and Sundhage was convinced. C’mon Alex, all you have to do is ASK! )
And that’s the thing. Sundhage has gotten criticized for playing the same way over and over again, but then raises eyebrows when she actually does shake things up.
She sticks to her guns (like deciding not to drop LePeilbet at the half, which I had screamed for on Twitter not thinking that that likely would have torpedoed her confidence even more). Carolina Morace stayed the course in a similar way against Germany (save for giving the hook to Nault, of course) and earned praise for it.
And then there’s Sundhage’s jolly, nonchalant, eternally sunny personality. It’s an easy target, sure, and sometimes you kind of want to see some fire on the sideline. If your players are sucking, tell them they’re sucking! Kick a signboard or something, right? But that’s just it: the players truly seem to like her, and there appears to a genuine tranquility in and around the camp.
Sundhage can’t win for losing, but she can definitely win for winning.