The first of the two-game friendly series between the United States and Canada resulted in a 1-1 draw in front of a near capacity crowd of 16,191 packed into Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Boisterous fans created a lively atmosphere to welcome home their Women’s World Cup heroes, whose performance in this summer’s tournament ignited interest all over the US. Of the three friendlies played at home in 2011 prior to the WWC, two took place in comparatively large stadiums, like Red Bull Arena (25,000 capacity) and Columbus Crew Stadium (20,000 capacity), but had only managed to draw attendance merely in the 5,000s.
The situation for both teams couldn’t be more different: the USWNT was playing with the exact same group who recently propelled themselves to newfound celebrity status, and a coach whose unwavering loyalty to a particular formation and players have drawn cries for change and ingenuity from fans and commentators alike; in contrast, the CanWNT was playing under a new coaching staff following a sorrowful WWC with new players and new tactics.
September 17 was to be a battle of old and new. Yet, surprisingly, both teams stepped onto the pitch to test new strategies.
Pia Sundhage implemented a 4-2-3-1 for the match, a departure from her favoured 4-4-2. The USWNT coach expressed her hopes of adding another dimension of unpredictability to the attack. Sundhage experimented by moving Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd, both of whom normally occupy more offensive roles, back to act as deep-lying midfielders. She was quick to point out that the pair would be “possession midfielders” as opposed to holding midfielders. Still in search for the team’s true No. 10, the Swede had Megan Rapinoe assume that role in the starting XI. The new formation was to emphasize play in the centre of midfield, but the US still found the most success attacking from the wings, especially in the first half.
Striker Amy Rodriguez was utilized in a new role as a left winger. With an abundance of pace Rodriguez darted around Rhian Wilkinson, heading to the endline in the 7th minute and unleashing a shot from a tight angle to force a diving save from Erin McLeod and to earn the first of several corner kicks herself. In true A-Rod fashion, she tried her luck on goal from distance later in the game. Like the rest of her US teammates, Rodriguez’s shot was one of many that went straight into the gloves of Erin McLeod, who made a number of crucial grabs in the air to prevent any additional scoring.
Heather O’Reilly christened left back Lauren Sesselmann’s debut on the Canadian squad with several dangerous runs to beat the international rookie. (O’Reilly was named the USWNT’s Woman of the Match.) Canada’s 4-3-3 at times left an abundance of space out wide, allowing players like O’Reilly to roam free and pick up passes. Sesselmann was tested in the 13th minute when Ali Krieger overlapped with O’Reilly and managed to get a cross in for Abby Wambach, who side footed the ball high. Krieger has proven herself to be a great distributor from the back.
It was O’Reilly’s effort running at Sesselmann just 3 minutes earlier that led to the US’ lone goal. A heavy touch by a Canadian player relinquished possession to Lloyd in the centre circle, who played a perfect long ball to the outside of Sesselmann and into space for O’Reilly to take a shot. McLeod responded with a fantastic one-handed diving save, but the rebound fell to a sliding Wambach, whose shot deflected off Emily Zurrer’s right arm as she slide across the face of goal. Wambach was composed as usual for the ensuing penalty kick, slotting the ball up the left as she sent McLeod diving the other way, making it 1-0 for the US.
Regardless of who was distributing or where service was being provided from (it’s a magicJack joke, get it?), Wambach was a menace to deal with, particularly for Emily Zurrer but the central defender was up to the task and was able to clear away several US opportunities.
John Herdman told media on Friday about the CanWNT’s plans on returning to its physical style of play and, boy, he wasn’t kidding. Right from the first whistle, the Canadians defended by staying shoulder-to-shoulder with their American counterparts, swarming whoever was in possession, muscling the ball away and slide tackling more than I’ve ever seen in another soccer match. (Be careful of the grass burn).
Canada managed to disrupt the US’ rhythm on several occasions and steal away possession with holding midfielders Kaylyn Kyle and Sophie Schmidt executing their duties exactly as planned. Schmidt was honoured as Canada’s player of the match for her efforts.
Centre referee Margaret Domka took note of the physicality by showing the game’s two yellow cards to Diana Matheson, for her foul on Cheney, and to Kyle, for taking out O’Reilly from behind. Both Rapinoe and Krieger, too, felt the wrath of their opponents when they were absolutely levelled later in the game. Canada had a number of well-timed tackles; however, they will have to keep their slide tackling in check, especially during big tournaments, to avoid any harsher punishments (i.e. a red card).
Canada engineered a number of shots on goal in the first half. Matheson’s shot from distance had great placement up high but lacked the pace to beat Hope Solo. Christina Julien was feisty while up against Krieger and another defender in the 17th minute to create an opportunity for Melissa Tancredi, whose weak shot bounced to the goalkeeper.
Kelly Parker and Tancredi linked up for two particularly dangerous plays, taking advantage of the space left open by US defence. In the 20th minute, Cheney attempted to turn away from pressure, yet was robbed by Parker. She squared the ball to a wide open Tancredi, who probably wishes she made better contact on her bouncing shot.
On the brink of half-time, Parker turned and beat Cheney at her own signature move, and unleashed a precise pass into the path of Tancredi that eluded the US’ jogging (yeah, they were sllloooow) backline. After taking an extra touch, Tancredi equalized with a great finish at the far post, beating Solo who had come off her line to cut down the angle. This gave reassurance that the team is capable of scoring goals without Christine Sinclair, rare as it may be, since she is currently being rested.
The tying goal seemed to invigorate the Canadians. They began the second half by controlling the game more so than they did in the first half. The second half was also an opportunity for the relatively less internationally experienced players to make an impression. Eighteen year-old Jaclyn Sawicki earned her first senior CanWNT cap when she replaced Parker on the cusp of stoppage time.
Cheney was at her best when she was free to push forward and distribute as opposed to her role earlier in the game sitting deep in the midfield where she was stripped of the ball. Alex Morgan, who entered the match in the 56th minute in place of Wambach to roaring applause, linked up well with Cheney and half-time sub Tobin Heath, putting an abundance of pressure on the Canadian backline late in the match.
In the 70th minute, Morgan put on a great display of her finesse. Although she was tightly marked during this play, Morgan managed to chest down Cheney’s flicked header and get a shot off, but it was right to McLeod.
The duo was at it again just 2 minutes later when they played a sequence of one touch passes to get around the Canadian defence. Cheney fell in the penalty area upon Sesselmann’s tackle from behind among a chorus of boos. She was able to maintain possession and pass it off to Morgan, who slid the ball just wide.
Canada’s best opportunities came on set pieces. Ten minutes into the second half, Kyle forced a corner kick as she pressured Krieger. Kyle’s ensuing corner (Matheson and Wilkinson typically take the free kicks) was headed down by Zurrer, but she was unable to make enough contact with the ball to drive it into the net. A foul by Lloyd in the 74th minute allowed Wilkinson to set up a free kick. The ball touched off of Chelsea Stewart, who replaced Julien in the 68th minute, and into space. Everyone on the pitch seemed to pause as they were all caught ball watching. Zurrer was a fraction of a second off from burying a goal when second-half sub Nicole Barnhart rushed off her line to smother the ball.
Late in the game, Melanie Booth entered the match to take over the left back position, while Sesselmann moved up top as the lone Canadian striker. Sesselmann was almost able to seal the game winner in the 90th minute, a result that would have haunted Lloyd had it been scored. When the US attempted to clear, Lloyd dribbled towards her own defence and was knocked off the ball by Schmidt. Stewart could have attempted a shot but unselfishly laid the ball off to an open Sesselmann across the 6 yard box, who one-timed it over the bar.
Final score: USA 1, Canada 1.
Commentators Dave Johnson and Kyndra de St. Aubin revealed a few notable tidbits. Sundhage plans to give everyone on the roster some playing time in the Celebration Series, so expect to see players who didn’t appear in yesterday’s game to be in the next friendly. The US will lose the anchor of their defence when Rampone hangs up her cleats following the 2012 Olympics. On the Canadian side, the current players in camp were a pre-selected roster for Herdman, who has had precious little time to scout since his appointment as head coach just two weeks earlier.
The USWNT and CanWNT face off again on Thursday, September 22 in Portland, Oregon at Jeld-Wen Field live on ESPN2 and ESPN3 (11pm ET, 8pm PT).
Krieger – Rampone – Buehler – LePeilbet
Cheney – Lloyd
O’Reilly – Rapinoe – Rodgriguez
Wilkinson – Zurrer – Moscato – Sesselmann
Matheson – Kyle – Schmidt
Tancredi – Julien – Parker
Match: U.S. Women’s National Team vs. Canada
Date: Sept. 17, 2011
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: LIVESTRONG Sporting Park; Kansas City, Kan.
Kickoff: 6 p.m. CT
Weather: 63 degrees; Cool and hazy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
CAN 1 0 1
USA – Abby Wambach (penalty kick) 10th minute
CAN – Melisssa Tancredi (Kelly Parker) 42
USA: 1-Hope Solo (18-Nicole Barnhart, 46); 11-Ali Krieger, 19-Rachel Buehler (4-Becky Sauerbrunn,
46), 3-Christie Rampone (capt.), 6-Amy LePeilbet; 9-Heather O’Reilly, 10-Carli Lloyd, 12-Lauren Cheney, 15-Megan Rapinoe (17-Tobin Heath, 46), 8-Amy Rodriguez; 20-Abby Wambach (13-Alex Morgan, 57)
Subs not used: 2-Heather Mitts, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 14-Stephanie Cox, 16-Lori Lindsey, 21-Jill Loyden
Head coach: Pia Sundhage
CAN: 18-Erin McLeod; 7-Rhian Wilkinson (5-Robyn Gayle, 76), 2-Emily Zurrer, 4-Carmelina Moscato, 16-Lauren Sesselmann; 6-Kaylyn Kyle (11-Desiree Scott, 69), 8-Diana Matheson, 13-Sophie Schmidt; 10-Christina Julien (19-Chelsea Stewart, 68), 14-Melissa Tancredi (3-Melanie Booth, 76), 15-Kelly Parker (12-Jaclyn Sawicki, 90)
Subs not used: 9-Tina Romagnuolo, 17-Lexi Marton, 22-Justine Bernier, 21-Stephanie Labbé, 1-Karina LeBlanc, 20-Diamond Simpson,
Head coach: John Herdman
Statistical Summary: USA / CAN
Shots: 16 / 10
Shots on Goal: 8 / 6
Saves: 5 / 7
Corner Kicks: 4 / 1
Fouls: 8 / 11
Offside: 0 / 4
CAN — Diana Matheson (caution) 18th minute
CAN — Kaylyn Kyle (caution) 64
Referee: Margaret Domka (USA)
AR1: Marlene Duffy (USA)
AR2: Melanie Johnson (USA)
4th Jon Freemon (USA)