There were few people that pushed the panic button, but there seemed to be quite a few whose hands might have reached in that general direction as the United States sputtered to a halftime draw against North Korea Tuesday afternoon.
Thankfully, none of those people was named Pia Sundhage. She stayed calm, collected, made no substitutions, but tweaked the right things, and gave the right motivation. The result: a fairly shocking second half (at least in its complete and utter domination) as the U.S. rolled to a 2-0 win over usually stubborn North Korea that could have been double that.
There’s a long way to go, obviously, but certainly the U.S. looked like contenders for the title. Unless, of course, it was the lightning that got the North Koreans.
In the other match, well, let’s just say the Swedish finishing left much to be desired against Colombia.
Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 3 of Germany 2011.
1) Lauren Cheney needs to be on the field
You or I might switch up the formation to find a way to get her in, but Scandinavian coaches like Pia Sundhage (or Hans Backe in MLS for the Red Bulls, for instance) never seem to vary from that 4-4-2. Which is fine, to each their own, and – as we saw today – sometimes the formations can just be numbers. Cheney spent much of the day tucked in and acting as a third striker, in the process probably being the most dangerous player on the field today.
Now, doing that does leave some holes behind you, and that’s something the U.S. will have to address, but you have to give up something to get something, and the positives seemed to outweigh the negatives today, namely a threat to score every time Cheney touches the ball in the opponents’ third.
2) Abby Wambach has some skill, too
We know Wambach as the hard-charging, physical presence who gets most of her goals with her head, a job she has been remarkable in, scoring 118 times for her country in 157 appearances.
But it was the things she did off the ball and with the ball at her feet that helped the U.S. most today.
On the first goal, her run into a wide area opened space and a beautiful Carli Lloyd long ball found her on the left. Instead of just hitting it first time, though, she cut it off her left, sending the North Korean defender jumping, which opened up everything. Wambach’s cross found Cheney, and it was a pretty simple header back across goal.
That little touch, though, was the difference.
3) Who is Dawn Scott?
If you know before reading this, you are an A+ U.S. women’s fan, and – if I could – I’d send you on a plane to Germany and get you tickets.
Dawn Scott is the fitness coach for the U.S., and in a tournament full of cramping and other fatigue issues at the end of matches, the States showed none of it today. In fact, I can’t remember a single cramp.
Now, it was a little cooler in Dresden, and the U.S. kicked off a little later in the day, but it was still warmer than ideal, certainly.
Scott was hired last year, ironically from England, where she worked with Hope Powell for almost a decade.
Why ironic? Because England was one of the teams most affected by the conditions on Monday, completely wilting at the end of their match against Mexico. Appears to be a fantastic signing for U.S. soccer. Yea, Sunil Gulati.
4) Amy LePeilbet may need more help at left back
Sundhage knows that LePeilbet is slightly out of position, but it was exposed far too often in the first half by 16-year-old Su Gyong Kim down the North Korean right. A lot of coaches, especially with the game still scoreless would have pulled LePeilbet for Stephanie Cox, but Sundhage stuck to her guns and was rewarded, North Korea wasn’t nearly as dangerous in the second half.
In fact, LePeilbet got forward much more in the second half – more than I’ve ever seen her. Was that the tactical adjustment? Going forward, Sweden attacked mostly down the left through Therese Sjogran and Sara Thunebro today, and Colombia’s most dangerous player – Carmen Rodallega – was also on the left, so maybe that will help, at least through the group stages.
5) Carli Lloyd played well in a big spot
Lloyd had the secondary assist on the first goal, but – more importantly – had the engine to match North Korea and was still going strong at the end (I guess Scott gets a little credit for that, too, Lloyd looks as fit as she’s ever been in her career). She won plenty of balls and was a dominant force in the middle.
North Korea did, however, get a few shots in the middle of the field, and that’s the concern with a “flat” 4-4-2, we’ll see if it will get exposed by other opponents.
6) It’s OK to go direct sometimes
Some of the Twitter chatter at halftime was about how many teams are better technically than the U.S., and how embarrassing that is for U.S. soccer. I don’t disagree completely with that sentiment, but now is not the time to worry about things like that.
Sundhage has Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney, and others, and I don’t mind using some direct play to go at some shaky defenses and goalkeepers.
That doesn’t mean just smacking the ball forward at every opportunity. Look at the first goal: Ali Kreiger had a little bit of a poor touch, but didn’t panic, laid it off to Christie Rampone, who hit Lloyd, and Lloyd delivered the long ball to Wambach. That works.
7) It would be shocking to see the U.S. not win the group now
More about Sweden-Colombia in a second, but Sweden had a chance to hang a few goals on what is sure to be the minnows of the group and didn’t do it, which should mean that the U.S. would have to lose to Sweden to not win Group C. I don’t see that happening. However, while that may help them avoid Brazil, Norway has been feisty of late as a potential quarterfinal opponent. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
8) Megan Rapinoe’s goal was correctly disallowed
FIFA’s Law 12, as it pertains to goalkeepers, states:
“A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball: a) while the ball is between his (it says his, sorry) hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body); b) while holding the ball in his outstretched open hand; c) while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air.
When a goalkeeper has gained possession of the ball with his hands, he cannot be challenged by an opponent.”
So the hand on the ball disallows the goal. It shouldn’t matter, I don’t see goal differential being an issue.
9) Sweden should have scored a few goals on Colombia today
I wasn’t impressed by Colombia today as I was with Mexico yesterday. Carmen Rodallega was pretty good on the ball, but Sweden – thanks to some dreadful finishing – really could have and should have had 4 or 5 goals by the end of the match. Colombia didn’t even look like they could get a goal kick further then 30 yards down the field (as Sweden took advantage of when it finally scored, it was a nice goal) and gave the ball away several times in their own end. I thought Colombia keeper Sandra Supulveda was decent, but Sweden barely even tested her. I think if the U.S. is a little more clinical, they can hang a crooked number and advance with ease on Saturday.
10) Where was Yoreli Rincon?
I hate to break it to Ricardo Rozo and young Yoreli, but you’re not going to replace Marta as Player of the Year from a holding midfield role. At least, you’re not going to replace her as a holding midfielder who has as little impact on the game as she did today. Rincon’s touches were decent, but she didn’t do anything to really make you notice her, which is a little bit of a shame after the hype she was given. We’ll see what happens against the United States.
Was Colombia talking trash in the pregame tunnel?
I probably wouldn’t try that on Saturday. Just saying.