Sweden exposes U.S. central frailty

[WOMEN'S WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT] Led by captain Nilla Fischer and a pair of speedy forwards, Sweden knocked off the U.S., 2-1, to capture first place in Group C and give the Americans much to ponder as they prepare for a quarterfinal against Brazil.

Pace in the attacking third has been a vital staple of most successful teams at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and in their meeting Wednesday on the final day of group play, Sweden’s clever deployment of speed helped it beat the USA and top the group.

Though the Americans fini shed with a 20-9 edge in shots, they were down, 2-0, at halftime on goals resulting from a penalty kick and deflected free kick. Abby Wambach scored for the USA by going up for a header and connecting with her upper arm from yet another set play midway through the second half. And Sweden fended off several attacks to hand the Americans their first-ever loss in World Cup group play.

Whether with long balls or quick, short passes, Sweden often aimed for the middle, where it bypassed U.S. central mids Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd with balls played between them or chipped over their heads.

Sweden stated its intent to test the U.S. central core as early as the fourth minute, when the flag went up as Lotta Schelin raced in pursuit of a long ball played out of the back. A minute later, Christie Rampone stepped up to challenge a ball through midfield for Lisa Dahlqvist, whose flick left Rampone stranded and the speedy Josefine Oquivst one-v-one against Rachel Buehler. Their tussle yielded a foul called on Oqvist, and as Solo lined up to take the free kick Boxx and Lloyd held a quick discussion about plugging up that area of the field.

But gaps kept re-appearing. A few minutes before Amy LePeilbet’s clumsy tackle felled Schelin in the penalty area, Solo bailed out her defenders when they reacted slowly to an attempted clearance by Lloyd that skimmed off her head in the wrong direction. Solo’s kick save foiled Schelin’s low shot after the Swedish forward raced between Rampone and Buehler get the ball.

Sweden took its 1-0 lead in the 15th minute when a U.S. giveaway prompted yet another thrust through the middle, and when Dahlqvist’s partially blocked shot squirted into the area, Schelin reacted first. LePeilbet’s desperate tackle toppled her several yards inside the penalty area; she was cautioned, and Dahlqvist blasted the penalty kick high over Solo’s outstretched arms as the keeper dived to her right.

Without Lori Lindsey's central presence and no Heather O’Reilly buzzing up the right flank, the U.S. labored to build through the middle, where Swedish captain Fischer shut off passing lanes and attempted dribbles. She also directed efficient attacks through the middle, and when a misplay by Buehler let the ball slip through for Therese Sjogran to take toward goal, Buehler’s foul on Sjogran offered up a free kick in the middle about 30 yards out.

Fischer’s powerful shot struck the thigh of LePeilbet, standing a few yards off to the side of the U.S. defensive wall, and completely wrong-footed Solo as it veered in the opposite direction and looped inside the post. As commentator and former U.S. international Julie Foudy said on the ESPN telecast, “But that’s really a free kick that never should have been given in the first place,  if you don’t make that foolish foul in the first place.”

Though the chances decreased for the U.S. in the second half, there were opportunities before halftime.

In the opening minutes Lauren Cheney delivered a rising shot and Wambach delivered a low attempt that Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl easily covered, and Lloyd shot wide from further out. Later in the half, Cheney – who couldn’t miss the target in the opener against North Korea, during which she put all five of her attempts on goal – cracked one middle-distance shot just wide of the post, sent another over the crossbar, and also misfired on a header.

Cheney’s mostly costly miss, in the 20th minute, came from a determined move by Wambach, who held off a challenge to collect a dropping ball and scuffed it into Cheney’s wheelhouse. Ten minutes later, the U.S. nearly equalized when LePeilbet played a great ball over the back line that dropped for Amy Rodriguez to hit first-time on the bounce as she grappled with Charlotte Rohlin, but Rodriguez’s lob glanced off the top of the bar.

Rodriguez came off at halftime; Coach Pia Sundhage sent in super-sub Alex Morgan to play up top with Wambach. Morgan’s energy unsettled Sweden on a few occasions but still, Rohlin and her defenders were usually first to the balls delivered by midfielders Boxx, Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe, whose poise and touch on the right side were offset by Sweden's resolute control of the middle.

Wambach’s participation in the match had been in question after she missed two days of training prior to the match so she could rest a sore Achilles’ tendon. She scored in the 67th minute by crashing into an opponent going for Lloyd’s corner kick and directing the ball into her net with her shoulder.

LePeilbet was replaced in the second half by Stephanie Cox, who brought more of an attacking element to the left-back position but seemed a strange move to make while trailing. The final sub, Kelly O’Hara (for Rapinoe), could have tied the match in the final minutes when she steered a low cross to the back post wide of the net.

That rugged, straightforward approach personified by Wambach’s goal may bear fruit on Sunday against Brazil, which hasn’t been impressive defensively while winning all three of its group games. But along with the most electrifying player in the tournament, Marta, and ample doses of skill, the Brazilians can control midfield and attack with speed, factors with which the Americans must find ways to contend.

July 6 in Wolfsburg
Sweden 2 USA 1. Goals: Dahlkvist (pen.) 16, Fischer 35; Wambach (Cheney) 67.
USA -- Solo, Krieger, 1Buehler, Rampone, LePeilbet (Cox, 59), Rapinoe (O’Hara, 73), Boxx, Lloyd, Cheney, Rodriguez (Morgan, 46), Wambach.
Sweden -- Lindahl, Rohlin, Svensson, Thunebro, Larsson, Sjogran (Goransson, 65), Forsberg, Dahlkvist (Hammarstrom, 77), Fischer (Sembrant, 88), Schelin, Oqvist
Yellow cards: Sweden -- Fischer 60; USA -- LePeilbet 14.
Att.: 23,468

17 comments about "Sweden exposes U.S. central frailty".
  1. Eric Shinn, July 7, 2011 at 8:04 a.m.

    For those fans of the men's team that may have missed this performance, I have two words to describe Amy LePeilbet: The first word is "Jonathon" and the second is "Bornstein".Yes, Sweden had some limited success attacking the back line in other places. But the greatest part of their success came in attacking LePeilbet's left side. She couldn't come CLOSE to handling Oqvist's speed, and looked completely out of her depth the entire game, before mercifully being subbed out.

    If LePeilbet starts against Brazil, with Marta and Christiane to deal with, the US will be making an early exit from this tournament.

  2. Nathan Geason, July 7, 2011 at 8:52 a.m.

    What about Cheney was so impressive at practice that she is not starting? Her ability to shot hard but off frame? Why did the defense looked a little exposed? Maybe because Boxx was back in the mid-field. I didn't even her name called for the first twenty minutes. It appears the Pia took a page from Bradley in coaching, refusing to take off big name players even if they are not playing well - that's right Abby, talking about you.

  3. David Sirias, July 7, 2011 at 9:11 a.m.

    yes. I have been saying this for some time. Pia is bob 2.0 Play your old tired horses until they drop
    Watch. Bob will do the same with Donovan and Dempsey eventually. ... But to bobs credit he actually does try to blood new talent and brings youngsters to tournaments even though he does not play them. Pia is the opposite. She brings old players and tries up play them. But like the men , the would cup us for the young That there is only one player on the squad younger than 24 is shocking. And please let's not get into the macro problem of college soccer etc. Pia left adequate youth and pace at home. Never even tried it actually. At least Pia's a goner. Bob -- apparently not do much. Thanks federation ! Bang up job there.

  4. John Munnell, July 7, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.

    LePeilbet has been consistently been the weakest player on the field. Cox is a better choice, but this position is just a weak spot in the team. I like a lot of things about Buehler, but she's dead if she gets turned. Short version...it's just not a strong defense. Boxx should be a super-sub at this point in her career --- bringing experience and bite in selected situations. I'm inclined to say the same for Abby. Cheney has been the best US player all tournament, despite being less accurate with her shooting in this match. How she wasn't in the line-up from the start is a complete mystery. Having said all this, the TV commentary was off the mark. Sweden did a lot of nice things. But if you only listened to Adrian and Julie, you'd think the US were being blown off the field. Not the case...just a bit unlucky at both ends of the field.

  5. F. Kirk Malloy, July 7, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    If USA stays with the current backline Brazil will eat them alive. LePeilbet and Buehler are tough, tenacious, usually reliable defenders but have no 4th, never mind 5th, gears and simply can't keep up with international speed. (When 2 Swedes who were both 5-7 yards behind Buehler beat her in a 35 yard run to a ball in the corner you know every Brazilian coach, midfielder and forward was salivating.) Her clumsy, unnecessary foul caused us the game, which was matched only by LeP's equally clumsy, unnecessary foul that caused the PK. So what's the answer? Put speed all over the field, move Rapinoe (left flank) and Boxx (center) back with Rampone and Cox (right flank). Fill the mid with Lindsey and Lloyd in the center and Heath and O'Reilly (if healthy) or O'Hara on the wings. Start Wambach and Rodriguez up top, with Morgan and Chaney available. Now that's speed! Let the ball do the work, mark Marta like a cheap suit and put your shots on frame. Moving on.

  6. Mark Grody, July 7, 2011 at 11 a.m.

    I have liked Box's attitude since the beginning, but even when she was in her prime she lost the ball a lot. She became a fixture in the line-up because they wanted to try & recreate defensively what they lost when Akers (one of the best players man or women ever) left. More flexibility is needed as with the MNT in selection. And, now with her strengths not helping as much as they used to it is very clear that she shouldn't be in the starting line up.

  7. Philippe Fontanelli, July 7, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.

    Sundhage is passe' and a has been coach at best. Not a morale builder and without motivation. Her comments sound just like Bradley.

  8. Ramon Creager, July 7, 2011 at 11:35 a.m.

    I was surprised Sundhage took out Rodriguez at the half, instead of waiting for her usual 60th minute window. That was an upgrade. (She did take LePeilbet out in the 60th. Should have been at the same time as Rodriguez.) But what I don't get is why take out Rapinoe at all? She was one of the bright spots for the US, and she didn't look gassed at the time of the substitution.

  9. Bill Anderson, July 7, 2011 at 11:41 a.m.

    Wambach, Boxx, and LePeilbet should be left on the bench for the remainder of the tournament. All look S-L-O-W (concrete boots?). The US is shockingly S-L-O-W. The addition of Morgan? gave the attack some spark, but too little, too late. Boxx was seriously inept. Players would look up with the ball, see her in the middle of the field wide open and choose another option. They know she is not up to it. More of the same from US Soccer.

  10. Quan Bui, July 7, 2011 at 1:18 p.m.

    The first two games were against U19 girls. It gave a false sense of securty. This game against big girls really exposed that USWNT is falling behind the rest of the world in soccer. You can physically outmuscled a 19 yr old girl but not against a 26 yr old woman. I predict we will crash out against Brazil. Final score 3 - 0.

  11. David Huff, July 7, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.

    LePeilbet and Buehler killed us with their clumsy fouls and lack of speed, a lack of speed was also noted with Boxx, and Lloyd seemed really off other than one great free kick attempt. The team couldn't pass very well either. I also couldn't understand why the younger A-Rod was substituted rather than LePeilbet. Finally, I don't understand why Natasha Kai is not on this roster given her incredible speed and warrior mentality, is it because her tattoos and alleged orientation issues don't fit the desired mold of the typical USSF player image?

  12. David Sirias, July 7, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.

    Go to the ladies forum in bigsoccer and read about the clubhouse mentality of the lady NATS
    Once you are in you are in until you decide up get out Kai was never in the clique for whatever reason

    What if Pablo Mastroeni and Demarcus Beasley were still fixtures on the men's side. You would think the coach is nuts and the fan base would be apoplectic Well that is boxx and lloyd
    Long past sell date but ..... There they are. There must not be enough hardcore lady fans.
    The federation is obviously clueless At least the hardcore men fans make the federation feel some heat over recent fiascos.

  13. Kenneth Barr, July 8, 2011 at 12:17 a.m.

    The first half was the worst I have ever seen the US play defensively. The back four looked like they didn't know each other. They looked a step slower than Sweden. Offensively, there were far too many hit and hope balls and the passing was generally poor. The second half was slightly better but if this form keeps up, Brazil will send them packing on Sunday.

  14. F. Kirk Malloy, July 8, 2011 at 9:51 a.m.

    Yes, where is Natasha Kai??? Her shoulder may still be in doubt, but her dynamism never will be! She puts fear in the opponent's back line and finishes with authority. AW (other than once, go figure), AR and KO all seem like they're, in the parlance of basketball, aiming too much. Let er rip! Hopefully O'Reilly is back to form and will do the same, but she could use another warrior!

  15. David Huff, July 8, 2011 at 12:32 p.m.

    @David S., thanks for that background info, very helpful in understanding the clique situation. @F.K.Malloy, totally agree, instead of seeing Kai create headaches and space opportunities for other attacking players we were treated instead to Sweden's speedy Quivst and creative Schelin doing us in instead.

  16. David Huff, July 8, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

    @F.K. Malloy: As to Kai's Fall 2009 shoulder surgery, suffice to say that she has recovered as this recap from her match with her new Philadelphia team against Sky Blue FC on 7/7/11 indicates: "Tasha Kai got a rare WPS hat trick as the Philadelphia Independence defeated Sky Blue FC 4-3 on Wednesday evening. And to make it a perfect evening for Kai, her mother and brother were in attendance to see her performance. The Independence temporarily take over first place, although it must be said that they have played two more matches than Western New York. Sky Blue remains in 4th place, tied with the Boston Breakers. Kai's hat track was only the second ever in WPS play. The first was almost two years ago, on July 12, 2009, when Cristiane scored a hat trick for the Chicago Red Stars against FC Gold Pride. Kai's is the first hat trick that did not include a penalty kick." Makes you really wonder about Coach Pia's selection of Wambach or not including Kai, her speed and toughness were sorely missed against Sweden.

  17. F. Kirk Malloy, July 8, 2011 at 3:59 p.m.

    DH: hadn't heard that about NK, great stuff! Too bad she's home watching the WNT. Sorely missed. I hope the others can step up.

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