Scouting Report: USA-Sweden, The Pia and Tony factors

The USA looks to build on its 3-1 win over Australia in its opening game at the Women's World Cup when it plays Sweden Friday night in Winnipeg. Based on the form on the first day of play in Group D, the Swedes look like the most vulnerable team. But no team has played the USA tougher in recent years than Sweden. Here are three storylines for Friday's USA-Sweden clash in Winnipeg.

1. The Pia and Tony factors.

So what should one make of Sweden coach Pia Sundhage's comments in the New York Times about her former players on the U.S. national team? She was brutally honest about stars Carli Lloyd ("a challenge to coach"), Hope Solo (a challenge, well, "especially when it comes to trouble") and Wambach (“I told her: ‘If I stayed, you would be a sub. The best sub ever. But a sub.")

Bulletin-board material? Or does nothing get inside the bubble?

“Distractions don’t creep into my mind when I’m trying to prepare my players,” said Ellis, a former assistant under Sundhage.  “I just think we’re an incredibly professional group. It isn’t something I’ve talked about with the team.”

The bigger question will be: Who knows the other team better? Sundhage, who coached the USA to 2018 and 2012 Olympic gold medals with eight starters from the Australia game on her 2012 team? Or Tony Gustavsson, Ellis' assistant, who coached seven Swedes at Tyreso, the Swedish giant that went bankrupt after its run to the 2014 UEFA Women's Champions League final.

2. Big difference between first and second place.

Four years ago, Sweden beat the USA, 2-1, in their final group match to drop the USA to second place. The difference between first place and second place this year in Group D is:

-- The difference between a trip from Vancouver to Edmonton and a trip from Vancouver to Moncton -- four time zones away;
-- And the difference between a road to the final that might include a third-place team, a second-place team and Germany or France and a road to the final that might include Brazil, Japan and Canada.

Yes, a big difference.

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The Swedes are also one three teams at the World Cup who have beaten the USA in the last three years -- Brazil and France are the others -- and their 4-3-3 record in their 10 games against the USA is the best of any team in Canada. Sweden came into the World Cup ranked fifth in the world, but it did not live up to its billing, blowing a 2-0 lead against Nigeria before settling for a 3-3 tie.

The Swedes could not keep up with the speedy Nigerians and struggled to find star forward Lotta Schelin, who led the French league in scoring with 34 goals in 21 games for Lyon. Defender Nilla Fischer, midfielder Caroline Seger and Schelin -- the Swedes' big three -- will all have to play better if they are to have any chance against the USA.

USA vs. WWC Opponents (Last 10 Games)
Sweden (4-3-3)
Brazil (6-2-2)
Japan (6-1-3)
Germany (5-0-5)
France (7-1-2)
England (8-1-1)
Australia (8-0-2)
Canada (8-0-2)
South Korea (8-0-2)
China (9-0-1)
Mexico (9-0-1)
New Zealand (9-0-1)
Norway (9-0-1)
Costa Rica (10-0-0)
Nigeria (4-0-0)
Colombia (2-0-0)
Switzerland (2-0-0)
Netherlands (5-1-0)
No matches: Cameroon, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Spain, Thailand.

3. Group of Attrition favors the USA.

Its depth of talent makes the USA the favorite in what is the most grueling women's tournament FIFA has ever organized: seven games in a country with five time zones, all played on artificial turf and in temperatures that have hit 130 degrees on the feet.

That depth proved critical in the 3-1 win over Australia. Sydney Leroux started only her 27th game in 73 appearances for the USA but had the game-winning assist on Christen Press's go-ahead goal. Tobin Heath came off the bench for Press and helped the USA finally grasp control of a match.

The one likely change in the U.S. lineup could be Heath for Abby Wambach with Press moving up front alongside Leroux. U.S. coach Jill Ellis could also increase the minutes for Alex Morgan and Morgan Brian off the bench

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), 21-Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), 1-Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (8): 16-Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), 6-Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), 19-Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), 22-Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), 11-Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), 5-Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), 3- Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), 4- Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): 7-Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), 14-Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 12-Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 9-Heather O'Reilly (FC Kansas City), 15- Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (5): 2-Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), 13-Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), 23-Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 8-Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), 20- Abby Wambach (unattached).

Sweden Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Hedvig Lindahl (Chelsea Ladies/England), 12-Hilda Carlen (Pieta), 21-Carola Soberg (Orebro)
DEFENDERS (9): 2-Charlotte Rohlin (Linkopings FC), 3-Linda Sembrant (Montpellier/France), 4-Emma Berglund (FC Rosengard), 5-Nilla Fischer (Wolfsburg/Germany), 6-Sara Thunebro (Eskilstuna United), 14-Amanda Ilestedt (FC Rosengard), 16-Lina Nilsson (FC Rosengard), 18-Jessica Samuelsson (Linkopings FC), 23-Elin Rubensson (Kopparbergs/Goteborg FC)
MIDFIELDERS (6): 7-Lisa Dahlkvist (Orebro), 13-Malin Diaz (Eskilstuna United), 15-Therese Sjogran (FC Rosengard), 17-Caroline Seger (Paris SG/France), 20-Emilia Appelqvist (Pitea), 22-Olivia Schough (Eskilstuna United)
FORWARDS (5): 8-Lotta Schelin (Lyon/France), 9-Kosovare Asllani (Paris SG/France), 10-Sofia Jakobsson (Montpellier/France), 11-Jenny Hjohlman (Umea), 19-Emma Lundh (AIK).

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