Over the course of 26 days, the United States women’s national team played five soccer games to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, won five soccer games, scored 15 goals and conceded none. In all of those games combined, USWNT opponents generated five shots on goal.
If these games were more than displays, more than just a vehicle to prepare for the quest for a fifth gold medal in the seven Olympics in which there has been women’s soccer competition, such extraordinary defensive statistics would justify a breathless celebration.
However, when goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher gets more exercise jogging to her position than during the entirety of a 90-minute game, it’s fair to wonder if she and the defense that protects her have undergone the tests necessary to be ready for the No. 5 Sweden when Olympic competition begins on July 21.
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Monday’s dazzling 4-0 victory over Mexico came against No. 28 teams in the world. Other recent victims were No. 30 Portugal, No. 38 Nigeria, and No. 51 Jamaica. The group in which the USWNT will compete contains much more daunting opposition, including No. 9 Australia and No. 22 New Zealand.
“I’m not worried at all,” USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski told Sporting News. “I’m actually happy that the bottom line is well timed, and we know Alyssa’s quality, and we’re very happy where we are. They were tested to some extent, in different ways, in the last five games.” . But they are also being tested daily in our environment. “
This will be Andonovski’s first major tournament as head coach of the USWNT, but it will employ the same four-player line of defense that was used for the Women’s World Cup victory in 2019: right-back Kelley O’Hara, defenders centrals Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn. (below) and left back Crystal Dunn. Closer started all seven games in that tournament and allowed just three goals in total.
Ideally, defensive midfielder Julie Ertz would be at the forefront of that quintet during the Olympics, but she hasn’t played since injuring her knee in an NWSL game for the Chicago Red Stars in late May. Andonovski said Monday that he hopes Ertz will be available to participate in intrasquad scrimmages before the game against Sweden, a longtime nemesis of American women.
And that’s all there will be once the team arrives in Japan this week: practice. Before most major competitions, teams participate in friendlies behind closed doors to acclimatize to the competition in the host country. However, due to COVID-19 protocols, the USWNT will limit interaction with other teams to the six games (hopefully) that stand between them and gold.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
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“I’m not too worried because the people I have to train with day after day are some of the best attackers in the world,” Sauerbrunn told Sporting News. “So every day I face Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press… and it goes on and on and on, unfortunately. In training, you face the best and all kinds of dangerous attacks.
“So I feel very confident that when we face challenges during the Olympic Games, and yes, they are going to come, we have faced them in the previous training, in the training that we had years ago. So I think we are quite prepared for that. “
Mexico rarely entered the penalty area during the course of their loss Monday at Rentschler Field in Connecticut. There was a play in the 4th minute, a long ball well fielded by forward Stephany Mayor who took advantage of an opportunity with a left-footed shot, but Mayor deflected the attempt and it became a routine roll to get closer to the field.
A minute later, Mexico got a free kick in a dangerous area above the box, and Naeher (bottom) was hit to the ball while trying to clear it, but the play was declared offside. Mexico rarely threatened afterward.
“I would say that the main thing for the last six would be patience, and not force it,” Sauerbrunn said. “I don’t know if it’s a question of precision, but when you think about the angles, the passes and the places you need to be, I guess it’s a question of precision.”
However, it can be argued, and those who speak for the USWNT did, that defense is not quite what happens in the last third of the field.
There’s also offensive midfielder Rose Lavelle breaking two consecutive passes on the offensive end in the 18th minute, or Dunn running back from a corner kick opportunity to defuse a Mexico counterattack before it reaches the midline, or Dahlkemper dismantling. an attack with a deft reach from his left leg in the 52nd minute, 15 yards before Mexico could turn it into something promising.
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That ability to maintain possession of the ball and constantly threaten the opposing goal is also an important component of the US defense, as a soccer team with a productive ground game that rarely allows the opposing team. put your hands on the ball. Defenders are a very important part of this. Dahlkemper’s knack for passing out from behind is one of the reasons he moved into the starting lineup, and Dunn’s speed and creativity on the left flank make him essential for the attack.
His 11th-minute cross against Mexico came within inches of the baseline and was perfectly positioned for Lloyd to score his 126th international goal with a powerful header. However, as the competition intensifies, Dunn will need to be available to undermine rival attacks, as he did so well in the 2019 World Cup group stage match against Sweden.
“I think they are probably some of the best back-fours in the world,” midfielder Lindsey Horan told SN. “They are the reason we can do what we do in attack, first and foremost. I think the competition we have in our training sessions is what makes them so great, but it also makes us so great. That is the reason why we are so good in attack, because we can face them every day in training. “