Stone's Slant on U.S.-Sweden
What is jumping out at me, is the sudden World Cup parallels between the men's and women's U.S. National Teams. Exactly like Bruce Arena did in Korea/Japan last summer, women's head coach April Heinrichs kept us guessing up until kickoff on her starting lineup and formation. I love it, and it makes a ton of sense. I never understood why coaches would distribute such vital information prior to a big game anyway. And like Arena, don't be surprised if April continues to shift her starting 11 throughout the tournament. Another similarity is the emphasis put on the defensive midfield position. Last year Arena called on the internationally inexperienced Pablo Mastroeni to play that role. Ditto April with her late inclusion to the team and starting lineup of Shannon Boxx. Oh by the way, both moves worked pretty well. Remember that old saying "speed kills"? Well, the U.S. women really kill you with their size. Abby Wambach and Cindy Parlow are just too difficult for teams to match up with, and how about the respect Sweden gave Wambach. They might have feared her more than any other player on the field. Abby showed me some new wrinkles to her game today. She was comfortable out wide, where she fearlessly took on defenders, and served some excellent balls from there, which should have led to more goals. The States' first goal was as pretty of one you will witness all tournament. All three forwards were involved, with a midfielder (Kristine Lilly) moving to goal to finish off their work. Strikers seem to be labeled as only goalscorers, but the best know how to draw defenders and find the open teammate as well (Mia has done it her whole career even though everyone focuses solely on her goalscoring exploits). As for the U.S. defense, a couple of things worried me. Scurry was forced to come off her line way too much to snuff out attacks, and was fortunate that she only received a yellow card for her foul in the 13th minute (I can't tell you how many times I have seen the ref pull out a red in similar situations). Also, even though Sweden was attacking with only two forwards, they gave the U.S. back four more problems than they should have. Granted Ljungberg of Sweden is a world-class player, but she caused too much havoc. The Brandi Chastain injury situation is troublesome on two fronts. She is a veteran who you can count on offensively and defensively, but she is also a vocal presence and leader on the team. Without her, the backline relies way too much on Joy Fawcett (who quietly had a solid performance ... the usual from her). Next up for the States is Nigeria, and I have a bit of advice. Tell the trainers to bring extra ice and freeze spray - the lady Super Eagles never met a foul they didn't like. The U.S. should win that one with little trouble, but watch out next Sunday for the highly undrerrated/unknown side from North Korea. One of the few teams that CAN match up size wise with the United States.
-- Rob Stone is covering the Women's World Cup for ESPN.