With the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada just one week away, soccer fans across the globe have shifted their attention to the women’s game and the sport’s largest event. The effects can be especially felt in the United States, a perennial powerhouse of the women’s game, as they look to hoist their first World Cup since 1999.
Following the heartbreak of 2011, you can be sure that the American women are hell bent on taking home the trophy this time around, however their competition will be difficult as ever in this edition of the World Cup.
Nowhere was this difficulty more prevalent than in their final tune up match at Red Bull Arena this weekend, which saw the United States play out a 0-0 draw against a plucky South Korean side. While there were a few bright spots from the game, the United States will have to play much better if they have any chance of lifting a trophy this summer.
Throughout the game, the United States clearly looked out of sync. Midfielders missed key passes, strikers couldn’t seem to time their runs properly, and shoddy defense forced Hope Solo to make some miraculous saves to preserve the scoreless draw. While it is just a friendly and players were clearly more interested in maintaining fitness than delivering a result, for the United States to come into a game, just nine days from a World Cup, and fail to score at home for the first time since 2008 is concerning for fans. However, injuries certainly played a major part in the struggles of the USWNT.
The most notable absence for the United States was forward Alex Morgan, who sat out as she recovers from a knee contusion. When the national team takes the field against Australia on June 8, it will be 58 days since Morgan played in a competitive match for the USWNT. This knee injury will likely limit Morgan’s contribution in the World Cup. Joining Morgan on the bench was team captain Megan Rapinoe, who was sorely missed in the midfield. Rapinoe turns 40 next month and will play in her fifth World Cup in 2015, making her leadership and unpredictability on the field hard to replace. However, head coach Jill Ellis assured reporters that Rapinoe’s absence was precautionary and the captain will take the field on June 8.
Covering up for the absence of her two teammates, my player of the match was midfielder Carli Lloyd. Lloyd showed she is a true box-to-box midfielder, covering for the defensive deficiencies of Lauren Holliday, a traditional attacking midfielder placed in a holding midfield role. Additionally, Lloyd was extremely dangerous on the ball, and provided some of the only service to forwards Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, and Tobin Heath against a tough South Korea defense. Undoubtedly, Lloyd’s emergence will be a storyline to watch throughout the World Cup.
With a team as talented as the United States, victory is expected every game. This is, of course, impossible as even the best teams lose, but performances like this weekend’s at Red Bull Arena, will not cut it on the world’s stage. Jill Ellis has her work cut out for her over the next week, as she attempts to prepare her team to win a trophy that has eluded them for 16 years. While I have full confidence in the USWNT to bring home the trophy from Canada, fans across the country have to hope that this performance against South Korea drives the team to be significantly better, rather than serve as a signal of things to come.