After a very stressful 3-1 victory over Australia, the United States will look to capitalize on their momentum as they take on the top opponent in their group, Sweden. The USWNT looked very hesitant against Australia in the first half of last game, heading into the locker room 1-1, though they dominated the second half and closed out the game in stunning fashion.
Against Sweden, they will face former national team coach Pia Sundhage, who left the USWNT after their World Cup defeat in 2011 to coach her home country, Sweden. Sundhage has been the subject of much discussion throughout the soccer media following her comments about her former players in an interview with the New York Times. In the interview, Pia criticizes Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, and even says Abby Wambach would be relegated to the bench if she still coached. With that kind of bulletin board material, I expect the USWNT to be fiery in this matchup.
Player to Watch for USA: Carli Lloyd
Lloyd is a true No. 10 and the unquestioned engine of the USWNT. She has over 100 caps for the United States and is playing in her fifth major international tournament. That did not stop former coach Pia Sundhage from making Lloyd a major focal point of her negative comments, reiterating time and time again that Lloyd is “difficult to coach.”
Despite the negativity, Carli Lloyd’s response was simply perfect. When asked if she had anything to say to Pia Sundhage, Lloyd answered, “I plan to respond on the field.” With that incredible motivation on the line and a chance to get back at the former coach who disrespected her, I expect a huge game from Lloyd, who will look to tear down the heart of the Sweden defense and set up her teammates or score goals of her own.
Player to Watch for Sweden: Lotta Schelin
On the Swedish side, there is one player who rises to the top of every coach’s list and that player is Lotta Schelin. Dubbed “the female Zlatan Ibrahimovic” not just for her nationality, but also her goal scoring ability, Schelin is routinely ranked amongst the top five players in the entire world.
She plays club soccer with Olympique Lyonaisse in France, and has scored more goals than she has appearances with the club. Thus, it’s no surprise that she’s taken home UEFA Champions’ League trophies to Lyon in 2011 and 2012. For the Swedes, Schelin has 150 international caps, scoring 80 goals at the international level. Containing Schelin will certainly be a difficult task for the USWNT defenders, as she remains one of the best female strikers in the entire world.
Prediction: USA wins 3-2
In high stakes games, it’s never a good idea to give your opponent bulletin board material. With her recent comments, Pia Sundhage has done just that and I expect the United States to respond accordingly.
While emotions will be running high as the USWNT take on their former coach, I also see a massive tactical edge going to the United States. Sweden’s defense looked extremely leaky against an athletic Nigerian side in their opener, so I expect Sydney Leroux to have a field day getting behind the Swedish back line.
Additionally, the United States’ back line looked extremely solid the second half against Australia, with Hope Solo making massive saves behind them, so I think they will find a way to contain Schelin. This will be a wide open game with a lot at stake, though ultimately, I see the USWNT emerging victorious.