This past week, the United States women’s national team played two friendlies in Europe, drawing 3-3 in Germany last Friday and beating the Netherlands 3-1 on Tuesday.
Here are five thoughts from the two matches.
Sydney Leroux’s playmaking ability is underrated
In the 2012 Olympics, Sydney Leroux’s role with the USWNT was mainly that of a late-game “supersub,” coming into matches late when the U.S. needed some extra firepower.
In 2013, with new head coach Tom Sermanni giving players like Leroux more playing time, Leroux has been able to demonstrate that she is a multi-dimensional player.
Like most of the U.S. forward pool, Leroux is blessed with great power and speed, but what Leroux demonstrated in the Algarve Cup and again on Tuesday against the Netherlands is that she is becoming a great playmaker as well.
On Tuesday, Leroux assisted on two of the U.S.’ three goals and continually pestered the Dutch back line, closing them down defensively and going at them hard and fast when she had the ball.
Like Alex Morgan, Leroux draws plenty of attention from opposing defenses because of her goalscoring ability. Over the past few games, Leroux has demonstrated that she is learning, just as Morgan has over the past year, that as defenders are drawn to her, space is opening up for her teammates.
And when Leroux gets her teammates the ball in that space, as she has done in her past few games, good things are happening for the U.S.
On the U.S.’ first goal, Leroux's centering pass found Tobin Heath for the finish. On the second goal for the U.S., Leroux, with her back to pressure, found strike-partner Christen Press with a nice little flick to put Press in on goal.
Christen Press is special
As if the embarrassment of riches wasn’t good enough for the USWNT, Christen Press has emerged on the scene over the last two months as the U.S.’ next superstar. In just seven games with the U.S., Press now has six goals.
On her first goal, Press was put in nicely by Leroux and calmly slotted home. On her second goal, Press turned a Dutch defender on the dribble before smashing her shot off the far post and in.
When Press was a collegiate player at Stanford, she was one of the nation’s elite players, winning the Hermann Trophy in 2010. But, like many top American strikers in their youth, Press was fairly one-dimensional, relying on her speed to make her a top player.
After the WPS folded, Press went to Sweden in 2012 where she became the league’s second-leading scorer. Coming to the national team in 2013, Press has shown that she had taken that time in Sweden to improve the technical elements of her game. In her debut with the USWNT last month, Press scored a brace against Scotland. On Tuesday, Press had a hand in all three U.S. goals against the Netherlands.
Now the only question that remains is how Sermanni can get Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press all into the lineup at the same time.
Kristie Mewis is not a left-back
One of the great things about Tom Sermanni’s work with the USWNT in his short stint in charge is the opportunity he has been giving to the player pool’s younger/newer players. Sermanni has brought in players like Press, Julie Johnston, Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg and Yael Averbuch.
Sermanni rightfully views these games early in his tenure as the right time to experiment and figure out who his top players are heading into 2014 and World Cup qualification.
However, one of Sermanni’s experiments that has not worked out is the use of Kristie Mewis as a left-back.
Mewis, normally an attacking midfielder, has struggled in her two starts for the U.S. at left-back. Against China in the Algarve Cup, Mewis was dispossessed on multiple occasions, lost track of runners when she was on the weak side of the field and was beaten on the dribble.
Against Germany on Tuesday, Mewis continued to struggle and was targeted by the Germans all game long. The majority of the Germans' most dangerous attacks came down the U.S.’ left side, and Mewis again struggled with her awareness, maintaining her shape and to defend against the dribble repeatedly.
Mewis may be a great player for the U.S. in the future, but it is doubtful based on her two performances so far that it will be as a defender. Based on these two friendlies and the Algarve Cup, the top three slots for the U.S. at full-back appear to be currently held down by Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara.
If you’re not watching the USWNT, you’re missing some of the best football in the world
It is still far too common among far too many football fans to dismiss women’s football as inferior to men’s football.
But if you are not watching the USWNT play, you are missing some of the best football in the world—bar none.
On Friday against Germany, the U.S. put on a clinic in beautiful goals, all three being worthy of ESPN Plays of the Week.
On the U.S.’ first goal, Megan Rapinoe took a short corner, megged a German defender and then found Wambach on the far post for the goal.
On the U.S.’ second goal, Rapinoe took a chest flick from Wambach and, on the half-volley, smashed her shot from out wide off the far post and in.
On the U.S.’ third goal, Lauren Cheney found Morgan in behind the German defense and Morgan deftly chipped German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer with her first touch.
Whitney Engen will be starting for the U.S. at center-back in the 2015 World Cup
Okay, this is a bit of a bold statement with the World Cup still over two years away, but one of the players who has made the biggest impressions under Sermanni has definitely been Whitney Engen.
In Engen’s games over the past two months against Scotland, China and Germany, she has been incredible and has added a calming presence to the U.S. defense.
Her positioning and reading of the play always puts her in the right position to cover for beaten defenders, and against Germany she was continually snuffing out the chances the Germans were creating.
With a pool of center-backs including Christie Rampone, Rachel Buehler and Becky Sauerbrunn through the 2011 Women’s World Cup and the 2012 Olympics, many have assumed the future tandem in the back would be Buehler and Sauerbrunn, if Rampone does retire. Engen, however, has proven over the past few games that she is ready to compete for one of those two starting spots.
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