Every team sometimes needs a spark to light a fire and inspire athletes for an upcoming match, and this is no different for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Perhaps former USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage’s tough comments, reported Wednesday by the New York Times, regarding a few of the team’s star players were enough to motivate the Americans for their 2015 World Cup match against Sweden on Friday.
Team USA played slightly better than it did against Australia, even if the Americans weren’t able to pull out the win versus the tougher competition. The USWNT earned a 0-0 tie against the Swedes, which was enough to help the Americans walk away with one point and stay atop Group D. Despite the scoreless encounter, the two powerhouses put on interesting displays of soccer that did not lack contention and suspenseful moments.
The United States could have taken an early lead when midfielder Christen Press was taken down in the box by Sweden defender Nilla Fischer, in the 13th minute. The referee, however, did not award the Americans a penalty kick and instead called a foul in Sweden’s favor. In the 22nd minute, the referee appeared to make up for her questionable call against the United States by making a questionable call in the Americans’ favor. A Swedish shot took a deflection off midfielder Megan Rapinoe’s upper arm in the box, after which the ball went to forward Sydney Leroux, who got an elbow on it. The official did not award the Swedes a penalty kick, much to their dismay.
As the match progressed, both sides had the opportunity to get on the scoreboard, but their final passes and finishing touches weren’t sharp enough. As a result, neither team managed to take the lead by the time they headed to their respective locker rooms for the halftime break.
In the 63rd minute, the Swedes had a great opportunity to break the deadlock when they caught the Americans on the counter, after Press lost possession in Sweden’s half of the field. Sweden managed to get near the Americans’ goal, but a bad pass and blocked shot ended the threat of Sweden’s seemingly promising counterattack.
Not to be outdone, the Americans quickly retaliated with their own effort to threaten Sweden’s goal. Rapinoe made a great cross to midfielder Carli Lloyd at the far post. But Sweden defender Jessica Samuelsson headed the ball out of harm’s way. In the midst of all this, Lloyd made contact with the side of Samuelsson’s head in an effort to head the ball into the goal. Samuelsson had to be taken off but was able to come back on a few minutes later.
The play and save of the match —created by a corner kick by Sweden — came in the 77th minute. Swedish midfielder Caroline Seger found the ball in the box and made a shot with the outside of her right foot to the top corner of American goalkeeper Hope Solo’s far post. Solo was beaten, but American defender Meghan Klingenberg jumped up to head the ball out of harm’s way just before it could cross the goal line.
Klingenberg’s defensive clearance served as one of the Americans’ positive takeaways of the match. Another positive aspect of the match was forward Alex Morgan. She made her initial return from a knee injury that kept her out of the pre-World Cup friendlies in the opening match against Australia, and she managed to pick up some more minutes on the pitch against Sweden to recover her form.
Although the Americans haven’t put on on a full 90 minutes of solidly convincing soccer yet, they at least held off their biggest threat of the group of death, Sweden. One thing, however, seems certain: The United States did not let Sundhage’s comments psyche them out in one of its most important matches of this World Cup campaign.
Manny Flores is the assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].