As the #2-ranked women’s side in FIFA, the U.S. women’s national team faces high expectations when it comes out on the pitch, game in, game out, and of course soccer betting. Its Group D opener against Australia was expected to provide a bit of a challenge, as the athletic team from down under was a trendy pick to surprise either the U.S. or Sweden and come out of the group. When Sweden tied Nigeria in the first game on Monday, it became fairly clear that if Australia can beat Nigeria and then upset Sweden, its path is clear. As the U.S. women prepare for Sweden, though, it’s also clear that the American forwards need to do a better job, and they will be facing a Swedish defense that wants to redeem itself for a fairly sloppy day against Nigeria. Even though the Americans tallied three goals against Australia, the forward play was not strong. Abby Wambach missed the net on two headers that in other circumstances would have found the back of the net. Sydney Leroux was the other forward, but she went without the ball for extended periods of time, with the glorious run that led to Christen Press’ goal being her only real impact on the game.
One issue that kept the forwards from having more of a role in the game was the lack of possession control for the Americans in the midfield. This kept the Americans from having the ability to spread the ball all over the field and let Leroux’s raw speed go to work. If those forwards pay attention to video from the Swedes’ game, they will see how speed can make even a disciplined defense look silly. During the last 30 minutes of the game, the Nigerians were able to put such steady defenders as Nilla Fischer through the wringer.
The fact that the Swedish defense showed so many holes gives the Americans a way through to another three points, and advancement to the knockout stage, after their game on Friday. All eyes will be on Sydney Leroux, who has more pure speed than any other American forward. If she can find her way to some passes down the wing during the early third, Sweden’s back line will have to spread out, which will open up opportunities.
Wambach will be the other starting forward most likely, due to the current match fitness of Alex Morgan, and this could give her all kinds of room in the center. This is a match that will be contested on artificial turf, so it will be more taxing for Leroux to keep sprinting for all 90 minutes. Once the Swedish line has spread to counter Leroux on the wing, sending balls into the center for Wambach to find with her head could be a welcome switch that will bring some more goals to the Americans’ tally. The USWNT showed against Australia and in a friendly against South Korea that they will send balls in toward Wambach to head. A lot of fans may not enjoy that style of play, but goals are goals – and wins are wins.
Once the Swedish line spreads out, Wambach is likely to enjoy one-on-one coverage, although the Americans’ long-ball approach means that Sweden may start with two people marking Wambach. The Americans have to distribute through both wings to make the line spread. Based on how the Nigerians succeeded against the Swedes, pulling out an unlikely point, there is plenty of room for the Americans to coast to six points and then take their foot off the gas a bit against the Nigerians.
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