The United States and Sweden, thousands of miles apart, but with so much in common, met on the pitch for the 36th time with many subplots attached to the match.
U.S. starters Christen Press, Meghan Klingenberg, and Ali Krieger all played in the Damallsvenskan, Sweden’s top division, and it’s well-known that Sweden head coach Pia Sundhage had four memorable years as head coach with the red, white and blue.
There was added bite to this Group D matchup after recent comments made by Sundhage in The New York Times about Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, and Hope Solo.
However, it was now time for both teams to get down to business and try to put themselves in a strong position going into the final group games in the next week.
Both teams made changes for the match, with U.S. head coach Jill Ellis electing to drop one of the older members of the team, Abby Wambach, and bringing in the youngest, Morgan Brian.
This change resulted in a formation change, with Brian playing on the right of midfield, and Christen Press joining Sydney Leroux up front in a 4-4-2 formation.
Sundhage was forced into changes with forward Kosovare Asllani still recovering from a knee injury that forced her off at half time against Nigeria. Amanda Ilestedt replaced her, while Jessica Samuelsson replaced Emma Berglund.
A crowd of 32,716 at Winnipeg Stadium greeted the two teams as they entered to a roar from the large United States contingent, with the yellow of Sweden in no mood to just make up the numbers.
The game started much slower than the teams’ first-round games, with both showing resilience and determination to try and gain the upper hand, but creating little in the process.
Lauren Holiday found herself playing the more defensive role of the midfield four, with the drive coming from Carli Lloyd, and width from Megan Rapinoe and Morgan Brian.
Sweden’s main threat was coming down the right hand side through Sofia Jackobsson and the overlapping Elin Rubensson. The Swedes looked to build down their right-hand side, with Jakobsson and Lotta Schelin linking up well to create some openings.
At the other end, Sydney Leroux was the busier of the two forwards, even tracking back to support her midfield when Sweden were in possession.
Caroline Seger and Lisa Dahlkvist worked tirelessly in the middle of the park for the Swedes, both on and off the ball, to try and contain the U.S. midfield, which saw Lloyd at times dropping farther back to support Holiday when the team was in possession.
In terms of chances, Caroline Sager had a claim for handball against Leroux in the first half that was waved away, while Leroux herself had a half-chance from a header that she couldn’t fully connect with, resulting in her effort going wide.
The first half was relatively quiet as neither team was really able to grab the momentum, with few chances created and both unable to achieve that all-important goal. Only one shot was registered on target, and that came from the USA’s Ali Krieger on the right-hand side of the box, but her effort was straight at Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Neither team made any changes for the second half, with both Ellis and Sundhage keeping faith with elevens that had essentially cancelled each other out in the first half.
Carli Lloyd sprung the second period into action when she had a drive tipped over by Lindhal before Sweden went up the other end through Therese Sjögran, who drove an effort just over the bar from distance.
Sweden continued to use the flanks where possible, while the U.S. built most of its play through Holiday and Lloyd.
The best chance for the Swedes arrived when a mistake from the U.S. backline saw Sjögran and Lotta Schelin find themselves in a two-on-one situation against Julie Johnston. However, the superb Becky Sauerbrunn was there to break up the play and keep the score at zero.
Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach were introduced midway through the second half, which presented new challenges for the Swedish backline. The latter had claims for a penalty waved away soon after her introduction when she was challenged by Nilla Fischer.
The U.S. were now on top, with Sweden trying to catch them on the break. The introduction of Wambach certainly seemed to give the team a lift; she had more of a presence than starter Press, who struggled to have an influence on the match.
Wambach forced Lindahl into a brilliant one-handed save off a header that looked like it was destined for the top corner. It proved to be the last chance of the game for the U.S.
Lindahl, who coach Sundhage described after the game as “one of the best keepers in the world,” was a huge presence for Sweden, showing safe hands, while her tall frame ensured she was able to compete with the aerial challenges presented by the U.S.
There would be one last chance in the game that fell to Seger in the 77th minute when she saw an effort with the outside of her right foot headed onto the crossbar by Meghan Klingenberg, when it looked almost certain it was going to be the game-winner.
On the game-saving effort, Ellis said: “It was a huge defensive play. Believe it or not, it’s something we’ve practiced in training.”
The defensive stop typified the performance of the U.S. back four, with Klingenberg, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, and Krieger all excellent in shutting down Schelin, Sjögran, and Jakobsson.
Ellis, speaking specifically about the performance of Sauerbrunn and Johnston, said after the game: “I thought their partnership and relationship was good; they read the game very well.”
Sweden weren’t here to just make up the numbers though. They pressed the U.S. high up the field, and were resilient at the back, supported superbly by keeper Lindahl.
The draw was probably a fair result, with both teams unable to find that bit of magic to unlock the opposition defense.
Sweden’s head coach Sundhage said of the game: “Today we saw a tactical battle, we created a few chances.”
“It was very exciting, after this 90 minutes we gained some confidence, and we will enjoy the night.
U.S. head coach Jill Ellis echoed Sundhage’s sentiments, stating: “It was like two heavyweights going at it. I think both teams left everything on the field.”
The U.S. next faces Nigeria on June 16 in Vancouver while Sweden faces Australia in Edmonton.
Live Your Goals Player of the Match: Hedvig Lindhal (Sweden)
All images courtesy of Cynthia Hobgood.
[divider]About the Writer[/divider]
Kieran Theivam is the founder and presenter of Women’s Soccer Zone
(www.audioboom.com/wosozone). Theivam is a trained journalist who has worked in media and public relations for more than eight years. He has written for She Kicks Magazine, The Football Association of Wales, and The Football Ramble. How did he get into women’s soccer? By interviewing Kelly Smith while working as a reporter in his home town of Watford (also Kelly’s hometown) after being introduced by a mutual friend in 2009. Contact Theivam via twitter at @kierstheivam or @wosozone.
[divider]About the Photographer[/divider]
Cynthia Hobgoodis a Washington, DC-based digital communications consultant, photographer and writer. Hobgood started covering soccer as a journalist in 2000 for weekly/daily publications and ultimately, the Associated Press (while also covering other pro and NCAA sports primarily in the DC area.) She previously helped launch a national youth sports nonprofit and started Full 90 Communications earlier this year. Hobgood has a master’s degree in sports management from The George Washington University School of Business and master of arts degree in English from Baylor University.