010713_wambachmorgan_isi_uswntolyjt0806121992 John Todd/isiphotos.com

Algarve Cup Presents First True Test for New USWNT

If you blink, you might miss the most significant week for the U.S. women’s national team in 2013. Maura Gladys has a preview of what to expect from the Americans in Portugal.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
March 05, 2013
1:00 PM
Pay attention this week. The Algarve Cup, an annual invitational women’s tournament, kicks off Wednesday morning. The U.S. will face off against the stiffest competition it's seen in months, and the tournament will be a good indicator of what Tom Sermanni’s squad has been able to accomplish in two months.

The United States is in Group B alongside Iceland, China, and Sweden. The squad kicks off the tournament against Iceland Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. EST, followed by a match with China on Friday at 9 a.m. Sermanni's troops finish the group against Sweden next Monday, March 11 at 11 a.m.

The schedule plays into the United States’ strengths nicely. Iceland, ranked 15th in FIFA’s world rankings, and China, ranked 17th, should not cause the Stars and Stripes too much trouble, allowing them to prepare for their matchup with a Pia-Sundhage-led Sweden squad. Both teams should be undefeated, and Sundhage knows the ins and outs of the U.S. players like no one else. The U.S. also has a history of losing to Sweden in final group-play matches, falling in the final Group C game at the 2011 World Cup.

If the U.S. comes out of Group B on top, it most likely face either Japan or Germany from Group A. (Norway has an outside shot of pulling a major upset and finishing second in the group). Japan is without stars Aya Miyama, Homare Sawa, and Shinobu Ohno, while Germany is missing dynamic midfielder Fatmire Bajramaj. Despite the missing players, both squads bring enough quality to challenge the U.S.

Sermanni has a typically strong side, featuring all of the usual stars and several of the players that have impressed during his camps. The only chink in the armor is the absence of goalkeeper Hope Solo, who recently underwent wrist surgery and will be sidelined for six to eight weeks. Solo’s absence is a real blow. The U.S. defense has a tendency to break down and let Solo rescue it with her reaction saves and athleticism. Now, it’s up the U.S. defense to shore itself up, and Nicole Barnhart, Jill Lloyden, or Ashlyn Harris to make the saves they should make. Harris or even Lloyden may see some time in some of the earlier games, but look for Barnhart to get the start in the big matches. She’s been Solo’s backup for 5 years and has proven that she can step up.

At the other end of the field, the U.S. is loaded as usual. Sermanni can choose from Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Christen Press, and now 17-year-old Lindsey Horan. Horan was not called into the February camp but has been stellar with Paris Saint-Germain as of late. With such a vast array of talent to choose from, Sermanni’s challenge will be pulling the right strings at the right time to get the most out of his high-powered offense.

The Americans are the class of the tournament. The only question is can the still new coach put it all together in his first important test.

Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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