2813_sermannitom_isi_uswntro12082012051 Rick Osentoski/isiphotos.com

Deep Impact: USWNT of the Future Full of Options

If the 2013 Algarve Cup was any indication, opposing teams should be very scared of Tom Sermanni and the U.S. women’s national team. The talented club has too many weapons.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
March 15, 2013
11:00 AM
It’s hard to imagine the affable Tom Sermanni having any kind of ruthless streak in him. But based on the squads he rolled out in the 2013 Algarve Cup, you can’t help but envision Sermanni flashing a sinister, toothy grin as opposing coaches and onlookers gulp in fear at all of the weapons that he showcased. On the road to winning its ninth Algarve Cup, the USWNT went 3-0-1, outscoring opponents 11-1 with nine different goal scorers, and holding their four opponents to 11 total shots on goal. Those are frightening stats.

The key to the United States dominance at the Algarve Cup was depth. As fans of the American men know all too well, holes in a lineup are the most nerve-racking thing a team can endure. But the U.S. has proven that they not only have a full starting 11, they have a surplus.

The U.S. defense, often the weakest link, looked sharp. Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara both had outstanding tournaments, pushing up down the wing, serving in crosses to forwards, and making key stops all week. Krieger even picked up her first national team goal. In the center, Christie Rampone, Whitney Engen, Rachel Buehler, and Becky Sauerbrunn all split time. Unlike past years, when every opposing striker’s sprint towards goal would cause heart palpitations for U.S. fans, a bit of calm has filled that space. All this was done with no Hope Solo in goal, and that fact alone is a significant milestone for the defense.

Similarly, on the other end of the field, the U.S. proved that it can win convincingly without Abby Wambach shouldering the load. With a plethora of young quick attackers, Sermanni can now mix and match for whatever effect he desires. He can play the classic Wambach and Morgan combo, the speedy Morgan and Leroux duo, or the just as effective Leroux and Wambach (which he employed in last month’s friendlies against Scotland) twosome, while utilizing Christen Press on the wing, in the midfield, or up top. Each pair brings its own dangers.

Backing them is a still evolving midfield that is capable of switching formations and tactics based on the situation, a luxury that the U.S. hasn’t had in previous years. Along with wingers Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe, the versatile Tobin Heath and Lauren Cheney (who missed the majority of the Algarve Cup due to family reasons) can provide support and depth on the wing or in the middle. Heath showed this when she swapped spots with right winger O’Reilly mid-game against Sweden, allowing Heath to run at the defense more directly while O’Reilly added pressure in the middle. He also modified the midfield during late-game lead situations. Against both Sweden and Germany, when the U.S. could not afford to concede a goal, Sermanni pulled up a defender into a holding midfielder role, to snuff out the opposing attack higher up the field.

It wasn’t just who Sermanni played, it was the way he did it. The previously uncapped Ashlyn Harris started in goal in a cannot-lose match against Sweden. Four different starting elevens started the four games. Wambach and captain Christie Rampone dd not start in the championship match against Germany. These were more than just gambles or hunches. These were calculated moves by the Scotsman, sending the message that the U.S. can adapt and excel no matter who is on the pitch.

The same goes for method. The U.S. defended a lead and possessed well against Iceland, scored early and often against China, went down early and staged a gutty comeback against Sweden, and scored twice against the second ranked-team in the world and managed the game to come out victorious. Those performances are a reflection of a well-developed, versatile team, capable of controlling any situation.

It’s still too early to really determine what kind of team the U.S. will develop into under Sermanni: a possession-oriented one that Pia Sundhage was angling for before her departure, an athletic squad that capitalizes on speed and skill, a second-half side that thrives on comebacks, or a score first-team that sits on leads. However, if these four games are any indication of what is to come, the U.S. can thrive in any situation.

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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