102412_morganalex_isi_uswntta102012472 Tracy Allen/isiphotos.com

U.S. Draws with Sweden, Faces Germany in Final

An Alex Morgan goal in the second half was enough to draw Pia Sundhage's Sweden and get the American women to the last match of the Algarve Cup. They face Germany on Wednesday.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
March 12, 2013
12:59 PM
Momentum is a fickle thing. After entering Monday’s final Group B game against Sweden with all of the momentum in the world, the United States lost a healthy chunk of it thanks to a gust of wind. But a gutty, physical second half performance ensured a draw for the U.S. and booked the team's ticket to the Algarve Cup final against Germany.

The beginning should have been better. Despite starting a previously un-capped goalkeeper and using his third lineup in three games, there was little doubt that Tom Sermanni’s squad would have the edge against a very good Sweden team. But, whether there were nerves about facing former coach, Pia Sundhage, or Sweden’s unexpected rough, physical play, the Americans came out flat, and looked slow and sloppy next to a sharp, aggressive opponent. The score line reflected that in the 4th minute when Lisa Dahlkvist sent a long, speculative shot from 40 yards out that was helped along by the wind. The shot sailed over a retreating Ashlyn Harris, who had come out to the top of the box to clear the ball, and into the top corner of the net.

To her credit, Harris didn’t let the early goal shake her confidence. “Those things happen. You just have to respond well. I didn’t get rattled by it,” she said after the match.

The U.S. regrouped in the second half, and dominated the play for the rest of the game. In an unusual but effective tactical move, Sermanni tucked Heather O’Reilly, who thrives on the right wing, into the center behind the forwards, and shifted Tobin Heath out to the right wing. “That put a little more pressure on the back four of Sweden and we started getting a bit more into the thick of things after that,” he said of the decision.

The shift helped the United States keep the pressure on Sweden and it paid off when Alex Morgan equalized in the 56th minute. She connected on a Megan Rapinoe corner, heading it in from close range. The header evoked memories of her game-winner against Canada in last summer’s Olympic Games, and brought Morgan out of her scoreless drought.

Although it is early in Sermanni’s tenure as manager, he has made a profound impact on team's depth and adaptability. The swap of O’Reilly and Heath was the perfect call, and it demonstrated that the coach is willing to pull the strings and not just expect his players to gut out a performance based on their talent alone.

The U.S. players were also aware of their former manager Pia Sundhage’s presence on the sideline. “I think I tried to tune Pia out and that fact that she was speaking Swedish helped a little bit,” Morgan said. “After the match, it was a frustrating feeling having tied and having so many opportunities in the last 10 minutes, so I didn’t want to go over and hug her, but then I was like, 'no, she’s done so much for us,' so I went over and gave her a hug, and as always, she was so happy to see all of us.”

The U.S. will now play Germany, who topped Group A on Monday with a win over Norway. After a scoreless tie against Denmark in its first game, Germany bounced back with two straight wins over Japan and Norway. The team will be the United States' toughest opponent thus far in 2013. The squads drew twice in 2012, including the October 23rd match during which Dzsenifer Marozsán hung two goals on the U.S. The U.S. will also have to deal with the midfield presence of Nadine Keßler. In order to win, the Americans need to seize momentum early, and establish their own game and style from the start, unlike yesterday’s game where the U.S. squad didn’t get rolling until the second half. If they don’t do that against a talented Germany team, the deficit might be too great to overcome.

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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