Last summer, the United States Women’s National Team enthralled Americans with their exciting run during the Women’s World Cup.
However, that run ended with a emotionally crushing defeat to Japan in the finals on penalties.
A year removed, the USWNT is back and better than ever; ready to win Olympic Gold in London.
Since the USWNT began Olympic qualifying in January, the team has gone 14-1-1 including wins in its last five games against Japan, Brazil, Sweden, Canada and China.
Those teams are currently ranked third, fourth, fifth, seventh and 19th respectively, and represent four of the 11 teams the U.S. will be competing with for Olympic gold.
Overall, the casual fan won’t notice much of a difference between the U.S. team that competed in the World Cup last summer and the one that will compete this summer in the Olympic Games.
All 18 members of the Olympic team were on the 21-woman roster for the World Cup and the team, after tinkering with a 4-2-3-1, will most likely line up in the same 4-4-2 they used in the World Cup.
However, there will be some small changes that will pay big dividends for the U.S.
Kelley O’Hara, who was a rarely used attacking midfielder/forward last year, has made a remarkable transition to left back and has played exceptionally well.
O’Hara has added even more speed to the backline and has proved to be a solid one-v.-one defender. Perhaps most importantly, O’Hara frequently pushes up on the attack and provides great left-footed service into the box, especially dangerous when the U.S. touts so many players skilled in the air.
Lauren Cheney, who played in last summer’s World Cup primarily as a forward and attacking midfielder, has played in the last few USWNT games as a center midfielder.
Cheney’s presence in the middle of the pitch has helped settle possession for the U.S., an area that was of concern in the World Cup last summer, particularly in their games against France and Japan.
The final subtle change made by the U.S. is a tactical one. Last summer, the U.S. conceded too much possession and spent too much time on its heels against quality teams.
However, in the last few games, the U.S. has employed a higher defensive line using its outside midfielders and forwards to immediately pressure the opponent’s backline and it has paid big dividends.
This was especially evident in the U.S. team's recent dominant victories over Brazil (3-0), China (4-1), Sweden (3-1) and Japan (4-1).
In addition to having an Olympic roster where every single player was part of the U.S.’ runner-up finish at last summer’s World Cup, 11 of the 18 players rostered for this summer’s games were part of the 2008 team that won Olympic gold.
The U.S. team is full of experience and expects to win every time they step on the field. They are used to the big stage and have a psychological edge over every team they will face.
Hope Solo is, quite simply, the best goalkeeper in the world and possibly, the greatest goalkeeper that has ever lived.
She is fearless off her line, is excellent at smothering breakaways, punching and pushing away high shots and services, is a fantastic shot-stopper and is competitive almost to a fault.
Check out this save from the USWNT’s recent friendly against Canada.
Since Pia Sundhage finally gave in and began starting Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach together in a two-striker set after a failed attempt to implement a 4-2-3-1 after the World Cup, the U.S. has been unstoppable.
In their 12 games together paired as the strikers from the first whistle, Morgan has scored an incredible 15 goals and Wambach has scored nine.
They are two of the best strikers in the world and there is no defense that can contain them both for 90 minutes.
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