Why Lauren Cheney Will Be Key to Team USA's Gold Medal Hopes in Soccer
The United States Women's National Team will look to win its third consecutive Olympic gold in just a couple of weeks. The focus has been, and will be, on the stars: Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. But Lauren Cheney will be a vital piece to the gold medal puzzle in London.
What makes her so important?
Cheney is one of the best all-around players on the USWNT. She can defend, she can possess the ball and she can score. Her ability to adapt to what is needed in the match is crucial.
She showcased her skills in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany, showing why she is an important member of the team.
And nothing has been as important going forward to the Olympic Games as coach Pia Sundhage's decision to move Cheney to central midfield. The move will give the USWNT more attacking options for the Games.
The proof was shown last summer. When Cheney was not in the center of the field, the options were limited. The U.S. had more difficulty with possession and continuity. However, when she found herself in that central role the switch was flipped and the U.S. operated much more efficiently.
If there was one glaring weakness the U.S. showcased in the past year it was ball control. Possession was spotty. Regardless of how quickly the U.S. can score and how flamboyantly they look in doing so, the possession game was just as ugly at times.
The best way to illustrate this point is to point you in the direction of last year's World Cup final and the June 18 meeting against Japan.
The new lineup, featuring Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath on opposite sides of Cheney, had much more control than the side that played against Japan in the World Cup.
Even with the dominant 4-1 performance against the reigning World Cup champions, Cheney and the USWNT have more opportunities to be dangerous. A scary thought.
Sundhage told ESPN.com that she thinks Cheney is focusing a bit too much defensively.
“I think right now, Cheney is a little too concerned about defending, to be honest,” said Sundhage. “We need to encourage her to be more dangerous and find the final pass, take more shots and get in the box. She covers a lot of ground, but I want her to get behind the back line as well.”
The expectations for the USWNT are high. But make no mistake about it, this will not be an easy tournament for the highly skilled women of the U.S. The opening match against France on July 25 will be one of their more difficult tasks. But with Cheney holding down the center of the field the U.S. should come away with the points.
Her importance to the success of the USWNT has already been shown in the past year. Now, Cheney is more vital than ever as she takes control of the central midfield position.
Cheney will be the linchpin of the USWNT this summer. She will be key to the medal hopes and dreams of the nation. Expect big things from her in a couple of weeks.
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