USA Women's Olympic Soccer Team: 6 Keys to Beating France
For Team USA's women's soccer team, it's gold medal or bust at the London Olympic Games.
The US has won gold four of the five years women's soccer has been an Olympic sport, and in 2000, they came home with silver after losing to Norway in the final.
This team is still reeling from the Women's World Cup final loss to Japan last summer, and it's time to get rid of that underachievers tag for good.
Abby Wambach (who missed Beijing due to breaking her leg just before the Games), Hope Solo and Co. begin their title defense against France on Wednesday, two days for the Open Ceremony.
It's a rematch of last summer's semifinal, a match the US won 3-1, though it wasn't that easy.
After going up early, the US lost control of the game and were pegged back. Eventually, strength in reserves helped Pia Sundhage and her team win and advance to the final, but they left it a little too late for comfort.
This time, the US knows what to expect from France and how to break them down.
Pressure France on the Ball
As the USWNT learned last summer, if France are given time on the ball, they will hurt you.
Team USA went up inside the first 10 minutes through Lauren Cheney in last summer's semifinal, but soon enough, France seized control of possession, and the US barely got a glimpse of the ball. Soon after the restart, Sonia Bompastor punished the US defense for backing off her outside the area when she unleashed a killer shot to knot the scores at one.
On Wednesday, the US cannot just let France have their way.
France is a team that can pass the ball around for as long as they please until they find the right shot, and they have plenty of players capable of hitting from outside.
Midfielders cannot hang too far back when France gets into the final third, and the defense cannot sit in front of goal for too long, or the US will be in a hole early on.
Similar to the previous slide, the US defense is not strong enough to withstand constant pressure from France's creative and strong attackers. Team USA's midfield was bullied around too often last summer, but they've gotten much better in the lead-in to the Olympics.
Shannon Boxx will be at the heart of clogging the midfield to disrupt France's passing game, but it can't be just up to the midfielders. Occasionally, Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler as well as Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez will have to help out to cut off passes and to force France to play a longer game.
France has the flashier and quicker midfielders than the US, but if the US can control the midfield, France shouldn't pose too big of a threat.
Don't Give Ball Away Cheaply
Some teams can pass the ball around the entire match and be plenty satisfied with it. The US is not one of those teams.
Team USA is too prone to giving the ball away in dangerous areas when they get to simply passing the ball across the midfield or back to the keeper.
France will be aggressive in midfield and will be looking to capitalize on any mistakes, and the US simply can't afford to make many.
If France is able to dominate possession, the US can't abandon their style right when they get on the ball either. Constant long balls from the back will only turn possession right back over to France and won't give the defense any break.
Don't Waste Shots
The biggest problem for this generation of the USWNT is they have not lived up to expectations. The worst part is it's been mostly their own doing.
Team USA let Japan crawl back into the final last summer twice when they actually should've put the game away in the opening 30 minutes. They spurned numerous chances that would've changed the entire match, and they can't afford for that tendency to rear its ugly head again in London.
It all comes down to focus. Stay focused, don't overcomplicate anything and just play the game.
Get Alex Morgan Involved Early and Often
Alex Morgan was introduced for the second half of the semifinal matchup in Germany last summer, and she made all the difference in the world.
Morgan is the typical No. 9. She's tall, quick, strong and great with her feet as well as in the air. If she is on her game on Wednesday, France doesn't stand a chance.
Morgan has done nothing but score since she burst onto the scene last summer, and she is Team USA's most dangerous player, so they cannot afford to not get her involved as much as possible.
France's defenders will be marking Morgan very closely because they know she's the biggest threat, but she is smart enough to get around that. Even if France are able to take Morgan out of the game, it will open up plenty of room for Abby Wambach and midfielders to get forward to take advantage of gaps in coverage.
Keep the Ball Away from Sandrine Soubeyrand
Alex Morgan is the X-factor for Team USA, and Sandrine Souyebrand will be that player for France, if allowed.
As captain and midfield marshal, everything France does goes through Souyebrand. She is her country's most-capped female footballer of all time, and if the US can keep her off the ball, it will disrupt France's play immensely.
Another player to watch out for is young striker Gaetane Thiney. Souyebrand's 26-year-old teammate was a big reason France made it to the semis last summer, and she is a threat to score any time she gets on the ball.
The US needs to focus on playing their game first and foremost and not simply stopping France, but it's inevitable France will take control of the match at some point. When they do, these are two players Team USA cannot afford to lose track of.