The U.S. women's national team faces a solid test in its upcoming international friendlies against Korea Republic.
As per FIFA's Women's World Ranking, Korea Republic is currently the 16th-best women's football team in the world. The Yanks are in fine form as of late and hold the top ranking.
Always crucial for the success of the USWNT is the play of its dangerous strike partnership, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. How they fare against the Korean center backs could well dictate the overall success of the team.
The combination of Wambach and Morgan is critical for a few reasons. Where Wambach plays the role of a true No. 9 striker, Morgan runs the channels with speed few teams are capable of matching. Wambach offers back-to-goal play that allows Morgan and other attackers to find open space on the run.
They are also both very dangerous on crosses and set pieces.
Wambach might be the biggest aerial threat in all of women's world football, combining fearlessness, timing and superior size and athleticism to get on the end of anything in her path.
Morgan is special in the box because her timing on runs is intelligent and her pace gives defenders fits. She also has the technique to finish difficult services.
How Korea Republic looks to defend Wambach and Morgan will set the tone for the match. It likely does not have the physicality or athleticism to match up in one-on-one situations with the two American forwards.
More likely, Korea Republic will defend via a zone, with four backs covering space and attempting to pass runners off and communicate danger.
Also important for the U.S. attack is the creative genius of the technical wizard, Megan Rapinoe. The talented inside-out winger has the most inventive vision on the U.S. team and is capable of linking the killer pass. Inherent in her game is a feathery right foot that can deliver the ball wherever she sees fit.
So for Korea Republic, shutting down the American's top playmaker will certainly be a key battle.
It will be no easy task, though, as another attribute Rapinoe brings to a match is superior fitness. Simply stated, she never runs out of gas. This tirelessness allows her to find the space necessary to deliver dangerous ball after dangerous ball.
The midfield of the Korea Republic needs to be up to the task of shutting down Rapinoe before she is able to start an attack. In order to do that, it will need to high press throughout the full 90 minutes. That means closing space vigorously and making service a chore for the U.S. midfield, particularly Rapinoe.
It will take tons of work, discipline and most obviously, running.
Should the USWNT be able to get Wambach and Morgan clicking up top and Rapinoe operating smoothly in the midfield third, it could well be a long match for the Koreans.
However, if Korea Republic can maintain tactical discipline, it might have the horses to stay with the best team in the world. The two matchups are Saturday, June 15 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3) and Thursday, June 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network).
It will be a fun watch, regardless, to see if Korea Republic is up for the very daunting task.
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