It might seem like a problem any coach would be glad to have, but the United States women’s national team may have too much attacking talent for its own good.
With forwards Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, wingers Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe and center midfielders Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, the U.S. arguably has the six best attackers in the world. And that’s to say nothing of Sydney Leroux or Christen Press, who generally come off the bench. Leroux actually scores more goals per minute with the U.S. than both Morgan and Wambach, while Press is set to win the golden boot this season in the Damallsvenskan.
Waiting in the wings, the U.S. has talented attacking personalities like experienced veterans Heather O’Reilly and Amy Rodriguez, NWSL Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak and college standouts like Morgan Brian and Kealia Ohai—to name a few.
So, what’s the problem? Well, USWNT head coach Tom Sermanni is going to be hard pressed to get them all onto the field together, and the temptation to do so means the U.S. has played most of its recent games without a true holding midfielder.
So far, Sermanni has preferred a midfield combo of Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd, the same combination Pia Sundhage used for most of the 2012 Olympic tournament. However, both Lloyd and Holiday are natural attacking midfielders.
Lloyd, under both Sundhage and Sermanni, has been the one charged with manning the holding duties, but her natural tendency to cheat forward often leaves the U.S. back line unprotected. That’s not a criticism of Lloyd, whose attacking prowess is well-known and was on display Sunday with a terrific goal from distance.
Holding midfielders, in general, get little credit for their dirty work in front of the defense, but every coach knows their true value.
On Sunday, the U.S. beat Australia 4-0, but the final scoreline was misleading. Australia didn’t score, but they did create plenty of chances—chances that a more technical team will use to punish the U.S.
Most of the chances for Australia were created by Lisa De Vanna, a talented player in her own right, and many blamed U.S. right-back Crystal Dunn for letting De Vanna repeatedly get in behind the U.S. defense. Fortunately for the U.S., goalkeeper Hope Solo made several spectacular saves to keep Australia off the scoreboard.
De Vanna’s speed is problematic for any team, but the issue for the U.S. wasn’t Dunn—who is as fast as any player in the USWNT player pool. The true culprit was the lack of pressure on the ball in midfield—something that could be prevented with a true holding midfielder.
Outside backs are taught to hold the line of their center-backs to prevent creating onsides space behind their center-backs. Dunn did this, catching De Vanna offsides on several occasions. However, the times when there was no pressure on the ball, Dunn was caught having to try to run down De Vanna—one of the fastest players in the world—from a standstill.
If Shannon Boxx doesn’t make it back for the 2015 World Cup, no guarantee considering she is 36 years old, suffers from lupus and is pregnant at the moment, the U.S. does have several other options. They could, of course, stay with Lloyd and hammer into her to the responsibility to stay home. However, that takes one of the U.S.’ best weapons out of the attack.
Another choice would be Yael Averbuch. She seems to be the heir apparent to Boxx, but her inclusion would force one of the U.S.’ talented attackers off the field if the U.S. stayed in a 4-4-2.
Becky Sauerbrunn is another option. She is excellent in possession but lacks the speed possessed by the U.S.’ other center-backs in Rachel Buehler, Christie Rampone and Whitney Engen. That could make her a perfect fit to be a holding midfielder.
The U.S. could also consider a change in formation, but any change likely only creates problems in other areas of the field. In a 4-3-3, Megan Rapinoe or Tobin Heath could be squeezed out of the starting XI and make it even less likely that Sydney Leroux or Christen Press sees the field. The same would apply to a 3-5-2, but this formation could be used if Lloyd and Holiday were partnered with a third, more defensive-minded center midfielder.
A three-back set, however, would ratchet up the competition among the defenders with Engen, Sauerbrunn, Rampone and Buehler competing with Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara and potentially Kristie Mewis, Amy LePeilbet, Meghan Klingenberg or Stephanie Cox for only three starting spots.
It seems like a problem any coach would love to have, but with so much talent at his disposal, Sermanni has some difficult decisions ahead of him. And the 2015 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament is only 13 months away.
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