After losing its second game in a row for the first time in 13 years, the United States women's national team needs to take time to reflect on what went wrong at the Algarve Cup and how to get back on track for the 2015 World Cup.
Former USWNT coach, Pia Sundhage, returned to Sweden and was replaced with Tom Sermanni in 2013. This is where some of the problems may have started for the powerhouse team.
He is certainly a qualified coach who has a thoughtful approach to the game and this team. He has good ideas, such as rejuvenating the older side of the team by using a more possession-oriented playing style. Trying new things to keep a team ahead of the competition is a vital part of coaching.
Before the Algarve Cup, Sermanni told FoxSports.com he was going to push the envelope further in regards to the new style of play.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in this situation. Fortunately, there is still time to work on it before the World Cup.
Since implementing the new strategy, the team has had more difficulty offensively.
When opposing teams clog the middle of the field with their midfield and forwards, the U.S. offense has trouble moving the ball up the field. It makes passing difficult, which is the key to the possession-oriented approach. This was evident in the game against Canada in January and the start of one of the games against Russia in February.
This has been the biggest tournament since Sermanni took over his job in 2013.
It is either time to revert to their more direct style of play from the past or use the remaining time before the World Cup to perfect their new technique.
The defense also needs to have some added depth before the start of the World Cup. In a game as physical as soccer, injuries are bound to happen.
Sermanni told Soccer By Ives the defensive line for the World Cup “is probably not as settled as we are in other positions, to be honest.”
This is due primarily to injuries, which leads to the next point.
The team must stay healthy between now and the World Cup. Not that the team needs to be reminded of this since they aren’t typically laced with injuries, but missing players like Alex Morgan—who is out with an ankle injury—is unacceptable heading into the World Cup.
In an effort to stay healthy before the World Cup, Abby Wambach has been taking it easy for the start of 2014. For instance, she comes off the field when her team is ahead by a large margin. It may benefit the team in the long run if more players follow suit since they have several months before qualifiers.
The players don't necessarily need to sit out games, but the players who have already secured their spot on the World Cup roster may take it easier in practices and friendlies to reduce the risk of injuries during high-intensity play.
To give the team its best chance of winning the tournament in 2015, it needs all of its stars in the game. The Algarve Cup showed the team is beatable. Other teams have witnessed its weaknesses and will now try to capitalize on them.
In a postgame interview, Megan Rapinoe told USSoccer.com her takeaway from the loss to Denmark:
We’re seven months away from qualifiers and even longer from the World Cup, and for the most part, everyone is fit and healthy going into the NWSL season. Of course, we want to have to better results, but it’s not time to get too down on ourselves or be panicked. No one wins every game in football and these last two games we played excellent teams and just didn’t get it done.
The losing streak doesn’t mean that the USWNT has been knocked off its throne.
It’s a rude awakening. It’s shocking to anyone watching them play. But it’s been a bad tournament, so what? It happens to teams all the time. We’re just not used to it happening to this team. Thankfully, we won't need to get used to it either.