For the second match in a row at the 2015 Women's World Cup, the United States labored in the attacking half. This time around, though, the U.S. had to settle for a 0-0 draw against Sweden in the group stage on Friday night in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Americans had just two shots on target, while Sweden put none on goal—it had a shot cleared off the line in the second half. All in all, it was a somewhat disappointing spectacle, considering both the strength of the teams and the amount of excitement for the fixture.
So much of the pre-match hype surrounded comments made by Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, who led the United States from 2008 to 2012. In an interview with Sam Borden of the New York Times, she commented on a few of her former national team players.
Sundhage singled out Carli Lloyd as "a challenge to coach" and discussed a few other prominent stars as well:
Sundhage did not hesitate to offer opinions on her other players as well, explaining that she was sharing nothing more than she had told the players themselves. Christie Rampone was "probably the best captain I've ever seen, including myself," she said. Hope Solo...was one of the most challenging players Sundhage has ever coached, "especially when it comes to trouble," she said. And Abby Wambach, 35, who is playing in her fourth World Cup, would not be a starter if Sundhage still coached the team.
Nothing Sundhage said was particularly inflammatory, and her sentiments have often been echoed by U.S. women's national team supporters. Lloyd can be a streaky player, and Solo has been at the center of a few off-field incidents. As fate would have it, Abby Wambach didn't start Friday's match, either, which broke a World Cup consecutive-start streak that was more than a decade long, per ESPN's Paul Carr:
Abby Wambach will start a WWC game on the bench for the 2nd time, 1st since the #USWNT's 2nd group game in 2003.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 12, 2015
Since the quotes came from Sundhage, though, the story turned into the proverbial "bulletin board material" and created a distraction for the coach as she prepared to take on her former team.
The United States didn't look entirely convincing in its first match with Australia, but it is unquestionably one of the most talented teams at the World Cup. In addition, many, such as the Washington Post's Michael Caley, felt removing Wambach from the starting 11 only strengthened the squad.
However, the U.S. spent the first half probing the Swedish back line. Although Sweden had the majority of possession, the Americans were the more threatening attacking side.
The United States should've arguably had a penalty kick in the 14th minute. Nilla Fischer looked to have impeded Christen Press in the 18-yard box. Instead, Press got whistled for the foul. Howler Magazine was looking for the penalty:
Press got woman-handled. Penalty!— Howler Magazine (@whatahowler) June 13, 2015
The scales evened out five minutes later after Sydney Leroux avoided what was seemingly a handball in the box. Caroline Seger unleashed a right-footed shot that struck Leroux's elbow. USA Today's Martin Rogers argued that Leroux extended her arms out slightly in order to deflect the shot:
Leroux fortunate to get away with apparent handball in the box, stuck the left elbow out - should have been awarded— Martin Rogers (@mrogersUSAT) June 13, 2015
Those two moments represented a bulk of the first-half action. The U.S. attack came to life in the final 10 minutes or so of the half. The United States knocked on the door but failed to create any real chances on goal.
Soccer writer Charles Boehm argued that the U.S. is still trying to find its footing tactically:
Valuing possession, finding feet & patterns of positive play don't click overnight. USWNT sharpness suffering from months of non-tactics.— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) June 13, 2015
Some might have expected a more proactive style from Sweden, especially after it drew, 3-3, with Nigeria in its first match. Instead, Sundhage had her side sitting back a lot more and allowing the U.S. significant space on the flanks.
The second half was more of the same, as the United States got progressively closer to finding the breakthrough the more the minutes ticked away. The Americans spent a lot of time in the Swedish half, patiently looking for the pass that would unlock Sweden's defense.
The injection of Wambach into the match added a different dimension to the American attack. She entered in the 67th minute and had a header tipped over the bar by Hedvig Lindahl in the 72nd minute. Wambach did a good job of driving her header into the ground, but ultimately, it was too close to the Sweden goalkeeper.
Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy and Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl wondered whether the turf pitch might have affected the effort in a way a grass pitch wouldn't have:
I'm saying that has a chance on grass.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) June 13, 2015
Wambach header does something different on grass?— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 13, 2015
As much as the United States controlled the match in the second half, Seger nearly undid all of it in a matter of seconds. The U.S. failed initially to clear a corner kick, and the ball fell to Seger. She placed a shot destined to tuck inside the far post, but Meghan Klingenberg was there to head the ball off the line. It struck the crossbar and bounced away from goal:
ESPN's Julie Foudy was surprised to see the 5'2" Klingenberg leap to make the block:
Good lord. Klingenberg shortest on team I am guessing... atta girl KLING! #FIFAWWC— Julie Foudy (@JulieFoudy) June 13, 2015
Sweden increased the pressure from that point forward, but its biggest remaining threats came from set pieces, which the U.S. repelled each time.
In the end, a draw is the fairest result. Neither team owned a demonstrable advantage for long stretches of the match, and both goalkeepers were rarely tested. The referee's decision not to award penalty shots also balanced out.
The United States remains first in Group D with the point. Even with a loss to Nigeria in their last match this Tuesday, the Americans should be able to advance to the knockout stages. Four points would likely be enough to make them one of the best third-place finishers.
The draw creates a few more problems for Sweden, who only have two points through their first two matches. That draw with Nigeria could really come back to haunt them. A win against Australia on Tuesday might be necessary to see the Swedes through.