The U.S. moved closer to a spot in the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup on Friday, battling stubborn Sweden to a scoreless draw before a sellout crowd of 32,716 at Investors Group Field.
Still muddled, however, is where the U.S. will play that second-round game should it advance.
With the tie, the Americans lead Group D with four points after two games. A win or a draw against Nigeria next week in Vancouver would give the U.S. a group title and assure it of a cushy second-round game in Edmonton against a third-place team.
A loss, however, could drop the U.S. to second, forcing it to fly to distant Moncton in New Brunswick -- four times zones away -- where it would likely meet Brazil. It could also finish third, which opens up a whole bunch of unsavory possibilities.
But then again there’s a chance none of that will matter if the U.S. continues to struggle to find a rhythm, as it has done for large parts of both its games in this tournament.
In the lead-up to the game, much of the focus was on the two coaches -- Sweden’s Pia Sundhage, who led the U.S. to two Olympic gold medals and the final of the 2011 World Cup, and her former assistant, Jill Ellis, who took Sundhage’s old job 13 months ago.
What had been a friendly feud began to take on heat this week, though, when Sundhage was quoted in the New York Times as making comments critical of some U.S. players, including 35-year-old forward Abby Wambach, who Sundhage said was now suited to be a substitute rather than a full-time player.
Wambach nearly proved her old coach right while beating her at the same time.
In the 72nd minute, moments after coming off the bench, Wambach put a diving header on frame that Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl managed to deflect over the net.
But if Wambach almost won the game, defender Meghan Klingenberg -- who got her national team start under Sundhage -- undoubtedly saved it in the 77th minute. A shot by Sweden’s Caroline Seger had clearly beaten U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo and was headed toward the far post when Klingenberg, positioned perfectly at the goal line, leapt and headed the ball off the crossbar.
Wambach and Klingenberg are among the players Sundhage knows well, having coached them and 16 others on the 23-woman American roster. Not surprisingly, then, it was a couple of players new to the team that gave Sweden the most trouble in the early going.
Midfielder Morgan Brian, who played 58 minutes in her first World Cup start, and forward Christen Press, who was making her second start, were both active and effective.
But the U.S. had trouble finishing, with forward Sydney Leroux involved in two early chances that went awry. On the first, she collided with Julie Johnston under a Megan Rapinoe free kick deep in the box and on the second Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl rushed off her line to take a ball off Leroux’s head.
Leroux was more fortunate on the other end. In the 22nd minute she stuck her elbow in front of a shot in the penalty area and though the Swedish players immediately began begging for a hand-ball call, Japanese referee Sachiko Yamagishi waved for play to continue.
The U.S. also looked out of synch in the first half of its World Cup opener, playing Australia to a 1-1 draw through 45 minutes. But the Americans were much better in the second half, dominating play en route to a 3-1 win.
That trend repeated itself Friday. But unlike the Australians, the Swedes didn’t wear down as easily. But the U.S. still controls its own destiny. Beat Nigeria and it wins the group. Anything less, and it could be a long flight to Moncton.
The U.S. and Sweden remained locked in a scoreless duel entering the final 20 minutes of their Group D game tonight in the Women’s World Cup.
The U.S. has picked up the pace in the second half, helped by a substitution in the 58th minute that saw forward Amy Rodriguez come on for midfielder Morgan Brian.
Brian played well, but the addition of Rodriguez allowed Christian Press to move back toward the midfield for a few minutes, before she too was replaced by Abby Wambach.
The U.S. almost lost midfield leader and captain Carli Lloyd midway through the half after she cracked heads with Swedish defender Jessica Samuelsson trying to head a cross. Both players went to the turf and remained there awhile but when they got up Lloyd stayed on the field while Samuelsson went to the bench for treatment.
Moments later, U.S. Coach Jill Ellis played her biggest card when she sent Wambach in for Press, leaving the U.S. with three true strikers in Sydney Leroux, Rodriguez and Wambach.
The U.S. and Sweden battled through an active but scoreless first half Friday in the second Group D game for both countries in the Women’s World Cup.
With former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage leading Sweden and her former assistant, Jill Ellis, coaching the Americans, both teams were clearly familiar with what the other was trying to do. But neither was able to turn that knowledge into a score.
Although Sweden led in time of possession, the U.S. was arguably the most dangerous team in the half.
Christen Press was especially active. But after seeing most of her playing time come in the midfield, her move to forward in place of the resting Abby Wambach appeared to cause some problems in terms of chemistry in the U.S. attack.
The Americans’ best two chances came in the opening 20 minutes, first with a Megan Rapinoe free kick into the box. But when Julie Johnston and Sydney Leroux both went for the ball, they collided in mid-air and the chance was wasted. A few minutes later Leroux tried to run under another cross into the box but this time she bumped into Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, who rushed off her line to play the ball and prevent a shot.
But the U.S. got a big break in the 22nd minute when Leroux stuck in her elbow in front of shot in the penalty area. The Swedish players immediately began begging for a hand-ball call but Japanese referee Sachiko Yamagishi waved for play to continue.
The U.S. and Sweden battled on mostly even terms through the first 22 minutes of the first half, with Sweden building an edge in time of possession but neither side putting a shot on goal.
A few minutes later Leroux tried to run under another cross into the box but this time she bumped into Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl, who rushed off her line to play the ball and prevent a shot.
The U.S. can guarantee itself a spot in the knockout stage of the Women’s World Cup with a win over Sweden this evening. Even a draw will get the Americans closer.
But the real drama is over where the U.S. will play that second-round game, provided it gets that far. And the answer to that question is completely in the Americans’ hands.
With Australia beating Nigeria, 2-0, in Friday’s first Group D game, it moves into a tie with the U.S. atop the pool -- a tie the U.S. would break with a win or a tie against Sweden. Follow that with a win or a draw next week against Nigeria and the U.S. wins the group title and goes on to Edmonton, where it will play a third-place team in the second round.
Lose either game, however, and the U.S. could finish second in the group, which would force it to fly to distant Moncton in New Brunswick -- four times zones away -- where it would likely meet Brazil.
For the time being, however, the U.S. is concentrating on Sweden, the only country to beat the Americans in group play at a Women’s World Cup. That happened four years ago, when Pia Sundhage was the U.S. coach. She’s managing the team from her native Sweden now, leaving the Americans in the hands of her former assistant, Jill Ellis.
Both teams got off to shaky starts in Winnipeg, but while the Americans rebounded with second-half goals from Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe to beat Australia, 3-1, Sweden gave up a two-goal lead in a 3-3 draw with Nigeria.
The U.S. made two changes to its lineup from the first game, the most significant of which was Abby Wambach beginning the game on the bench. Ellis gave Wambach’s forward spot to Press on Friday, moving her up from the midfield, where she’ll be replaced by 22-year Morgan Brian.