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The USWNT Struggles In Attack As It Draws Sweden 0-0

If you were left feeling hung out to dry as a soccer fan after watching the United States complete a nil-nil draw against Sweden, you were not alone. This game had almost everything going for it: the #2 ranked team in the world against the #5 ranked team in the world, legendary players on both sides, an absolute smattering of attacking talent across the U.S. team sheet, and a head coach dropping some cold hard truth about her former players in the lead up to the match. The logs were gathered, the kindling was flaming, and all we got was…smoke.  

Going into this match, US fans were confident that their ladies had pulled it together offensively after a far from convincing first half against Australia. 90 minutes of competition later, cautiously optimistic might be a stretch. 

Starting forwards Christen Press and Sydney Leroux were sporadic at best in their effectiveness. Press nearly drew a penalty, and that was about the most noteworthy thing either of the two did all night. The United States tried to serve them with a combination of long balls over the top, crosses, and short passes during and after periods of possession. Tonight, variety was hardly the spice of life, and nothing really succeeded in clicking. 

Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan were eventually subbed on and replaced those two. They were not the saviors that many hoped they would be, but Wambach did succeed in getting one of the best shots off the US had all day. She got on the end of a long Megan Rapinoe cross to the far post, dove and made contact with the ball, and ended up sending it bouncing off the ground and over the bar. It was an auspicious start for Wambach — one of her first involvements in the game after being subbed on — but it was not a spark for greater play by her, or any other American, later. 

That being said, Megan Rapinoe was showcase of light amidst a dull attack. She was constantly moving across defenders with the ball, trying to get the ball forward, and she succeeded in putting the ball in the most dangerous positions more consistently than any one on the field for either team. Rapinoe has been beast across the first two group stage games, but this time around she could not find the net, and her teammates couldn’t find it for her. 

The defenses for both teams were superb, as you might guess with a scoreless final. Julie Johnston looked to be one of the top 3 most confident Americans on the ball, behind the aforementioned Rapinoe and midfielder Carli Lloyd, which was a superb bonus above her outstanding play throughout the rest of the match. She confidently stepped up, was aggressive in defensive pursuit forward and back, and seemed to always be the one making tackles. 

As a matter of fact, the only time where Johnston seems to be in a situation out of her control was during a Swedish counter during the second half. The ball broke to Swedish legend Lotta Schelin who had a teammates with her. It was a 2 on 1; Johnston was caught with no help in sight; at that point, she was probably thinking how to make lemonade from the most putrid lemons on the planet. Luckily, and concurrent with the theme of the day, Schelin, Sweden’s best player, played the ball behind her counter attacking partner, killing the attack. It was a criminal mistake. 

There was also a Sydney Leroux handball in the box that should have led to a penalty call against her, and a Swedish shot that was headed off the post and away by Meghan Klingenberg. There was action in this game, no doubt, but it was the kind that built up tension without ever truly releasing it. 

As the United States will now be surely looking forward towards its last group stage game against Nigeria, it is assuredly confident in its ability to defend, and anxious about the question marks it has up top. Should Wambach start? When is Alex Morgan going to be fully match fit? How worried should head coach Jillian Ellis be that Sydney Leroux and Christen Press looked so disjointed in attack?

In a World Cup that has already seen Germany score 10 goals, the United States lack of identity going forward places it thoroughly outside of the top 3 best teams in the tournament right now. 

The good news for the Americans is it doesn’t matter who the best teams are now. It just matters who the best team will be on July 5th. The question is, will the United States pull it together in time to get there?

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @yetly

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