Meet the new team… kind of like the old team, but not really.
Midfield – The U.S.’s midfield in 2008 was responsible for the lion’s share of the team’s goal production. Carli Lloyd scored the team’s first and final goal of the tournament,outside midfielder Heather O’Reilly also scored twice, while central midfielder Angela Hucles led the team in goals with three.
The team’s current midfield has been in a state of flux this year. Attacking midfielder Carli Lloyd – once seen to be un-droppable – has recently been relegated to the bench in favor of the typically obstinate Lauren Cheney.
Sundhage’s current crop of midfielders is probably more dynamic than its 2008 predecessors. Megan Rapinoe had one of the best games of her career in the team’s final send-off match last month. Tobin Heath continues to be a work in progress, but has been more creative than frustrating in recent outings.
The team’s midfield – particularly its wingers – can be counted to bring the style, but how about the goals?
Forward – Of the U.S.’s 12 goals scored in the 2008 tournament, only two came from natural forwards. That shouldn’t be the case this time.
The USWNT just might have its most potent strike partnership in nearly a decade. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan have combined for 30 of the team’s 68 goals this year. Wambach is enjoying her most productive year since 2007, while Morgan is on pace to break all sorts of records.
An injury to Wambach in the USWNT’s final warm-up game four years ago spelled potential disaster. The unfortunate turn of events forced Pia Sundhage to turn to youth. Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Cheney and Tobin Heath – all in or just fresh out of college – were enlisted to help fill the Abby-sized void. Each player has since earned their keeps in the senior squad, but all have dropped back into midfield.
This cycle will see two fearsome, proven strikers lead the frontline, with speed queen Sydney Leroux assigned super sub duties. Expect goals. Plenty of goals.
Final verdict: Both the 2008 and 2012 squads sought redemption after disappointing respective World Cup finishes. While the heartbreak of the 2011 World Cup final doesn’t compare to the humiliation of 2007, the desire for glory remains the same. This will also be the last foray for a number of stalwart players – and perhaps Pia Sundhage who could be tempted to return to her native Sweden. The current batch of players has bought into Sundhage’s system which has indisputably yielded results. The team has a knack for saving its best until the end. What kind of end could this tournament represent? The completion of a cycle, if nothing else.
The team will also hope to prolong the mainstream attention it’s been afforded after last summer’s exploits. It will likely be its last chance until 2015.