Two strange games on deck for U.S. Women

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With no professional league nearby (yet), women’s soccer fans will take any opportunity they can get to catch the likes of Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach in action. That their opponent tonight at Toyota Park will include Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, Simone Laudehr, Melanie Behringer, and Martina Müller makes this more than a typical U.S. Women’s National Team friendly. Germany is a full-on rival, albeit one that’s in a strange state.

Until the summer of 2011, Germany (having won the 2003 and 2007 World Cups) had been one of the two undisputed powers in women’s soccer. When (last year) they lost in the quarterfinals of their own World Cup, die Nationalelf began a period of surprise insignificance. Not only had they made an early exit at the tournament they were favored to win (losing to a Japan team that had failed to make an impact at previous World Cups), their disappointing result meant they’d miss the 2012 Summer Olympics tournament.

In their place, Japan has emerged, France has flattered yet deceived, while Sweden and Canada have been threats. The bipolar world of 2010 – of Germany, U.S.-dominance with a splash of Brazil – has given way to a new era of women’s international soccer. The landscape is maturing and broadening, and it’s still unclear where Germany will fit in.

These next two games against the States (tonight’s and Tuesday’s in Hartford) should remind the world of Germany’s talent. The team is still ranked second by FIFA, and if they have slipped in stature (a debatable claim) it’s more because of the strange method UEFA uses for Olympic qualifying (the World Cup results) rather than the team’s actual quality. Had Europe waged a true qualifying tournament ahead of London, Germany’s results would likely look like their just-ended Euro 2013 qualifying campaign. There they went 9-0-1, scoring 64 goals and allowing only three while qualifying for Sweden 2013.

That team comes to the U.S. to find their rivals in a state of flux. The States are without a permanent coach, Pia Sundhage having retired after three wins in September. Jillian Ellis is serving in an interim capacity, with U.S. Soccer still evaluating candidates for the permanent job.

Though the U.S. have called in a full squad for the Germany matches, it’s unclear the matches will mean anything. Win, lose or draw, there’ll be a new coach soon, somebody who will likely bring in a new plan ahead of Canada 2015. Given the age of some of the States’ key parts, that plan could change half the starting lineup. Add in the weird realities of the women’s international calendar (the U.S.’s next major competition is still three years away), this week’s matches may be the least significant meetings imaginable between world numbers one and two.

But such is the state of women’s soccer in the U.S. We take what we can get. It’s not like tonight’s match is distracting us from a domestic league. If Alex and Abby are in action, we’ll watch. At least they’re playing Germany this time.

Rosters (courtesy U.S. Soccer)

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Hope Solo, 18-Nicole Barnhart
DEFENDERS (6): 2-Heather Mitts, 3-Christie Rampone, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 6-Amy LePeilbet, 19-Rachel Buehler
MIDFIELDERS (5): 7-Shannon Boxx, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 10-Carli Lloyd, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 17-Tobin Heath
FORWARDS (5): 8-Amy Rodriguez, 11-Sydney Leroux, 12-Lauren Cheney, 13-Alex Morgan, 20-Abby Wambach

GERMANY ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Nadine Angerer, 12-Almuth Schult, 21-Laura Benkarth
DEFENDERS (7): 2-Bianca Schmidt, 3-Saskia Bartusiak, 4-Babett Peter, 5-Annike Krahn, 15-Verena Faibt, 22-Luisa Wensing, 23-Leonie Maier
MIDFIELDERS (7): 6-Simone Laudehr, 7-Melanie Behringer, 8-Kim Kulig, 10-Linda Bresonik, 17-Viola Odebrecht, 18-Svenja Huth, 20-Lena Goebling
FORWARDS (6): 9-Alexandra Popp, 11-Anja Mittag, 13-Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, 14-Dzsenifer Marozsan, 16-Martina Muller, 24-Lena Lotzen