The United States Women's National team returns to Phoenix on Saturday for their first game in Arizona since 2000 to face Sweden on Saturday evening at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The USWNT is finishing two weeks of training camp in the Phoenix area in preparation for their Olympic qualifying tournament held January 19-29 in Vancouver.
All 21 members of the U.S. Women's team that captured that nation's attention with a brilliant World Cup run this summer are in Arizona although star goal keeper Hope Solo has been excused so she can participate in ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Solo was eliminated from that competition this week but won't play Saturday although she's expected to attend the game.
Over 14,00 tickets have been sold for the match which is a record for a women's soccer game in Arizona. The game won't be televised but will steam live (free) on USSoccer.com with a 7 p.m. local start time.
Sweden is ranked fifth in the world by FIFA and beat France to win the Bronze at the 2011 World Cup in Germany. The U.S. lost to Japan in a heartbreaking defeat and earned Silver. The team advanced to the championship game thanks to this last second spectacular overtime goal against Brazil in the semi-finals only to lose an overtime lead to Japan and fall in penalty kicks.
Formation changes and roster competition
U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage said her team arrived at training camp in good shape after six weeks off and the team is ready to begin the Olympic qualifying process. The friendly match with Sweden is a good opportunity to both experiment with some different player combinations and refine the team's new 4-2-3-1 formation ahead of that crucial tournament.
The Americans typically played a 4-4-2 formation but coming off the World Cup, Sundhage wanted to change things up.
"I think it was important after that World Cup to make some changes, but the change can't be too big because we played well. I wanted to challenge myself, the coaching staff, but also the players by changing the system," Sundhage said after the team finished a morning training session on Thursday.
So far the players have embraced the new system but there's still kinks to work out. Since the change, the U.S. played a set of games against Canada with one tie (1-1) and a 3-0 win.
"I would say the number 10 spot, we emphasize that right now and we will add the outside backs going forward as well...Against Sweden, when there's a turnover, defending, that will be very interesting to see how we can deal with that because they do have some good players up top. So, this game will give us some answers and we're just at the beginning at the process."
Sundhage did say the team could always go back to the 4-4-2 if things aren't working out. It's also possible that the team might switch mid-game if they bring striker Alex Morgan in off the bench to provide a new look and generate different kinds of runs.
The combination of Morgan and Abby Wambach is very dangerous as we've seen in the World Cup but at the same time in the new formation with Wambach as the lone striker Sundhage can get the most out of the speedy Amy Rodriguez and the play-making of Megan Rapinoe in the attacking mid-field positions.
Coming off such a strong performance in the World Cup with a 21-player roster it will be difficult for any new players to make the team. Two names that Sundhage mentioned as standouts from the young players included in the 30 invited to camp were Ingrid Wells from Georgetown and Sydney Leroux who plays for UCLA but is a Phoenix native.
Wells is described as a very technical player who brings a lot of energy. Her inclusion at the camp was meant to send a message about the importance of developing highly technical skills. Leroux is a competitive forward who scores goals at the college level. It's possible that one of those two or perhaps a different new player makes the squad in an effort to change up the team dynamic.
In Saturday's friendly, each team will be allowed six substitutions so we can expect to see all the usual suspects (except for Solo) starting the game but Pia will use her bench generously, "The starting lineup, we need some answers, but most likely we will play all six off the bench. We want to give them a chance, even if it's just 10 minutes."
Former ASU soccer star Amy LePeilbet started, normally a center back, started on the left side of the back line in the World Cup and likely will stay in that role with the team moving forward.