U.S. Ties Sweden 1-1 Off Deflected Morgan Shot, Heath Finish

The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is in Arizona training as they prepare for their Olympic qualifying tournament in January. They play an international friendly on Saturday against Sweden in Glendale.

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U.S Women Slow To Break Swedish Defense, Settle For 1-1 Tie

The United States Women's National Team played an exciting game in front of a record crowd of 18,482 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix Saturday night. Their opponent, Sweden, is the third-ranked team in the world and finished with a bronze at World Cup in Germany this summer. But only four players from that team started in Glendale and the best the American women could do was a 1-1 tie and it took a late equalizer to avoid the loss.

"I know that every single player on our side is disappointed to go away with a tie. We don't want a tie. That's not what we come here to do. We come here to win games," forward Abby Wambach said after the game.

Wambach started the game and played until the 74th minute when young star Alex Morgan came in off the bench and once again, provided an immediate offensive spark. Morgan was able to use her speed and skill on the ball to immediately create chances, including a shot off the far post the rebounded right back to the Swedish keeper. 

It was Morgan who again was able to beat the defense and rocketed a shot from just inside the box that Swedish keeper Kristin Hammarstrom deflected to an open Tobin Health for the equalizing goal (81'). 

Why does Morgan who has so much speed and quality ride the bench for 74 minutes? According to her coach, Morgan's role on the team is to do just one thing and she couldn't do that playing 90 minutes.

"That is the reason why (Morgan) is so good. She's coming off the bench. She has a small role. She plays it well. She understands it, and respects it and the team does as well," head coach Pia Sundhage said about Morgan's limited playing time.

"It was a small role and she played it perfectly...It won't work for 90 minutes."

The U.S. were clearly a different and better team with Morgan on in the final 16 minutes. They generated numerous chances and dominated the game. According to Heath, who came on in the second half for Amy Rodriguez, with another five minutes the U.S. would have likely taken the lead.

"That's just what Pia thinks suits me best right now and suits this team best. Hopefully, I will be a 90 minute player sometime in the future," Morgan said about her role.

It will be interesting to see if Sundhage continues to use her most dynamic player, Morgan, off the bench during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver in January. 

Sweden got on the board at the 28 minute mark with a beautiful shot from just outside the box from Sofia Jakobsson. Jakobsson received the ball after a throw in and created enough space moving to her right to get the shot off. The ball bent perfectly over the head of keeper Nicole Barnhart and into the upper corner of the far post. 

The U.S. out-shot Sweden 19-6 and had numerous chances that rattled wood or just missed the frame. For a team still adjusting to a new system, the Americans can be pleased that easily could have come away with the victory but at the same time, they can't continue to rely on late goals to save them.

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U.S. Women's Soccer: Pia Sundhage Announces Starters Vs. Sweden; Lauren Cheney Takes Center Stage

The United States Women's National Team held a free, open-to-the-public training session at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday. It was their final practice before facing a very good Swedish team Saturday night at 7 p.m. The team worked through a variety of drills for 90 minutes before head coach Pia Sundhage thanked the crowd and some players signed autographs.

Sundhage said she was 99 percent certain what the 18-player roster would look like coming out of two weeks of training camp with 30 players. She did announce the following starting line up for the game on Saturday:

Nicole Barnhart (GK), Rachel Buehler (D), Christie Rampone (D), Becky Sauerbrunn (D), Ali Krieger (D), Carli Lloyd (M), Shannon Boxx (M), Heather O'Reilly (M), Amy Rodriguez (M), Lauren Cheney (M), Abby Wambach (F).

[Update, 11/18/11 4:44 PM MST ]

18-player roster announced

Lineup notes:

  • Star goalkeeper Hope Solo missed this camp session due to her appearance on Dancing with the Stars.
  • ASU product, Amy LePeilbet got the majority of starts on the left side of the back line during the World Cup,  will start on the bench.
  • With six substitutes available, it's likely all will play.
  • Sundhage did say that Rampone is a slight question mark due to injury.
  • Megan Rapinoe is ruled out with a minor knee sprain.

Sweden the perfect test for the new system

"We really need answers with the system and the more minutes we have together with that system, the better," Sundhage said about the goal for her team going into the game.

The 4-2-3-1 that the U.S. started running after the World Cup is designed keep more possession through the midfield and vary the attack according to Lauren Cheney who's role as the central attacking midfielder is magnified in this style of play.

"I think it's fun. It's exciting to play something that I get to run the attack and start it with everything coming through me," Cheney said Friday.

"It is about winning and scoring goals for us. I think defensively we've shown that we're solid. I think that we've had arguably the best back line in the world for awhile now and I think we have the three best goalies in the world."

Cheney feels the U.S. team can, however, be critiqued for being predictable on offense, relying too much on Abby Wambach's ability through the air on corners and crosses. This new system puts more emphasis on creativity and possession.

The team came out of the World Cup unhappy with their play against France (a game they won) and pleased with how they played against Japan (a game they lost) based on how well they were able to control possession in both games. They want to dominate the ball like they did against Japan.

In the end, this change of system is about leveraging the skill of certain players (like Cheney) but it's also recognition that the other teams around the world are catching up to the American's athletic dominance. Sundhage is clearly looking to move her team to be more technical, possession-oriented and dynamic in the attack.

Saturday's game versus Sweden will be a great opportunity to see how that looks. The U.S. played the 4-2-3-1 in the two games right after the World Cup against Canada but hadn't had time to train with it. Now after two full weeks and those Canada games under their belts, they should be much more prepared to evaluate where things stand and Sweden is the perfect opponent for that test.

"Sweden doesn't have a lot of weakness. They're good at almost every part of the game. They're physical, they're tactical, they're technical," striker Abby Wambach said.

Over 16,000 tickets have been sold for the match despite being up against the ASU vs. UA Territorial Bowl football game in Tempe which is also Saturday evening. We would imagine an even larger crowd would be at UoP on Saturday if not for the unfortunate scheduling conflict. We're certain more local media would be there.   

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