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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