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.