I’m still in disbelief over Sunday’s win. As I mentioned earlier, it was sweet, poetic justice. So, what can be expected in this semifinal? Let’s take a look.
The obvious hurdle is how the legs of the players will bounce back after so many minutes played, especially with the time they played down a field player. As a former player who’s played as one among 10, I can tell you it buh-lows. However, the US program has world class trainers and fitness coaches so things like ice baths and compression pants are commonplace. I know Julie Foudy said it during the telecast, but the US are never coming into a tournament unfit. This is largely an extension of their training and nutrition staffs’ ability to prepare the players for the most grueling matches. It’s been somewhat of a trademark of the US Soccer program in general for both the men’s and women’s sides. Lest we forget that France is also coming off a game in which they played extra time. Those minutes add up and we may see France start to break down around the hour mark. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a change at halftime and two others around the hour.
It’s a funny thing to ‘recover’ from an emotional win. You’ve seen it a million times in sports. A team has a big win then comes out flat in the next game. It’s part of the game but we have to hope that the US has put that win behind them. I’m not worried that they’re not emotionally ready, though. They never let up against Brazil, didn’t back down, didn’t let the referees deter them and simply put together the most inspiring and determined effort in recent memory. Not once did I see a break on confidence. In fact, their mettle may have been galvanized by all of the injustices. I know that I would hate to see a more-confident-than-usual US side.
Here’s where the fun begins. How will the US defend France’s capable attack led by goal-a-game phenom, Marie-Laure Delie? I’m confident any flighted ball will be taken down by US goalkeeper, Hope Solo, or cleared out by the stellar back line. So then, how do you keep a goalscorer out of the box? Push her wide and make her receive the ball closer to the mid-stripe rather than the penalty box. I think the US can employ a high defensive line against France due to the pace of captain Christie Rampone and the ability of Becky Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn is probably a bit faster than suspended central defender, Rachel Buehler, but has played with right back Ali Krieger in the past. Left back, Amy LePeilbet, could move into center but I’m just not confident with her in the middle. Whoever will be sitting deep in midfield (could be Shannon Boxx or Carli Lloyd) will need to snuff out attacks or at least delay them so the US can recover on counterattacks.
Offensively, the US has many weapons but no one seems to be “on.” Abby Wambach will be the go-to in the air but France has Wendie Renard, the 6’1″ central defender who will mark Wambach on crosses. Megan Rapinoe, I suspect, will continue to come off the bench as the supersub while Amy Rodriguez tries to get behind the defense with her speed. Look for Heather O’Reilly to be all over the field as well. The tactic is clear with the USWNT: work the ball to the wing and play the ball to Abby in the air. It’s great because Abby rarely has trouble getting space from her defender but they can’t fall in love with it. The midfield has to be comfortable in possession or there will be a lot of tracking back. I’d love to see more long range shots to test the keeper and create space between France’s defenders as they would need to come out and defend a little higher.
Plainly, it’s going to be a good game. France has played better than expected which kind of reminds me of the Germany squad in last year’s men’s World Cup. France is susceptible to getting overwhelmed as they have never made it this far but they have steady veterans in the back who can keep the team collected. The game is on ESPN and ESPN3.com with coverage starting at 11:30am Eastern. Can’t. Stop. Watching. This. Goal. Enjoy! Prediction: 1-0 USA, naturally.