U.S. employs new formation in 1-1 draw
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Saturday's match against Canada was supposed to be a celebration for the U.S. women's national team. And while the Americans did plenty to entertain the crowd of 16,191 at Livestrong Sporting Park, the visitors refused to play the role of patsy, battling the U.S. to a 1-1 draw in the first game of the Celebration Series.
While the match was ostensibly an exhibition, it was also the first opportunity for U.S. manager Pia Sundhage to try out a new 4-2-3-1 formation. Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd occupied the two holding midfield roles, while Amy Rodriguez, Megan Rapinoe and Heather O'Reilly took up more advanced positions in support of lone striker Abby Wambach.
The tactical switch seemed to benefit Lloyd most of all, as she began the match by spraying pinpoint passes all over the field, and one such sequence saw the U.S. break on top in the 10th minute. Lloyd found O'Reilly with a long pass to the right flank, and her cross was turned goalward by Wambach, only for Canada defender Emily Zurrer to be whistled for a handball. Wambach duly slotted home the spot kick past Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
"I really like that position," said Lloyd. "That's like the quarterback of the team, the playmaker. That's what I'm striving to be. My previous role was trying to play-make and trying to be that No. 10 person, so it was kind of tough to do both."
The U.S. continued to dominate the proceedings, with Lloyd doing plenty to control the tempo. But the team's solid approach work was too often undone by some final passes that lacked precision.
With Shannon Boxx away to attend to a family commitment, there was always a risk that the U.S. would miss her physical presence, and that Canada would begin to find spaces in midfield. Sure enough, the visitors broke through for an equalizer in the 42nd minute. Kelly Parker clipped a ball into space for Melissa Tancredi that caught U.S. defender Christie Rampone a bit flat-footed, and the Canadian striker slotted the ball past U.S. keeper Hope Solo to tie the match.
"There were just spacing issues on the field," said Rampone. "We allowed them to dribble out with no pressure and didn't follow through with their runs, and [Tancredi] finished a great shot. ... It's more of just staying more compact, but right now we're trying to get our outside backs flying, so goals are going to happen like that, and that's all right right now."
In the second half, the U.S. continued to take the attacking initiative but couldn't find a breakthrough. The U.S. offense seemed less fluid than it did in the first half, although this was due in part to Canada getting more numbers behind the ball.
The U.S. still created its share of chances. Substitute Alex Morgan had several good opportunities to score, including one in the 65th minute when she rounded McLeod in the box, but a desperation tackle from Zurrer saved the day.
Canada did create one gilt-edged chance in the 90th minute when a giveaway by Lloyd allowed substitute Chelsea Stewart to set the table for Lauren Sesselmann, only for the Canadian defender to miss high.
Of course, the result was really secondary on this evening, yet the initial reviews of the formation switch were positive. The U.S had loads of possession, albeit against a Canadian side missing stalwarts such as Candace Chapman and Christine Sinclair, who were being rested after a long seasons in WPS, although the U.S. was sloppy with the ball at times as well, with Cheney among the bigger culprits.
"We gave the ball away way too often today, but you could see some glimpses here and there of some really good soccer," said Sundhage. "Hopefully it will improve and we'll play some really good soccer in January in Canada."
It will be interesting to see how Sundhage deploys her personnel going forward, with a rematch against the Canadians next Thursday in Portland the next opportunity to experiment.
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Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best)
G Hope Solo, 5: Looked like she could have done better on Tandredi's goal given the angle; was otherwise untroubled on the night.
D Amy LePeilbet, 6: A solid night's work on the left side defensively, although she wasn't much of a threat going forward in the first half. Had more success getting forward in the second half, but was rarely dangerous.
D Christie Rampone, 6: Put out plenty of fires but was caught out of position on Canada's goal. The U.S. is still highly dependent on her speed, and she used that to good effect in most situations.
D Rachel Buehler, 6: Her physical style matched up well against Tancredi and Co., as she won plenty of one-on-one duels.
D Ali Krieger, 7: Defended her side well and was a menace going forward. With the Olympics looming, her grip on the right back spot remains firm.
M Lauren Cheney, 5: Didn't look comfortable early on in the holding midfield role alongside Lloyd, which is understandable given her inexperience in the position. Went close with a drive just before halftime, and looked better in the second half when she played simpler passes and ventured further forward.
M Carli Lloyd, 6.5: Brilliant early on with her distribution whether it was with short or long passes. Her touches were sharp as well and allowed her to play her way out of pressure. Went a bit off the boil in the second half when she tried to dribble her way out of trouble, and a giveaway late in the match nearly cost the Americans.
M Amy Rodriguez, 4: Looked more comfortable on the left wing than she did as a forward at the World Cup, and tracked back well on defense. But while she did well to free herself to deliver her crosses, the end product was often lacking, and her touch was inconsistent.
M Megan Rapinoe, 5.5: Was active in the attacking half, but alternated good touches with bad. And while she saw plenty of the ball, she made some odd decisions, in particular a two-on-one with Wambach in which she waited too long to shoot.
M Heather O'Reilly, 6: Combined well with Krieger on the right wing, and was involved in the buildup to the penalty.
F Abby Wambach, 6: Slotted home the penalty with aplomb, and linked up with her teammates well. Overall, a typical Wambach performance in which she used her physicality to good effect.
G Nicole Barnhart, 6: Didn't have much to do, but was quick in her decision-making and secure in her handling.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, 7: Save for one giveaway, looked composed in the back and stepped into tackles with confidence. Does a bigger role for the Olympics beckon?
M Tobin Heath, 6: Played more centrally than Rapinoe in the attacking midfield role and slipped in some telling passes, including one in the 60th minute that set the table for Morgan.
F Alex Morgan, 5: Took up great positions but struggled mightily with her finishing, often shooting straight at the keeper.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN.com. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.