WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- When the U.S. and Sweden squared off Friday in the World Cup, it was a case of two teams who knew each other well. Perhaps too well, and that fact alone seemed to ensure that the two sides would cancel each other out in a 0-0 draw.
The U.S. still is in very good shape to advance to the knockout stages thanks to Australia's 2-0 defeat of Nigeria, but this was a match in which the Americans seemed to be living something of a charmed life. Against Australia, Hope Solo came to the team's rescue. This time it was defender Meghan Klingenberg. Had the U.S. left back been inch shorter -- and she stands only 5-foot-2 -- Sweden might well have scored. Instead she was able to head Caroline Seger's 77th minute shot off the bar and out before the ball was hacked to safety. The U.S. could also count itself lucky that Sydney Leroux wasn't penalized for a handball after Seger's first-half shot appeared to strike her in the elbow.
The match will do little to stifle questions about the Americans' moribund attack, which was utterly predictable, especially in the first half. It seemed the U.S. game plan consisted of entering the opposition's half at a snail's pace and getting the ball wide on those occasions when possession wasn't lost, at which point the ensuing cross would crash against the rocks of the Swedish defense. With Abby Wambach out of the starting lineup, this was a day when the U.S. needed something more sophisticated, and the U.S. midfield couldn't deliver.
Granted, this was a different Swedish side than the one that coughed up two leads against Nigeria. Sweden's coaching staff had vowed that the team would show more compactness in midfield, and they were true to their word. The Swedes also seemed determined to take away the space in behind, the better to limit the opportunities when forwards Leroux and Christen Press could use their speed.
Defensively, aside from Klingenberg's heroics, the U.S. wasn't stretched all that often. But when they were, the central tandem of Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston was able to snuff out the Swedish attacks.
The Americans seemed to perk up in the second half with the introductions of Amy Rodriguez and Wambach. The latter forward went close when her header from a Megan Rapinoe cross was tipped just over the bar. Carli Lloyd also went close, but her header was deflected wide. A late barrage of crosses put some pressure on Sweden's defense, but some stout defending and brave goalkeeping from Hedvig Lindahl allowed the Swedes to walk away with a deserved draw.
And so the U.S. was left with another game where from the run of play it created little and seemed to have few ideas, especially when it came to combination play. Both Lauren Holiday and Lloyd seem completely out of sync with each other, making the team heavily reliant on Megan Rapinoe to weave some magic. On the night Rapinoe did what she could, but someone else needed to step up. No one -- not even a late appearance from Alex Morgan -- could come through.
Originally, the U.S. had hoped its last group stage game against Nigeria would provide an opportunity to rest some players. Now it will be used to locate an attack that has largely gone missing.
Player ratings: (0-10)
G Hope Solo, 6.5: Wasn't asked to do much but was sharp off her line and did enough to touch away one first-half corner.
D Meghan Klingenberg, 7: Defended capably throughout, and then made the defensive play of the game with her goal line clearance.
D Becky Sauerbrunn, 8: Impeccable once again in all aspects, be it her tackling, distribution or presence.
D Julie Johnston, 7: Had one first-half giveaway, but other than that a nice bounce-back performance. A tackle and slick pass in the first half seemed to get her going, and she excelled from there.
D Ali Krieger, 5.5: Defended much better than against Australia, but seemed just inches away on a lot of her passes. Should have done better when put through by Press in the first half.
M Megan Rapinoe, 6: Created space with some deft cross-field passes, but wasn't as successful with her distribution from set pieces. Later, she picked up her game and threatened with some deliveries from out wide.
M Lauren Holiday, 5.5: Defended decently, but playing in a holding role seems to have robbed Holiday of her aggressiveness in attack. Perked up a bit after halftime.
M Carli Lloyd, 4: Not at all incisive in the first half, and just didn't seem on the same page with her teammates. Seemed more assertive after halftime and went close with a 73rd-minute header. Still, more is needed.
M Morgan Brian, 4: Served up an enticing cross that Leroux couldn't get on frame, but other than that was near invisible in attack. It's still unclear why Ellis put Brian in a position that doesn't play to her strengths.
F Christen Press, 5: Kept several plays alive with her grit, and was a general nuisance, but never managed to be all that dangerous, save one pass to Krieger.
F Sydney Leroux, 4: Was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty for her handball in the first half. The service into her wasn't the greatest, but didn't do much with the ball when she got it, despite her hustle.
F Amy Rodriguez, 6: Supplied some more consistent holdup play, but was eventually moved out wide.
F Abby Wambach, 6: Nearly broke the deadlock with a 72nd-minute header.
F Alex Morgan, 5: Was largely ineffective.