A look at the current state of the USWNT heading into Friday’s friendly vs. Germany

Alex Morgan

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By MIKE McCALL

Tom Sermanni couldn’t have asked for a much better start to his tenure at the helm of the U.S. women’s national team.

Six games in, Sermanni’s squad is unbeaten with a plus-15 goal differential, and a trip to Portugal ended with another Algarve Cup title. The team’s 18 goals have come via nine different players, and a host of young talent has stepped forward to give the new coach plenty of options as he gears up for the 2015 World Cup cycle.

Even the worst result — a 1-1 draw against Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage — still propelled the Americans into the final in Portugal, and a handful of injuries have had little effect thus far.

Friday brings another chance to add to that impressive early résumé, as the U.S. takes on Germany in Offenbach at 12:15 p.m. It’s a rematch of the Algarve Cup title match and another clash of the top two teams in the FIFA World Rankings, and while this and Tuesday’s friendly at the Netherlands won’t carry much meaning, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on, along with the roster and our projected Starting XI:

1. The Youth Movement

Thus far, Sermanni appears much more experimental than Sundhage. Eight players on this roster have fewer than 10 appearances, and he included five who earned their first career caps earlier this year: forward Christen Press, midfielder Kristie Mewis, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, and defenders Crystal Dunn and Julie Johnston. Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch (uncapped) is also on board.

Of course, it’s not just about being in the squad, and Sermanni will be looking for more encouraging signs from the group.

The 24-year-old Press has had a monster debut, scoring four times in only six games, and she and 22-year-old Sydney Leroux (who emerged under Sundhage but got her first start under Sermanni) give the U.S. excellent options behind superstars Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach.

On the back line, Dunn, Johnston and Whitney Engen have tons of potential, and it’s a good bet that some of these names will find their way into the 2015 lineup.

After all, by then, more than half of the 2012 gold-medal squad will be 30, and turnover is inevitable as time passes.

The question is how soon these younger players can show they’re ready, and these road friendlies bring two more opportunities.

2. Solo-less

Watching the U.S. without Hope Solo in goal is a bit bizarre — like seeing the men minus Tim Howard — and that will be the case again for these matches.

Solo (wrist surgery) and Jill Loyden (hand surgery) are both out, leaving Nicole Barnhart as the leader. Behind her, Harris and Franch have one cap combined, and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare should Sermanni give one a shot. Harris’ lone start came in the draw with Sweden.

Is there a Brad Guzan in this group? It’s hard to argue with Barnhart’s results in Portugal, when she blanked China 5-0 and Germany 2-0.

3. Chasing Mia

Up top, all eyes are on Wambach as she edges closer to Mia Hamm’s all-time world scoring record of 158 goals. Abby sits at 154, and while it’s doubtful that she’ll catch Hamm in these two matches, every step is a big one.

Sermanni has said he’d like to see Wambach break the record at home, and these next three road matches (including June 2 at Canada) are a good time to set the stage.

And amidst the flurry of attacking success from players like Press and Leroux, it wouldn’t hurt for Wambach to reassert her dominance.

No one would suggest benching the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, but Wambach will be 35 by the World Cup, and Sermanni knows he’ll have some difficult decisions to make in the future.

4. Filling the Lloyd Void

Midfielder Carli Lloyd’s broken shoulder, which she suffered at the Algarve Cup, means a spot is up for grabs in midfield.

Megan Rapinoe should be a mainstay on the outside, and a strong case could be made for her as the team’s best player. She was the Algarve Cup MVP despite missing the final with an injury, and the Olympique Lyonnais star scored last week as her club keeps steamrolling toward a third straight UEFA Women’s Champions League title.

Shannon Boxx also figures as the backbone of the midfield, while the other two spots likely come down to Heather O’Reilly, Tobin Heath, Yael Averbuch and Lauren Cheney, with Press and Leroux also options.

Of that group, Heath is the one to watch. Perhaps the most skilled player on the team with the ball, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder would become a true force by translating her one-on-one ability into more consistent goals and assists. If she can make that leap in the run-up to 2015, the U.S. attack gets even tougher to deal with.

5. Strong at the back?

Often cited as the team’s Achilles’ heel, the U.S. defense has had a good start to the year: three goals allowed in six matches, and only one during four games in Portugal.

But those tests came in front of big, supportive crowds in the U.S. and in a church-like atmosphere at the Algarve Cup. Two weeks ago, a report surfaced that 10,000 tickets had been sold for the match in Germany (along with a great German poster hyping up Hope Solo — oops), meaning this will be a decidedly different atmosphere.

Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Rachel Buehler and Kelley O’Hara give Sermanni veteran options, and sprinkling in the aforementioned upstarts like Dunn, Engen and Johnston would provide solid learning opportunities.

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Here’s a look at the roster, followed by a Starting XI prediction:

USWNT Roster – Friendlies vs. Germany (April 5) and the Netherlands (April 9)

Goalkeepers: Nicole Barnhart, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris

Defenders: Rachel Buehler, Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn

Midfielders: Yael Averbuch, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Kristie Mewis, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe

Forwards: Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Abby Wambach

Projected Starting XI:

USWNTvsGermanyLineup

What do you think? Can Wambach can put up four or five goals in these two matches? Nervous about the goalkeeping? Any youngsters you hope to see on the field? What’s your preferred Starting XI?

Share your thoughts below.

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33 Responses to A look at the current state of the USWNT heading into Friday’s friendly vs. Germany

  1. Elite Hunting says:

    Barnhart is a better back up than Guzan in relative terms. She’s been with the USWNT for 9 years and has 49 caps. The real question should be does the USMNT have a backup the quality of Nicole Barnhart?

    • Bobb says:

      Really, you’re measuring quality in terms of years and caps?

      • Elite Hunting says:

        No, but it is one measure. The fact is that Barhart is a better number 2 than Guzan. If you watched the team play instead of just looking to argue, you’d know that.

        • Weston John says:

          Elite…did u see the last 2 USMNT games? Guzan put up clean sheets against Mexico (in Azteca!) and Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying games under extreme pressure. Guzan has been a complete stud at Aston Villa this year. Most people no longer view Guzan as a #2, but more of a 1(b) option with Howard being 1(a). Barney is a great back-up, but I think it’s poor timing on your part to question whether the USMNT has as good of a back-up right after Guzan has proven his case beyond any doubt.

          • Elite Hunting says:

            No one said Guzan isn’t a great goalkeeper. I certainly didn’t. I did say that Barnhart is a better, more solid # 2 than Guzan. Which she is.

            I never questioned whether the USMNT has a good backup. You made that up and attributed it to me. Settle down a bit. Why so freaked out?

    • Old School says:

      I think this entire comparison is ridiculous to begin with.

  2. malkin says:

    Oh, hello there Alex.

  3. 1254 says:

    best women’s team in the world and yet we have no soccer league? what do we need to do to form an actual 12 league team in THE USA and have it be the best league in the world?

    • Dinho says:

      Be a smaller country. Among other problems, the travel and associated expenses are killers for the league.

      • Joe+G says:

        Plus most other countries share resources with the men. When you already have a healthy set up for men’s & youth teams, it’s not that big a deal to add a couple of extra teams to use the fields/staff/facilities on an alternating schedule.

        And we should mention that the Euro salaries aren’t all that high (except for the stars). It’s not uncommon to have a few well paid imports and then locals who don’t get paid at all.

    • ChrisTheLSUTiger says:

      Get the public to care about women’s club soccer, I think. We’ve tried in the past and so far we’ve failed.

      • HoboMike says:

        It’s not confined to women’s soccer. Fact of the matter is women’s sports do not have the same draw, regardless of sport.

    • phillypride says:

      It sounds like you haven’t heard of the National Women’s Soccer League. It’s fewer than 12 teams and it remains to be seen how high the level will be. But if it’s not the best in the world, it has to at least be close.
      link to ussoccer.com

    • Josh D says:

      Play exciting soccer for one. The women’s game at the club level was dire.

      Though this comes from someone who thinks watching the WNT play is utterly boring. It’s hard to support team who’s so dominate. How many games have they won in a row? 20? It’s like putting Barca in MLS. There may be one or two hiccups, that’s soccer, but Barca would destroy. The WNT destroys all the rest.

      I will say, I think that domination comes from the college game which is extremely important to women’s soccer, as opposed to men’s where its importance is quickly dropping.

    • Kev says:

      I apologize for the ignorant question but where is the best woman’s league? England? Where are the US players playing club?

      • Weston John says:

        My opinion is that best club teams are in France right now with Sweden a close second. Heath & Rapinoe play in France, Averbuch & Press play in Sweden, and Engen plays in England. The rest play in the new US league (National Womens Soccer League).

      • Joe+G says:

        Germany, Sweden, France are likely the best. The big issue — the top teams are very good, but the quality drops off quickly. Only a few teams per league are really quality.

        The NWSL will be among the top 4 almost from the start. With most of the USWNT, Canadian & Mexican NT players and a handful of top imports already on board, it will be able to hold its own.

        • Weston John says:

          Agreed that NWSL could quickly become one of the top leagues in the world (if not #1) in terms of both quality and attendance. Champions League in Europe seems to decide the best team, so it would be cool to have a Club World Cup one day where the Portland Thorns could take on Lyon!

          • Joe+G says:

            It will probably be the best league top to bottom, but not sure how the best teams will stack up against the best of the CL in Europe. Probably well, but you can’t tell with new teams.

            The pool of talent in North America is amazing (half the Mexican team is dual US citizens). I think over 1/2 the teams in the Olympics had at least 1 dual citizen American on the team (heavily biased toward GKs).

            If the salaries can keep up, the league will be in a good situation vs. the rest of the world’s leagues.

      • Joe+G says:

        For your second question, there are USWNT pool players in Sweden and Germany and France plus one in England. England has lagged in salaries.

        • xmen says:

          interesting considering epl is so profitable

          • Joe+G says:

            It’s a hobby and they usually only invest out of embarrassment. Here are the 8 teams in the FA WSL:

            Arsenal
            Birmingham City
            Bristol Academy
            Chelsea
            Doncaster Rovers Belles
            Everton
            Lincoln Ladies
            Liverpool

            You’ll notice a lack of a ManU team — I think they got rid of it in 2005.

            And OMG, they don’t have relegation… Not proper football at all.

          • Ezra says:

            England didn’t really get a professional league until 2011 with the Women’s Super League. And even that isn’t fully pro and salaries are pretty low.

    • OBRick says:

      Have people buy their jerseys, watch the game on TV and go to the games.

  4. TheFrenchOne says:

    it’s nice to see Krieger back. real nice.

  5. xmen says:

    whats the point of 30 matches a year with the WNT. we know they’re the best. can’t we get a professional league going on?

  6. Shane says:

    I wish it were on TV. I’ve yet to see a match since Sermanni took over.

    • Ezra says:

      The two games in Europe will be on ESPN3. So while not on TV, it will be watchable. And the Canada game will be on ESPNews.

  7. Joe+G says:

    Though we can offer you an England-born, Nigerian citizen from our U-20 team and another with Italian/Argentine/US citizenship, I think you are looking for the men’s youth teams. Down the hall and to the left.

  8. Shane says:

    The coach is at least foreign so you can be sure they are in good hands.

  9. chris_thebassplayer says:

    The potential starting 11 looks good, but I think Pinoe and O’Reilly should be flopped. Germany is going to really bring a lot of offensive pressure. It will be interesting to see how Sermanni responds, if we play wide open toe to toe or sag and counter. Hopefully we see Morgan and Syd up top.