Under siege at Algarve Cup, USWNT performance raises questions

Tom Sermanni, Carli Lloyd

By CAITLIN MURRAY

It’s safe to say the 2014 Algarve Cup probably hasn’t been what the U.S. Women’s National Team expected.

As if a 1-0 loss to Sweden to break the USWNT’s 43-game unbeaten streak wasn’t uncomfortable enough, the No. 1 FIFA-ranked Americans got punished in a 5-3 rout by No. 13-ranked Denmark. The match set a dubious record – the most conceded goals in a single match by the USWNT ever.

Coach Tom Sermanni, who took the reins of the team last year, has plenty to think about as he looks ahead to the 2015 World Cup in Canada. But here are a few takeaways from SBI:

The USWNT is playing without chemistry

Sure, Alex Morgan is injured and Lauren Holiday couldn’t make it to the Algarve, but the USWNT still has the world’s very best attackers at their disposal. They typically dominate possession for long stretches parked in front of their opponent’s net.

Yet somehow, the USWNT has failed to finish on a rash of opportunities. In their astounding 5-3 loss to Denmark, the USWNT out-shot their opponent 22 to 9. Against Sweden in a 1-0 loss, they again out-shot, 12 to 4. In the 1-1 tie to Japan, shots were another lopsided 20 to 8.

The USWNT have been unable to make that string of passes or find that open player for the best chance on goal, perhaps due to lack of communication, lack of patience or some combination thereof. But it’s looking like the USWNT attack is struggling to adapt to the less direct, slower style of play Sermanni says he wants.

There’s plenty of time to get the USWNT’s world-class stable of forwards on board, but until then, the U.S. won’t play to its potential.

The USWNT has had some false comfort at home

Take, for instance, a pair of friendlies against No. 21-ranked Russia last month. The USWNT destroyed them 7-0 in their first match. In the next meeting, the USWNT failed to do much with the possession they controlled until Russia allowed two own-goals and then scored six goals in the final 30 minutes for an 8-0 finish.

When the U.S. hosted Brazil in November, it was a Brazilian squad testing its younger talent while their best player, Marta, stayed with her club team. The U.S. won handily, 4-1.

Against Canada to open 2014, a 1-0 victory was perhaps too close, given the talent differential. It wasn’t until late in the match – when the top-fit USWNT have their biggest advantage – that a flicker of brilliance came from Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney Leroux to eke out a goal for the win.

Even when the USWNT played below their ability, they’ve gotten the results they’ve wanted. That’s because the USWNT simply hasn’t been tested the way Japan or Sweden can test them – at least not in quite a while. When asked by SBI earlier this year, Sermanni declined to reveal who future opponents will be for upcoming friendlies, but U.S Soccer has announced two against No. 18-ranked China in April, another weaker opponent.

The USWNT will reportedly face No. 5-ranked France in June for two domestic friendlies and Sermanni can only hope coach Philippe Bergeroo brings his best group. There will be four more friendlies hosted by U.S. Soccer in August and September and the USWNT need to lure in a top team like No. 2 Germany or No. 3 Japan if the matches will bring much insight.

The back line is far from set

In 16 games last year, Sermanni tried 14 different back lines. The experimenting hasn’t let up – in the first six games of 2014, none of the starting back quartets have been repeated.

Sermanni has made no secret of his uncertainty back there. He points to injuries last year that left some defenders out of rotation and says that inexperienced defenders need caps to step up.

But every time Sermanni is evaluating his back line, it’s a back line that has never really had a chance to gel. In that sense, it may be a little unfair to judge too harshly. But on the other hand, how long will a core group need to become a cohesive unit? When does Sermanni need to have his primary squad selected?

The back line has looked shaky against even less formidable opponents, which may invite the continual tweaking and evaluations, but Sermanni won’t be able to wait too long before picking his four.

It’s still too soon to panic

The World Cup is more than a year away. World Cup qualifiers are about seven months away.

The USWNT was reminded of its own susceptibility while there is still plenty of time to do something about it. American fans can feel relieved about that, even if the USWNT won’t place higher than seventh overall in this tournament.

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What are your takeaways from the Algarve Cup so far? Can the USWNT turn things around when they play North Korea on Wednesday in their final match?

Share your thoughts below.

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12 Responses to Under siege at Algarve Cup, USWNT performance raises questions

  1. Brain Guy says:

    Fire the coach! Get a foreign coach! Revamp the developmental system! Overhaul the domestic league structure! Don’t play so many mediocre opponents!

    Hey, if it works for stories about the men’s team . . .

    • Christina says:

      You seriously want to fire the coach after two losses? That’s a little dramatic don’t you think? I get that we’re all worried and we want to see the USWNT win every game. And it is disappointing we lost to Sweden and Denmark, but its two games, this tournament is not the WC and its not qualifiers and, although we shouldn’t take it lightly, i think that Tom went into it knowing he was going to experiment. We know where are problems are, now we just need to find the right players to do it. We all need to relax and have faith in this team and in our coach.

  2. Alex H says:

    At least nobody can say that they weren’t given their chances, so when he finally decides on a team the decision will be accepted and the team can focus on the WC.

  3. Sheriff Bart says:

    The way I see it a a fan and supporter of US soccer I have 3 choices:

    1: Don’t get bent out of shape
    2: Give up on these loosers and start following womens roller derby
    3: Start screaming for Anson Dorrance to take over

    I’ll go with #1

  4. 2tone says:

    Oh dear lord the USWNT isn’t invincible? The overreactions are ridiculous.

    • Brain Guy says:

      But at least on the basis of the three posts above, I don’t see any (non-joking) overreactions.

  5. Joanne says:

    Yup, USWNT finishing hasn’t been there in the Algarve Cup and it’s a shame since we have high quality attacking players w/ great finishing ability. By the numbers it seemed that US had a lot more opportunities than their opponents, but I think that it could be misleading. After watching Sermanni’s post-reaction vs. Denmark, I kept hearing the phrase “dominated” possession, etc. And frankly I disagree with that was any sort of a dominating performance when the US have had simple issues like stringing together passes to sustain any quality build up.

    I would be curious to find out the stats when those shots and shots on goals occurred. In USWNT’s losses the first half was rather lackluster, and it seemed like a rash of those opportunities came in the final quarter of the match. It would then have coincided when the team were pushing numbers forward to score an equalizer/ goals. So that stat could be misleading. I watched both matches and USWNT did have many opportunities they didn’t finish, but I would also argue that the ending score line reflected the match play. Based on those performances, it’s hard to say that USWNT desired Ws or outplayed the competition.

    I would also date back the false comfort of home or the little issues back to Canada as well… but in the match in 2013 (Yes, TOR is not the US). Canada bunkered down and the US there also were stuck in the MF and the strikers had little opportunity to score. And if not for the fantastic 1v1 move and finishing ability of Morgan, that match could have ended totally different. The 3-0 score line made it seem like the US dominated the CAN match and that wasn’t the case.

    In a way, I’m happy they got a little reality check or re-evaluation based on the Ls. Because those Ls will help them with Ws in the future. Or maybe I should oooooohhh no! we need pia to see a bob dylan song and all will be alright.

  6. Joyce says:

    The last time I saw USWNT play as a cohesive unit was against Canada in Canada many months ago. They’ve been playing crappy since. Tom needs to find and identify his core units now. Enough of the experimentation with line ups. Algarve is the only tournament they participate in where they’ll meet some of the tough teams. This performance surely will affect their morale. He took a well oiled cohesive winning team into a disorganized unit. Stop calling up players who won’t make the final cut anyway, seriously. He is only mis-leading them and causing havoc to the team. Let this core team leave and breathe and play together again and gain back their chemistry. Where they can read each other very we’ll again. Stop distroying that by changing the line up game after game. Is there really a Plan here, Tom?

  7. E. Sullano says:

    Stop playing the game. Algarve Cup may not be the World Cup or Olympics but the teams are WC and Olympic caliber and rated. Every team in women’s football knows who the players are. All the highlights of each player can be seen online. No need to hide them. Algarve Cup is not a testing ground if new players can play with the veterans. Only high seeded teams play in it. We are not Australia. We are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

    • M. Webb says:

      Goodness that is a complete overreaction. Enough with the Chicken Little crap, the sky is not falling. Tom clearly decided to use the Algarve as a training tournament. The US is not gonna get by anymore by outmuscling and outrunning the competition. Knowing how to play good possession style soccer is absolutely vital now in order to stay one of the best in the world and in order to do that the entire system needed to be overhauled and this is just part of the process. The Algarve cup is in no way comparable to a WWC, Oly tourney or the Euros no matter what teams are involved. It doesn’t matter if you are Austraila, USA or Sweden…if you don’t adapt teams will eventually figure out how to beat you. TS is just trying to make sure that doesn’t happen on the world’s biggest stage. Relax, take a deep breath. They have 7 whole months to get a lineup set and ready for WCQ and even more time to prepare for the actual tournament. It’s really going to be okay.

      • E. Sullano says:

        I’m sorry Mr. Webb about my reaction. I’m pretty sure you are satisfied with the 7th place. I just don’t know when did the USWNT placed 7th in any tournament. Losing is part of the game. There are winners and losers . I don’t mind losing it’s just a game but finishing 7th or 8th in this tournament it says something not just making it as a try-out for new players. Well everybody has their own opinion and I respect your opinion.Thank you for reacting to my opinion.

  8. Liz says:

    For midfield, want most to see a swarming defense, faster pressure and on attack, keeping possession (the midfield giveaways are still a problem), patience, using teammates and finding the channels and clever passes. Forwards need to work on finishing, obviously. US Soccer does not post stats on S/SOG, so I cannot tell if this performance for the forwards was unusual, but all the other teams capitalized on far fewer chances. Defense- goodness me, the errors on defense were so fundamental and so pervasive, I am not even sure where to begin- but let me say that marking on set pieces, back line organization, midfield getting behind the ball when opponent has possession and pressuring the ball are sound defensive principles WNT should resume immediately.