It seems lately, the narrative about the United States women’s national team seems to revolve mostly around vengeance and making statements and proving things.
It’s an odd outlook for the reigning Women’s World Cup champions and a team that has dropped to second in the world rankings but usually sits on top of the pile. It’s strange also for a team that’s surely the deepest and most gifted on the planet – and perhaps in the history of the women’s game, considering the unprecedented wave of talent pushing through in the form of Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle and others.
Yet ahead of the friendly with Sweden on Thursday, the talk was of setting things right after the Swedes knocked the Americans out of the quarterfinals of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil on penalties. Indeed, this game was supposed to confirm that the crisis in form of the 2017 SheBelieves Cup, in which the USA dropped back-to-back games to England and France, is over. Because a pair of comfortable friendly wins over an undaunting Russian team in April is not unassailable proof of having turned a corner.
The Americans managed a tight 1-0 win over Sweden, thanks to Rose Lavelle’s second-half goal. But it was a hardly a game that suggested that Jill Ellis’ team is any nearer to becoming the dominant machinery we’ve come to expect once again. It’s worth remembering here that even at the World Cup, the U.S. made a stumbling start before it caught fire and romped to its first global crown in 16 years.
The USA created very little of note against a Sweden team that was predictably tight and organized, albeit toothless on offense until the late going. Only Carli Lloyd and Crystal Dunn had looks in the first half. Lloyd managed a harmless long shot and a run to the far post on a Meghan Klingenberg cross that she couldn’t redirect onto goal, while Dunn produced a hard, low shot that was parried by goalkeeper Hilda Carlen.
Meanwhile, two Swedish efforts didn’t trouble Alyssa Naeher in the American goal. She was, however, beaten by her own teammate Allie Long, who very nearly scored an own goal but stopped the ball on the line and casually dribbled away.
Long and the casual dribble out of the back. pic.twitter.com/LwB8uOCEom
— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) June 8, 2017
In the second half, the U.S. had all of one chance. In the 56th minute, Crystal Dunn set off on one of her signature runs at the defense before playing Lavelle through. In just her fifth cap, the 22-year-old finished cleanly for her second international goal.
— WomensSoccerUnited (@WSUasa) June 8, 2017
Late on, Sweden seemed to be closing in on an equalizer before running out of time. In the 86th minute, Naeher got a hand on Kosovare Asllani’s shot from a corner, pushing it onto the bar. And in injury time, Lotta Schelin very nearly had a free shot, but she was tackled off the ball by Long at the last moment.
It was the first time in five games that the Americans had beaten Sweden, but the win was probably also a bit flattered, on the evidence of an even game.
The enduring lack of consistency for the U.S. isn’t an issue yet. Two years remain until the Women’s World Cup comes around again. And there’s likely at least a year left until qualifiers for said tournament. This is the time Ellis should be experimenting and incorporating new players, which she is. But, even setting results aside, the meandering performances from one game to the next are not unconcerning.
Sweden may have been slayed – in a friendly. But most observers won’t be entirely convinced that this American team is back to its best yet.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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