By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO
Two matches. 16 goals. None conceded.
Jill Ellis could not have dreamt up a better start to the USWNT’s World Cup. And amazingly, the star player of those first two games may have been Christiane Endler, Chile’s goalkeeper. If not for her heroics, the Americans could have thrown another three goals or so on the scoreboard, so what’s going to happen when they play a goalkeeper who is a little more, well, mortal?
Well it’s time to find out. It’s also time to find out what happens when the other 10 players on the pitch are a little (okay, maybe a lot) better.
Thailand and Chile simply didn’t have the talent to really compete with the U.S. They did something amazing just by qualifying for this tournament, but few thought they’d really compete with the best. The same can’t be said for Sweden.
Ah yes, Sweden. Our group stage foe from four years ago, and the team that sent us to Olympic shame three years ago. How we know you well, and how we have known that winning first place in the group – which the U.S. will do with a win or draw – would go through you.
Sweden have had one big chance since those, Olympics though. Pia Sundhage is no longer their manager, which has to please the U.S. She knew more about the Americans than anyone else and even if that knowledge would not have been quite as extensive this time around, thanks to the slew of new faces on the U.S. side, it’s still comforting not to see her in the other dugout.
Sidebar: I still miss her and wish she would hop back into top flight coaching. The sport is better with her around.
But Sundhage is just the start for Sweden. Caroline Seger, Nilla Fischer, Hedvij Lindvahl and Linda Sembrant are all well into their 30s and this is likely to be their last World Cups. For such a key group of players, ones who have largely defined a generation for them, that is an impending monumental shift for Sweden. And, as age comes for everyone, it’s going to be worth watching if they are up to the grueling nature of a World Cup. If they’re not, this Sweden team could be softer than anticipated.
Softer of not, they should challenge the U.S. It will be the first time this World Cup we see the Americans take a punch to the face. The first time they can’t just run by everyone. The first time quick one-twos aren’t enough to break down a defense. And it’s for first place in the group.
It’s time to get our first look at what the U.S. is really made of. And it’s time for revenge for 2016. The World Cup has been fun, but now it gets tough.