By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO
WNT vs Chile
Date: Sunday, June 16th
Time: 12pm ET
TV: FOX (main one)
Location: Paris, France
We wanted the U.S. to get off to a fast start in France. We wanted them to make a statement. We wanted them to build confidence. We wanted to get out of the opener without any injuries.
Check. Check. Check. Check. And we can add some giant fireworks for emphasis, please.
So, um, what now?
The World Cup is supposed to require a build-up. After all, nothing prepares you for the intensity of the biggest tournament in the sport and it’s been nearly a year since the team played a competitive match. You get your sea legs under you to start, then get better match by match so you’re peaking later on when it’s needed in the knockout stages. We saw that from the U.S. four years ago en route to their record-breaking third world championship.
This time around, they decided f**k that. And they’ll chart a new path.
The build-up is out. This is pedal to the metal, whoop everyone and everything in front of you from the start until the finish. Or at least it appears to be.
Can you imagine what the rest of the tournament if the Americans really are going with a build-up? If 13-0 was just the start?
More realistically, the U.S. will regress. They have to regress.
So let’s dial things back a bit and reset.
Thailand, the Americans’ first victim, is ranked higher in the FIFA rankings than the upcoming opponent Chile, but is difficult to put stock in the women’s world rankings. It can be skewed by so much by the funding the team has, be it for matches that can boost their rankings or for training camps and matches to build as a team. For some of these teams (hi, Chile!), the pre-World Cup training camp is the first time they really get to build as a squad, so what we see on the biggest stage really is their best and that is something the rankings won’t show. In all reality, La Roja Feminina are a better team than Thailand.
So Chile will give the U.S. a stiffer test. Not a stiff test, mind you, because Jill Ellis’ team should still cruise, but it will be more difficult. And everything can’t go right for them like it did in the opener. I mean, that took the stars aligning, in addition to having all the stars.
Putting the opener in the rearview (I know, just do it for this because if you don’t then after 13-0 nothing makes sense), the focus will be on maintaining rhythm again. Chile will put the Americans under a little more pressure on the ball, which means the midfield in particular will have to be quicker and tidier on the ball. Considering this team probably goes as far as the midfield takes them, it will be good to see them have to step things up a bit.
Is Rose Lavelle going to so easily move the ball forward as she showed on Tuesday? Does defenders get as far forward and essentially boost the numbers in the middle of the pitch by two or even three? Is Sam Mewis going to get another look and shine as brightly as she did in the opener? Those are all going to be worth watching.
More than anything, the key will be avoiding injuries. Nobody had any problems in the first match, except for Becky Sauerbrunn being held out because of a small niggle that they said wouldn’t have kept her out in a more important contest. Hopefully she can return and get her feet wet, but if any player is experienced, comfortable and smart enough to handle a small injury layoff it’s her.
And, just as a note because it’s important in every match, avoid any cards. Two yellow cards for any player before the end of the quarterfinals is a suspension and the Americans did a great job of staying out of the referee’s notebook in the first match. If they can do it again, they’ll have to feel really good about everyone being an option once those crucial knockout stages come.
Aside from that, it’s smooth sailing for the U.S. Just stay on track and keep playing like the defending world champions.
I mean, what else is there to say after you set a World Cup record in your opener?