The United States played to a fangless 0-0 draw with Sweden on Friday. Both sides had few chances on goal, and what chances did happen tended to go begging. Most of the game was a series of back-and-forth exchanges, all sound and fury signifying nothing.
The U.S. pushed hard in the dying minutes of the game; given another ten minutes they might have broken down Sweden's organized defense, but they were unable to do much with the 90+ minutes they were allotted, and so had to settle for a solitary point.
Julie Johnston: If she didn't already have a starting position at center back locked down, she surely would after this game. Johnston worked hard and made several crucial steps to break up play in dangerous areas. Her long ball game still needs some work, but that's a bonus, not a necessary.
Meghan Klingenberg: She didn't just save the United States' bacon, she saved the eggs, toast, hashbrowns, pancakes, and coffee too with her goal-line clearance.
Megan Rapinoe, sort of: Her creativity and spark waned as time went on and creativity and spark were two things the United States desperately needed to break this stalemate.
The defense: Both sides had a stranglehold on their defensive thirds. The Swedish especially kept it organized in the back, making it difficult for the United States to run in behind or pick out the seams for runners.
What Didn't Work
Almost everything else: The teams were deadlocked for nearly the entire game. The United States rotated through their entire cadre of forwards but between Leroux, Press, Morgan, Wambach, and Rodriguez, there was a disappointing lack of activity. Part of that was Sweden keeping everything so locked down, but part of it was the lack of movement and service from the United States. The US mid looked almost sluggish at times, trying to poke around Sweden's defense while they looked for an opportunity. There was decent activity up the flanks, but balls either went astray or never made it to their targets in the box.
What has to Change for the United States to Win
Morgan Brian is not a winger: So stop playing her like one. If Jill Ellis wants a right winger, may we suggest proven quantity Heather O'Reilly, or perhaps even Tobin Heath. When Heath is on her game, she brings much-needed creativity to the pitch and sows uncertainty in opposing teams.
Possession in the midfield: It needs to be better. It needs to be faster as well. The midfield was cut off from the forwards, unable to find a connection with them or even with each other. No person is an island, but the forwards certainly were.
Scorers must find their final touch: The United States had precious few chances on goal today and going into knockout rounds, they can expect that trend to continue. Shots on goal don't grow on trees and where the U.S. finds them, they have to pluck them and devour them with ruthless efficiency. Abby Wambach had perhaps the best bite at the apple with a typically Wambach-ian diving header after she subbed on, but Hedvig Lindahl was on her game and parried it over the bar.
The United States will face Nigeria in their final group game on June 16. The U.S. is sitting on top of the group with four points, but if they tie Nigeria and either Sweden or Australia wins, they could find themselves second in group, which would pit them against the winner of Group E in round of 16. The Group E winner is very likely to Brazil, and it would be nice if instead the U.S. could win group and play the third place B/E/F team.
United States: Hope Solo; Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg; Morgan Brian (Amy Rodriguez 59'), Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe; Christen Press (Abby Wambach 68'), Sydney Leroux (Alex Morgan 78')
Sweden: Hedvig Lindahl; Elin Rubensson, Amanda Ilestedt, Nilla Fischer, Jessica Samuelsson; Sofia Jakobsson, Lisa Dahlkvist, Caroline Seger, Lina Nilsson (Linda Sembrant 71'); Therese Sjögran (Emilia Appleqvist 75'), Lotta Schelin