After grinding out a 3-1 victory over Australia in their opening match, the United States will face a familiar foe Friday when they battle Pia Sundhage’s Sweden. Sundhage spent four years as the coach of the US between 2008-2012 and led them to two Olympic Gold Medals and a second place finish in the 2011 World Cup. Sundhage’s Swedes will come into their second fixture of the tournament with just one point from their opening match after a disappointing 3-3 draw against Nigeria. This match pits the number two team in the world against a fifth-ranked Swedish side and the winner will surely be the favorite to win this group of death.
You could argue that the Americans’ opening match could have gone very differently if it wasn’t for the play of Hope Solo. Early on in the match, the US keeper made several eye catching saves to keep the scores level, and then protect the slim one-goal lead they had. Solo put on this fantastic performance despite the recent controversy surrounding her in the media about her prior domestic assault charge from 2014. Chances are that the 33-year-old shot stopper will again be a pivotal part of the team’s next match as Sweden have already proven they can put the ball in the back of the net this tournament.
On the offensive side of the ball, one player that shined for the US against Australia was Megan Rapinoe. It was the 29-year-old’s heavily deflected shot that originally gave the US a 1-0 lead, and her second goal sealed the 3-1 victory. Rapinoe’s ability to find little pockets of space on the field and her creativity with the ball provide Jillian Ellis’ side with a dynamic offensive threat. The midfielder can just as easily flight balls into the penalty area for forwards like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan to get on the end of. If Rapinoe can replicate the form that made her an early star of the tournament on Saturday, the United States have a great chance to secure a spot in the knockout rounds against Sweden.
For the Swedes, a draw against a 33rd-ranked Nigerian squad would have been an absolute shock to the system. After getting an early 2-0 lead, a lack of ruthlessness from the Nordic side allowed the Nigerians to fight their way back to level terms. Sweden would again take the lead later in the second half, only for the African side to come back and equalize for a second time. The United States possess an entirely different level of talent than Nigeria, with all due respect to the African nation, and if Sweden make the same mental errors that allowed three goals last match, they will be in for a very long day Friday.
However, one of the positives that Sundhage would take away from that 3-3 draw would have to be her side’s ability to score from set pieces. Their first two goals of the match both came from corner kicks, granted that one of them was an own goal, and they are fully capable of wreaking havoc in the penalty area if the right ball is served in. Even on the third goal, it was a slotted cross that proved the pivotal pass for the Swedes inside the six-yard-box. The US will have to make sure to stay disciplined in the box, especially on corner kicks, if they want to shut down this Swedish strike force.
I just can’t pick against my American team. The US have a lot of momentum going into this match, and if star players like Rapinoe, Solo, Leroux and Alex Morgan play up to their potential the Americans are nearly unstoppable. US clinch a spot in the knockout stages with a 2-1 victory over Sundhage’s Sweden.