U.S. team experimenting in friendly vs. Sweden
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's called a friendly, but the U.S. women's national team's approach to Saturday's meeting with Sweden in Arizona is nothing but business-like.
This is the team's last game before the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament, so it is using this match to experiment with a new formation and work toward its ultimate goal of securing a berth in London for the Olympics next summer.
"We need to start working on the system and kind of owning it a little more, and I think we've been working hard these two weeks now to be able to implement it against one of the best," defender Christie Rampone said.
Coach Pia Sundhage has adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation, switching from the team's usual 4-4-2 setup. Sundhage wanted to challenge her team and make a subtle change from the World Cup this past summer in Germany. So far, the players have embraced it.
"What it's supposed to do is provide us with more attacking opportunities, get more people involved in the attack, putting the personnel, the players that we have on the field, in a position to make them more successful, which in turn makes our team more successful," said forward Abby Wambach, who leads the team in scoring this year.
The U.S. team always can revert to its familiar 4-4-2 formation, which has dealt it great success, but the friendly is the perfect chance to test out a new strategy.
"When there's a turnover defending, that'll be interesting to see how we deal with that because [Sweden] does have some good players up top," Sundhage said. "This game will give us some answers, and we're just beginning that process."
All of the World Cup roster, minus goalkeeper Hope Solo, and nine other players have been in Arizona the past two weeks to prepare for the friendly. Solo just finished competing on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" but won't play against Sweden. She may, however, be in attendance for the game.
Eighteen players will dress for the match, and Sundhage expects to exercise all six substitutes. Her players coming off the bench proved to be an asset during the World Cup, and the U.S. will need that depth moving forward.
"We want to give them a chance," Sundhage said. "Even though it's just 10 minutes, it's such a big difference playing from sitting on the bench."
This is the U.S. squad's third match against Sweden this year, with both previous games ending in defeat for the Americans. Most recently, Sweden beat the U.S. 2-1 in group play at the World Cup. The loss snapped the U.S.'s streak of unbeaten matches in group play at 18.
"They'll give us a tough time in every aspect of the game," Wambach said.
Sweden will be without forward Caroline Seger, who is sidelined with an undisclosed injury. But the team still presents a potent attack, especially with Lotta Schelin up front.
"She's so incredibly fast her runs are perfect," defender Amy LePeilbet said. "She's usually right there on the line but with that pace, you really have to be prepared for those runs and read the game early."
Sweden is one of nine teams that already has qualified for the 2012 Olympics. European squads use the World Cup to determine Olympic participants, and because Sweden and France placed highest at that tournament, both were given automatic bids.
Although the U.S. and Japan made it to the final at the World Cup, both still must qualify for the Olympics. Other regions outside of Europe use qualifying tournaments, and the U.S. will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January to compete in the CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying tournament with other North and Central American and Caribbean countries.
Succeeding at that tournament is the main objective for the Americans right now, so they're eager to challenge themselves against Sweden and in the upcoming weeks of training.
"We want to make the right mistakes by being more risk takers in the attack, and if we can do that moving forward," Wambach said, "we'll have a much better chance of winning."