No Pinoe, no Cheney, no big deal

pinoecheney

 

Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, in different ways integral stars of the U.S. midfield, are both suspended from Friday’s quarterfinal against China.

Each of them incurred her second yellow card of the tournament during Monday’s 2-0 win over Colombia. Under World Cup rules, that means both must sit out the next game.

Martin Rogers of USA Today writes: “Rapinoe’s energy and spirit have provided some of the brighter spots in a patchy U.S. campaign to this point, with the team having looked limited, static and over-reliant on its rock-solid defense.”

Megan Rapinoe vs. Australia, June 8, 2015. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Megan Rapinoe vs. Australia, June 8, 2015. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

While Holiday hasn’t been as active — Rapinoe had two goals in the Americans’ opening match against Australia — she’s a superb playmaker, a strong defender  and one of the team’s smartest passers, a mainstay, along with Carli Lloyd, in the central midfield.

Rogers says coach Jill Ellis will probably slide Tobin Heath over from the right wing to take Rapinoe’s spot on the left, and start Christen Press on the right.

Morgan Brian is likely to take Holiday.s place at center mid, perhaps in a chiefly holding role, which would enable Lloyd to play farther forward, which she prefers. Lloyd is a capable defender in the midfield, but she is most dangerous as a scoring threat.

There’s no getting around it: Team USA will be without two of the best midfielders in the world. Both could have been immensely helpful at finding the seams in a Chinese back line that, as Rogers writes, “has been among the most frugal in the tournament.” (For one thing, Holiday and Rapinoe take almost all U.S. corner kicks.)

But the real strength of the U.S. team so far in this World Cup — the strength that just might lift the Americans onto the champions’ platform  — hasn’t been its midfield. And it hasn’t been its forwards. It’s been the back line: Ali Krieger on the right, Meghan Klingenberg on the left, Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston in the middle, backed by Hope Solo.

Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Julie Johnston celebrate after defeating Australia, 3-1, June 8, 2015. ( Michael Chow/Usa Today Sports)

Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Julie Johnston celebrate after defeating Australia, 3-1, June 8, 2015. ( Michael Chow/Usa Today Sports)

That defense hasn’t given up a goal since the 27th minute of the United States’ opening World Cup match. (It’s given up just three in the last 13 games, going back to mid-February.) If the back line can keep that up, this team can beat anyone.

And besides, a starting midfield of Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, and Christen Press ain’t chopped liver. It’d be the envy of every national team in the world. Those four can be formidable, especially if Alex Morgan –who played all 90 minutes Monday for the first time in this World Cup — continues to regain her form running onto balls and finishing.

Heath is a wizard on the ball, the most technically gifted player on the team. Remember when she spun a Mexican defender around with this nifty move:

Press and Lloyd are scorers. Press is a natural forward with fluid moves and a graceful touch. Lloyd may have the strongest leg on the team, and she’s not afraid to launch from distance. She has more career goals than any other American who has played exclusively as a midfielder.

Ellis has used Brian primarily as a holding mid, part of the coach’s ongoing (and thus far unrewarded) search for the next Shannon Boxx, a role that even Shannon Boxx, at 37, has been unable to fill.

But Brian is extremely versatile. She was a prolific scorer at the University of Virginia, where she was a two-time Hermann Trophy winner. In her junior year, she led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 46 points on 16 goals and 14 assists. She scored in each of the Cavaliers’ four NCAA tournament games.

Morgan Brian got her first World Cup start against Sweden, June 12, 2015. (USA Today Sports)

Morgan Brian got her first World Cup start against Sweden, June 12, 2015. (USA Today Sports)

 

My prediction: USA 2, China 0

Advertisements

What do you think? Tell us!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s