Preview: USWNT Take On Mexico in California

Rochester, NY - September 18, 2014: The USWNT ..  Mexico  at halftime of their international friendly at Sahlen's Stadium.

By MC Bousquette
USWNT Beat Writer

The countdown to Canada 2015 is almost over as the USWNT take on Mexico this Sunday in their second to last friendly match before World Cup play begins.

Tomorrow’s match against Mexico will be noticeably more difficult than last weekend’s encounter against the Republic of Ireland, in which an underperforming USWNT squad emerged victorious 3-0. The young Mexican squad, who will appear at the World Cup in June, have a plethora of young talent. A majority of the team plays for NWSL sides, including experienced Sky Blue FC forward Monica Ocampo and Washington Spirit forward Veronica Perez. Ocampo is an offensive threat to watch, and was awarded Sky Blue FC’s Golden Boot. Defensively, the Mexican side will require the USWNT to attack creatively – 23-year-old Washington Spirit’s Arianna Romero is a skilled young leader on the back line. There will be no shortage of challenge to the USA from this Mexican World Cup squad.

The theme of the USWNT’s front line uncertainty continues into tomorrow’s match; usual starting striker Alex Morgan will not make an appearance in an exercise of caution as she heals from a bone bruise in her knee. Abby Wambach, who has chosen to train by herself rather than play this NWSL season, scored two of last match’s three goals. She did not appear in perfect form, although she is likely to start tomorrow after shaking off the rust in the past week’s team training.

The bigger question will lie in the choice of who to start alongside Wambach. Amy Rodriguez opened the match last Sunday, but did little to stand out. Sydney Leroux replaced Rodriguez in the second half, and was definitely more noticeable with almost-immediate movement into the box, but, overall, the failure of the midfield to connect with the front line squandered many opportunities for Leroux before they began. Look for Leroux to start up top as Coach Jill Ellis continues to experiment in hopes of finding an answer.

Another key facet of USWNT success is the effectiveness of the midfield at creating opportunities by feeding to the front line, executing on set pieces, and completing chances on goal. The starting midfield, who likely will again consist of Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Holiday, and Christen Press need to solidify. Holiday did not play well against Ireland, failing to connect in forward pushes. Lloyd shot repeatedly from her usual sweet spot at the top of the box, yet missed high each time. Rapinoe and Press were positive forces, who will need to repeat their tactful shots and distribution in the box to help lead the forward attack.

The US squad was defensively strong against Ireland, with the back line of Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Ali Krieger looking as secure as ever, with Hope Solo in goal. 23 year old Johnston continued to shine, scoring her third international goal, while Krieger appeared healthy in her first start back from a concussion. The back line have proven themselves consistently dependable, and Ellis will almost surely maintain this same four.

The bottom line from last weekend’s performance is that the US needs to focus on effective connections into and within the final third, including execution of set pieces. With only two matches remaining to find a groove before the World Cup begins, the USWNT must hit the ground running tomorrow at kickoff.

The United States take on Mexico Sunday, May 16th, at 9pm EST (Fox Sports 1, Galavisión).


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