Is it time to panic yet? The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team had maybe its poorest performance ever at the 2014 Algarve Cup, an important tournament held annually in Portugal.
U.S. finishes last in group. As reported by ussoccer.com, the American team finished in last place in Group B, drawing against Japan, then losing to Sweden and Denmark. The loss to Sweden came against former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, who is now coaching her native country’s team.
No top three finish for first time in over a decade. From 2003-13 the U.S. had won 8 Algarve Cups, finished second twice and third once.
43-game unbeaten streak ended. Before losing to Sweden March 7, the U.S. side had gone undefeated for 43 consecutive matches, over which time the squad was 36-0-7.
First two losses under new coach. The two stunning defeats of an American team that was the favorite to win the tournament were the first two under head coach Tom Sermanni, who is now 17-2-4 since taking over in January 2013.
Back-to-back losses. The U.S. team suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since 2001. This is a team that sometimes doesn’t lose two games in a whole year, much less two games in four days.
Allowing five goals for the first time ever. In falling 5-3 to Denmark March 10, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team allowed as many as five goals in a match for the first time in its storied history. The defensive organization for the U.S. squad was not up to standards.
Two-goal loss, first time since 2008. Before the 5-3 loss to Denmark, the last time the U.S. team lost by more than a goal was a 2-0 whitewashing at the hands of Norway to open the 2008 Olympic Games. However, the U.S. went on to win the gold medal that year.
Algarve Cup, how important is it? Other than the Olympics and the World Cup, the Algarve Cup is the most important international tournament the U.S. ladies play. It is a barometer of where the team stands relative to other soccer powers.
Alex Morgan out with knee injury. One consolation, if not an excuse for the losses, is that star forward Alex Morgan was sidelined with an ankle injury. She is arguably now the biggest offensive threat the U.S. has, and her absence was acutely felt, especially against Japan and Sweden.
Any positives to take away? There is no sugarcoating the disastrous performance by the U.S. squad. A draw and two losses in group play and a 7th place finish in a tournament the U.S. is accustomed to winning is simply unacceptable. However, the U.S. did dominate the game against Sweden territorially. The U.S. had 12 shots to the Swedes’ four and had seven corner kicks to Sweden’s one. But despite this Sweden won, 1-0. The U.S. side also dominated in possession and scoring chances against Japan in a 1-1 tie. Also the U.S. did not start all its best available players against Denmark, because the team had already been eliminated from playing in the championship game. So the result was perhaps not indicative of what the full top squad would have done.
Have to sort things out. Some of the younger players, such as the Mewis sisters (Samantha and Kristie), were integrated into the lineup. Coach Sermanni is going to have to determine which of the younger players can uphold the tradition of a team that has won two World Cups since 1991 and four Olympic gold medals since 1996. Some of the veteran players need to move on. Now that Heather O’Reilly has her 200th cap, she should retire from the national team. Captain Christie Rampone is also nearing the end, and because she may not be the best choice for the upcoming 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, she should retire from international play now, to give the younger players a chance to gain experience. Amy Rodriguez also probably should be moved aside in favor of younger prospects. It is even worth asking whether Abby Wambach, the greatest goal-scorer in women’s soccer history in international play, can remain at the highest levels for two more years to get through the next Olympic cycle. Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press may be the best forwards the U.S. now has. In midfield Megan Rapinoe’s performances are spotty, Carli Lloyd is still a dangerous and effective player, and Tobin Heath, the most talented of them all, is just returning after having been out of action for months. The defense is still the sore spot for the U.S., as evidenced by allowing Denmark five goals. And there is no reason for anyone to continue arguing that Hope Solo is the greatest goalie in U.S. history. She just is not the winner and dominant goalkeeper Briana Scurry was.
Surprising result. Few could see this coming, given how well the U.S. had been playing. But this has to be a wake-up call. With the women’s World Cup still over a year away, there is time to correct the shortcomings that showed up at the 2014 Algarve Cup.