Training camp may have only lasted a week for the United States Women’s National Team and Head Coach Pia Sundhage, but two matches against Sweden this week provided insight into how the squad might take shape approaching the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.
Regulars like Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx and Amy Rodriguez reminded everyone why they are just that and rising names like Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger made a case for inclusion in the squad. There are, however, still many questions to be answered for Sundhage.
Starting from the back, goalkeeper is the most solid position for the United States. Hope Solo is still considered the best goalkeeper in the world and continues to prove that on the international level. Nicole Barnhart and Jillian Loyden are solid back-ups in the event anything unfortunate happens to Solo.
Defensively, there are several questions. Sundhage’s appointment of Rachel Buehler and Christie Rampone as captains for World Cup Qualifying solidifies what was already known: Both will play major roles in the team.
The U.S. has ample center backs, with Kate Markgraf, Amy LePeilbet, Rampone and Buehler as well as players with outside chances of getting a look in the fall, such as Cat Whitehill and Brittany Taylor. Buehler and Rampone seem to have the inside track, at least according to Sundhage.
“What is good with the whole team here is that you’ve got Kate Markgraf, Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler,” Sundhage said. “We have different options, so we can play them pretty much everywhere. So, that is comfortable going forward.”
If Sundhage cannot find an outside back that convinces her she is worth inclusion in the starting XI, Buehler may slide to the outside as she did for the final 20 minutes Saturday. On the opposite side, Ali Krieger was impressive Saturday. Her post-match comments indicate Sundhage likes what she brings to the table as well.
“There is good news,” a vibrant Krieger said Saturday. “I don’t know if I can say anything, but after, you know, this week and the week before in Cleveland, there are good things that can come I think and you know, she’s promised me some chances and then it is my job to prove to them that I belong there. So, once I get that invitation from them then it is my duty to show up and perform the best I can. And then after that it’s not in my hands anymore.”
Krieger looked great Saturday, but the sample size is small. Saturday was only Krieger’s fifth cap, while outside backs Stephanie Cox and more notably, Heather Mitts have 62 caps and 108 caps, respectively. If Mitts is healthy, she should have the inside track to a spot at right back and finally play in her first Women’s World Cup (she missed 2003 and 2007 due to injury).
In the middle of the park, Sundhage still wants to see Carli Lloyd when she returns to health (which should be soon after breaking her ankle in early May). Lori Lindsey has looked good in 2010, but has just nine caps (eight this year). Shannon Boxx will remain a fixture in the middle, so the question will surround who her partner will be.
The bottom line is that Sundhage will need another training camp to determine things before World Cup Qualifying comes around in late October (on still to be determined dates) in Cancun, Mexico.
“Well, yes,” Sundhage said of needing another training camp. “I would like to have Carli Lloyd back to give us a little more option in the middle but I have to say that Boxxy and Lori Lindsey did great today. They struggled a little bit last game, but more compact today. They did not run as much as they did the first game. So, it’s important to have depth on the bench, especially at center mid. Great to see Ali Krieger play in the Bundesliga and with that experience, coming in and having a pretty good game.”
Expect Megan Rapinoe and Heather O’Reilly to maintain their spots as outside midfielders, while legendary 39-year-old midfielder Kristine Lilly could still be used as a super-sub.
“Now, when I didn’t call (Lilly) up last year – now we’ve got some new players coming in and now when she comes back, we have the new generation blending with the old generation and I can see her, like she did today, coming off the bench going forward,” Sundhage said.
Up top, Amy Rodriguez seems to be the answer as Abby Wambach’s strike partner. She has two goals and an assist in nine games with the U.S. this year, but has worked hard off the ball to create space and provide speed as an over-the-top option.
Lauren Cheney has five goals in six games this year with the U.S., but has failed to do much with the Boston Breakers this season.
“And there will be more players competing for that spot I think in the future,” Sundhage said of the forward position.
That could include fringe players like Kelley O’Hara and even a suddenly hot Ella Masar.
However, the big question mark in this entire equation is Lori Chalupny’s health. She is still not cleared to play by U.S. Soccer doctors and two team spokesmen told me the same thing: It’s quite simple. She has not been cleared by U.S. Soccer doctors.
Meanwhile, Chalupny has previously been cleared for WPS play by Saint Louis Athletica and the Atlanta Beat. Different doctors have different opinions, but clearly there are some differences in opinions.
As of right now, here is a possible run-down of how the U.S. roster might look in World Cup Qualifying (assuming all are healthy):
Reserve options: Barnhart (GK), Loyden (GK), Krieger (D), LePeilbet (D), Cox (D), Chalupny (D), Lindsey (M), Lilly (M), Cheney (F), O’Hara (F)
Assuming a 24-player roster, that leaves three more spots on this hypothetical bench. With those, really anything could happen.
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