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Albanese: Sundhage faces tough choice between Buehler, Sauerbrunn

It’s not like Rachel Buehler is the only player that Brazil’s Marta will outrun. But in the United States Women’s National Team victory at the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup over Marta and Brazil in penalties, Buehler nearly cost her club victory.

Buehler was handed a red card for pulling down Marta in the box after the Western New York Flash striker cleverly flipped the ball over her former Women’s Professional Soccer teammate (FC Gold Pride, 2010) and raced past her to goal. We all know what happened after that; even with all the controversial events, the U.S. prevailed.

Pia Sundhage elected to go with Becky Sauerbrunn in the semifinal match vs. France in the absence of Buehler due to her mandated one-game suspension. France certainly dominated possession, but the United States still pulled out a solid 3-1 victory, only allowing a fluky goal by Sonia Bompastor.

On the goal, Sauerbrunn may have been in a bad position, leaving goalkeeper Hope Solo in a tough spot to make a decision on whether to attack the ball or hang back on her line. As a result, the ball found its way into the far side netting, equalizing the match at the time. Other than her gaff on that occasion, Sauerbrunn was serviceable in her efforts.

Buehler has clearly struggled in this, her first World Cup exposure. She’s a strong center back, but against world-class athletes with world-class pace, she has looked anything but her Buehldozer self. In the early going, with Buehler and Amy LePeilbet (WPS teammates with the Boston Breakers), opponents strictly focused on attacking their side of the pitch, and threatening the goal in the process. Lucky for the United States, Solo is one of the best keepers in the world.

After the struggles were evident, Sundhage flipped Buehler to the right central back, alongside the fundamentally-sound Ali Krieger, putting the veteran back Christie Rampone on LePeilbet’s side. That strategy worked. But offenses were still finding ways behind the defense.

In the win over France, with Sauerbrunn in the backline, the United States was chasing the ball all around the field, but France hardly ever made its way through the defense. All the created shots were with the defense still between the ball and goal. Now, whether that was France’s strategy — taking shots from distance — or the United States forming an invisible wall that the French could not pass — thanks to the addition of Sauerbrunn — it’s yet to be seen.

If you’re looking at the two, heading into the final vs. Japan, how do you take Sauerbrunn out? It’s not like she played any worse than Buehler. Against a quick Japanese club, Buehler could very well get exposed once again. If you’re coach Sundhage, who do you put alongside Rampone in the center defense against Japan: Buehler or Sauerbrunn?

On a conference call Thursday, Buehler made it clear that a decision has not been made, at least publicly

“No, I don’t know,” Buehler said.


Giovanni Albanese Jr. is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area and is the sports editor for Tri-City Voice newspaper in Fremont, Calif. You can contact him on Twitter @GAlbaneseJr.

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