Those hoping for a United States meltdown after a 2-2 tie with Colombia in the third game of the Olympics will be disappointed, according to Anson Dorrance. Move along. Nothing to see here. Everything’s fine.
“I don’t think the draw will derail us at all,” says Dorrance, the head coach of 21-time NCAA champion University of North Carolina and the 1991 World Cup-winning U.S. squad. “The Colombians didn’t really generate a scoring chance. The attack was fine; the defense was fine. I don’t think it’s going to affect them at all. Basically, it was a throwaway game.”
With the United States assured of advancing to the quarterfinals with at least a draw against Colombia, head coach Jill Ellis kept Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg and Julie Johnston on the bench, and rested Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd for a half each – plus rest for Allie Long – ensuring they will be fresh for the quarterfinal meeting with Sweden on Friday.
“I thought it was a really good move by Jill to rest the players she did,” says Dorrance. “She rested the kids she knows will be game-breakers for the rest of the tournament. If you have a throw-away game in a five-game tournament you’ve got to use it. She had an opportunity to use it. She did, and I think it will pay off.”
Resting Morgan and Heath also created opportunities for two players playing in their first major international event – Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. And their performances, Dorrance believes, will have a positive impact on them as well as the team at the just the right time.
Dorrance knows confidence can be fragile, especially among those counted on to score goals. Some players play well because they are confident, others are confident because they play well. Whatever the particular case with Dunn and Pugh, they are now more confident after the Colombia game.
“What I thought was good about that game was Crystal Dunn and Mal Pugh both had good games and that’s important,” he says. “Mal Pugh didn’t really have a good game in the first game. So for her to play well – along with Dunn – bodes really well for the U.S. The most positive thing is that they both scored.
“Morgan and Lloyd have scored already. Heath, I think, has been our best player. Rapinoe got some minutes. You want to be firing on all cylinders, and I think we are. The entire roster has been in games. It’s been good a coaching strategy by Jill.”
Dealing with the howler
It doesn’t take someone with Dorrance’s experience, or any extensive film review to figure out the reason the U.S. didn’t win the game. The reason was glaring. It was that odd performance by goalkeeper Hope Solo on two direct kicks, the only two chances Colombia could muster. Both were by Catalina Usme, who by the way, was obviously not taking the first free kicks of her life.
The first was from outside the box that went through Solo’s legs, an unimaginable mistake for a keeper widely viewed as the world’s best, especially coming off the performance she turned in against France. The second was another free kick from a severe angle that Solo misjudged in the 90th minute.
“It was just a howler by Hope,” says Dorrance. “I don’t think that’s going to happen again. I think Hope is going to return to her normal game. And in her normal game, what is she? She’s the best goalkeeper of all time. I think she has the mentality to bounce back.”
After the game, Solo told NBC she is “going to have short-term memory” about the game. Dorrance sees that a positive approach by a veteran goalkeeper.
“I think that’s very clever,” he says. “I think that shows her experience and it also shows her confidence. She will basically blow it off, and she’s capable of that. I predict she will come back really strong and have a good game.
“Hope’s performance is the only one we should be concerned about — except it’s Hope Solo,” Dorrance says. “What I love about Hope is she has this kind of positive arrogance. That’s a quality that’s going to protect her right now. Honestly, I’m not worried about Hope.”
The Pia advantage
Next up for the United States is Sweden. Coached by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, the Swedes, by all accounts, have struggled so far. They went 1-1-1 in group play, scoring twice and allowing five goals. In the opener, it took the Swedes 76 minutes to break down South Africa for a 1-0. Then they went down 5-0 to Brazil before Lotta Schelin scored in the 89th minute to account for the 5-1 loss. Sweden finished group play with a conservative, goalless tie against China, good enough for both teams to advance to the quarterfinals.
Recent history, though, shows the U.S. has not defeated Sweden in their last three tries – a 0-0 in the 2015 World Cup, a 1-0 loss on March 7, 2014, at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, and a 1-1 draw on March 4, 2013, again in Portugal. A longer look at history shows a 40-game rivalry dating back to 1987. The USA owns a 22-6-12 advantage.
“Even though Pia knows the U.S. team very well, and that will give Sweden an advantage, I think the U.S. is going to be motivated,” says Dorrance. “The last time the U.S. played Sweden, it was a tie. That will be a fantastic motivation for the U.S. They will have something to prove.”
Motivated and rested is a combination Dorrance feels will be too much for Sweden to overcome.
“Now with Dunn’s confidence built, with Pugh’s confidence built, and with Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Allie Long, Meghan Klingenberg and Tobin Heath back in the game, I think we could play like we were shot out of the cannon,” he says.
“I don’t think it will be a particularly difficult match-up for the United States. They won their most difficult match-up when they beat France, and France is a better team than Sweden.”
Dorrance, 65, has coached close to 1,000 games in his career that’s spanned 37 years between the UNC women’s team, the UNC men’s team (12 years) and the U.S. women’s national team (65-22-5 in eight years). He’s won more than 90 percent of those games, so he understands winning and losing.
“Trust me, there are 1,000 ways you lose a soccer game,” he says. “And as I mention every time I make a prediction, anything can happen in a soccer game, but here’s what I know — I know we will dominate Sweden, and usually if you dominate, you win.”
Tim Nash is a freelance writer and author of the new book, “It’s Not the Glory, the Remarkable First Thirty Years of U.S. Women’s Soccer.” For more information, click here
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