MAURA GLADYS - The USWNT writes the next chapter of their World Cup saga tomorrow when they take on France in the semifinals. This wasn’t the match anyone was expecting, but it should shake out to be an exciting one, due to the markedly different styles of the two teams. Here are three things to watch for in tomorrow’s game, and don’t forget to join us for a live chat during the game.
1. Can the U.S. recover, physically and mentally, from their game against Brazil?
Sunday’s game against Brazil was legendary. But 120-plus minutes of soccer in the hot sun, plus the emotional rollercoaster of a last-minute goal and penalty kicks can wear on a team, physically and mentally. The United States needs to go into Wednesday’s game focused and collected, not still riding high off the adrenaline of Sunday’s win. Recovery and fitness shouldn’t be that much of an issue. Dawn Scott has done an excellent job of cultivating a culture of recovery amongst the team, not just during the tournament but for the entire year.
2. Can the U.S. defense and midfield squash France’s fluid transition game?
Tomorrow’s game will be a clash of styles, with France playing a smooth, technically sound, tactically slick game, and the United States favoring an aggressive, possession-based style. The good news is that if the United States plays physical soccer, France cannot match them. But France can counter with it’s strong transition game and try to trip up the U.S. defense, which will feature the untested Becky Sauerbrunn in for Rachel Buehler. The key will be to stop French playmaker Louisa Necib. Almost all of France’s attack goes through Necib and she has free reign to roam the entire field and create where she pleases, so cutting off her distribution will be essential to quashing the French attack. That responsibility could fall to Shannon Boxx who looked surprisingly solid on Sunday, but struggled in the group stage. Another entertaining showdown will be on the right side with Heather O’Reilly matching up against veteran defender Sonia Bompastor. If Boxx and fellow center midfielder Carli Lloyd can stifle Necib, France will likely swing the attack out to the right and have Bompastor build the charge.
3. Will Pia Sundhage finally sit Amy Rodriguez?
It’s an issue that Pia Sundhage has managed to sidestep for most of the tournament, but after Megan Rapinoe’s performance on Sunday (And not just because of the cross to Wambach. She was a spark on the left wing for most of the second half and overtime), it just seems like there’s no room for Amy Rodriguez in the starting 11. Rapinoe’s play should earn her a starting role, and it would make sense to move Lauren Cheney up to forward and sit A-Rod, who hasn’t done much beyond waste chances in front of goal. But A-Rod is one of Sundhage’s favorites, so don’t be shocked if the striker against gets the nod to start, leaving Rapinoe on the bench as a super sub.