On August 12th, 2016, the Swedish Women’s National Team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in women’s Olympic soccer history, eliminating the World Champion USWNT in the quarterfinals of the competition (their earliest ousting ever). Almost a year later, the two teams are lining up against one another again, this time in the first of a series of European friendlies for the USWNT. And while many of the players are the same, this game could end up looking very different from the one played in Rio. The USA has had quite a few marquee players pull out of these friendlies due to injury, such as Alex Morgan, Morgan Brian, and Tobin Heath, as well as undefined absences in the case of North Carolina left-back Jailene Hinkle. The only substitute player pulled in from all of these absences is forward Lynn Williams, so the US roster is down to 19 players – a coincidentally small squad considering the roster cap for their last match against Pia Sundhage's Sweden. However, much of that roster is made up of players who didn’t feature in that game, but they could end up being the deciding factor in the re-match.
What the 3-back was built for
One of the major changes the USWNT made after their defeat in Rio was in the form of formational experimentation, particularly with a 3-back defense. The logic behind the shift is that it allows greater numbers forward in the attack, a direct response to Sweden’s success at ‘parking the bus’, frustrating the US forwards sufficiently that they couldn’t break the deadlock. However, the 3-back experiment went poorly during this year’s SheBelieves Cup, particularly against eventual winners France, and one has to wonder if the US will try to build on that experience, or find another way to take down the Swedes. Another factor in this possible shift will be in how the SWNT decides to control their own play; an international friendly doesn’t carry quite the same do or die attitude of the knockout round of the Olympics, and they might try to take their own shots at an admittedly inconsistent USA defense that has struggled to regain the locked-in form of the 2015 World Cup squad. Sweden comes with its own roster of heavy hitters, including Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Caroline Seger, FC Rosengard’s Lotta Schelin, and Manchester City striker Kosovare Asllani (who will earn her 100th cap for her squad).
Chemistry is key
Ultimately, USA head coach Jill Ellis has a number of options when it comes to how she wants her team to line up on Thursday; she could have Allie Long continue her journey as a sweeper-type center-back, or she could have the Portland natural midfielder pushed further up. She also has the option of slotting Julie Ertz in as a defensive midfielder, as she’s been filling that role with the Chicago Red Stars this NWSL season. She could also use the opportunity to see more of recent call-up Abby Dahlkemper, or try to capitalize on the red hot club form of Portland midfielder Lindsey Horan. The biggest issue is less personnel, and more about chemistry and fluidity of play. It’s unlikely the US is going to get out of this match without conceding one or two goals, but they may just have the firepower to finally take down a Sweden team that continues to have their number.