There were plenty of surprises in Vlatko Andonovski’s lineup for his team’s Olympic quarter-final against Netherlands.
The U.S. women’s national team boss opted to bench regulars like Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Christen Press, giving the little-used Lynn Williams a start at forward.
In defense, Andonovski stuck with the struggling Abby Dahlkemper at center back and surprisingly left her possible replacement Tierna Davidson off his matchday squad entirely.
Andonovski’s adjustments produced mixed results: Williams produced a huge performance, notching a goal and an assist, while Dahlkemper continued to struggle at the back.
The USWNT still managed to advance past the Dutch in a shootout after drawing 2-2 over 120 minutes. With a match against regional rivals Canada upcoming in the semi-finals, Andonovski has plenty of big decisions to make.
Here is how the USWNT could line up in their Olympic semi-final against Canada...
Stick with the top recent performers
Williams had only played 16 minutes in the Olympics before starting against the Dutch, but she made a compelling case to be given another start against Canada. Press and Rapinoe could continue on the bench after neither made much of an impact as substitutes against Netherlands.
After struggling through the group stage, Sam Mewis came up big with a headed goal against the Dutch. Mewis started in the midfield alongside Julie Ertz and Lindsey Horan, both of whom had strong games. Lavelle was surprisingly left out of the lineup after starting all three group matches, but she could continue in her role as an impact sub.
Defensively, it may be time for Andonovski to finally hand Davidson the keys at center back. Dahlkemper has not been herself for the entire tournament and Davidson has done enough in her two starts to justify taking Dahlkemper’s spot at center back alongside captain Becky Sauerbrunn.
Go with big-game experience
With the USWNT in a pressure-packed semi-final match, Andonovski could opt to lean on his proven performers on the big stage.
That means Carli Lloyd, the ultimate big-game player, could get a second straight start at forward. Lloyd has already scored the winning goal in two Olympic gold medal games and one World Cup final.
Another player who has scored the winner in a World Cup final, Rapinoe, could also be drafted back in despite her indifferent tournament in Japan so far.
In the back, Dahlkemper’s experience could see her preferred to Davidson, who, at 22, is the second-youngest player on the USWNT roster.
Focus on getting forward
Canada’s Olympic tournament, like the USWNT’s, has seen them reach the semi-finals by winning just one of their four matches in regulation.
Unlike the USWNT, which has been plagued by back-line struggles, Canada has reached the last four by focusing on defensive solidity. Most of Canada’s strongest performers in Japan have been defenders, like Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.
That means the U.S. must push to score goals against the Canadians or risk being shut out for a third game out of five at the Olympics. That starts with Mewis getting the start in midfield, with her height a potential problem for the undersized center-back duo of Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles.
Lavelle’s creativity in the midfield will also be desperately needed as will forward-thinking outside backs Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn, who must get involved in the attack whenever possible.
Press and Heath have a demonstrated ability to break down deep-lying opposition, which could see them get the nod over the likes of Rapinoe and Williams. Press's ability to track back will also be needed against Lawrence, one of the best two-way defenders in the world.