The U.S. women’s national team produced an uninspiring group stage at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and now face a quarter-final date with powerhouse Netherlands as a result.
After winning one, drawing one and losing one game in Group G, the USWNT reached the last eight as group runners-up and must now overhaul a struggling side in time for Friday’s match with the Dutch.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovski must ensure his side improves defensively as they prepare to face a team that scored a mind-boggling 21 goals in three group-stage matches.
But the Dutch have also been vulnerable defensively, conceding eight times in those three matches to provide hope to a USWNT side that were uncharacteristically shut out in two of their three group matches.
Here is how the USWNT could line up against the Netherlands...
Andonovski wields the axe
Though several of the USWNT’s biggest stars had poor group stages, none were more glaring than Abby Dahlkemper and Sam Mewis.
Dahlkemper struggled in the USWNT’s first two matches and was rotated out in the third game against Australia. Tierna Davidson has stepped in and performed admirably in the team’s past two games, and Andonovski could choose to ride the hot hand and play Davidson alongside Becky Sauerbrunn at center back, with Dahlkemper remaining on the bench.
It would be a risk though, after Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper established themselves as the USWNT's unquestioned center-back duo in recent years.
Mewis has a more ready-made replacement in Lindsey Horan, and Andonovski may choose to keep Mewis out of the starting lineup and available as a late-game sub if the USWNT is chasing a goal off a set piece.
World Cup final redux
The U.S. could very well line up with the same 11 players that defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in Lyon two years ago to clinch the program’s fourth World Cup title.
That lineup would see Dahlkemper’s experience preferred over Davidson’s recent strong form, and Mewis in the team ahead of Horan. Despite her poor tournament thus far, Mewis’s height could help the U.S. out on set pieces against the ever-dangerous Vivianne Miedema.
Both Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe were quiet by their standards in the group stage, but there is no doubting their big-game pedigree and seeing the pair get the nod ahead of Christen Press wouldn’t be a major shock.
Turn up the press
The USWNT’s best attack often starts with their first line of defenders. The team’s forwards can create chaos by pressing their opponents' back line, causing turnovers high up the pitch that lead to quality scoring chances.
At this Olympics though, that press has been either ineffective or nonexistent. Needing just a draw against Australia, Andonovski dialed the press back and as a result the U.S. struggled to generate consistent chances in a 0-0 draw.
The Netherlands back line has been vulnerable this tournament, so a lineup that employs the best USWNT pressing options could do some damage.
Lynn Williams has not been used much in the Olympics thus far but her ability to harass the opposition back line is unrivaled in the USWNT roster. Carli Lloyd could also get a start at forward due to her adeptness at the press.
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