The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup has been promoted on both sides of the border as being “life-changing”. On the US side, the resounding themes have been: redemption for the penalty-kick loss in the 2011 final to Japan; ending the 16-year gap since their last World Cup title; and providing the crowning achievement on the playing resumes of the team’s older players. The Canadian narrative has been focused on: building upon their bronze medal performance at the 2012 London Olympics to become a major player in the women’s game; inspiring a new generation of female players; and shaking off the last vestiges of their last-place finish at the 2011 World Cup in Germany. So how will these two teams fare over the next month, and which one (if either) will be standing atop the podium in Vancouver on July 5th?
Let’s start with the US. As a number of us in the women’s soccer community have decried over the past three years, this team has gotten a little long in the tooth and needed some re-generation of the roster in order to make an effective push to win in 2015. The hiring of Tom Sermanni signaled what was supposed to be a transition from Route 1 football to possession-based play with younger and more technical players. After 14 months, though, the US Soccer Federation dismissed Sermanni (read this piece of mine from last year for my opinion and some of the back story) and handed the reins over to Jill Ellis, who kept some of Sermanni’s philosophical changes while also doubling-down on the team style and players that won the gold medal in London as her approach to winning in Canada this month. The truth is that “we have what we have” and thus must play with the hand dealt. For the US to lift the trophy in four weeks, they must play to the strengths this roster provides. Abby Wambach will need to play up to her capabilities and in sufficient amounts to negate the lack of a defensive-oriented player in the midfield (Lauren Holiday, despite her immense offensive skills, has been asked to nominally play this position in lieu of using Carli Lloyd or a center back such as Julie Johnston or Becky Sauerbrunn there). Alex Morgan’s health is a concern, but Christen Press has proven through NWSL play and her few chances up top for the US that she is capable of scoring in bunches. Hope Solo will need to be at her best and perhaps steal a game somewhere in the knockout rounds. In the end, the midfield deficiencies will catch up to the Americans when they face a team that either can match their physicality (Germany) or is more technical than them (France, Japan) and I see a loss in the semifinals.
On the other side of the 49th parallel, Canada’s hopes ride on the collective efforts of a number of players. Christine Sinclair has carried this squad for a number of years and will need to be at the height of her powers in this tournament. Additionally, Erin McLeod must have the month of her life in net in order to provide stability to an inexperienced center back pairing of Keidesha Buchanan and Lauren Sesselmann. On the other side of that equation lies Desiree Scott, whose ability to shield the center backs will determine how offensive the front five can be or if Kaylyn Kyle will need to be deployed as a second defensive midfielder. In the attack, Sophie Schmidt in midfield and Melissa Tancredi up top are the team’s best options at diverting opposition attention from Sinclair and, should they prove threatening, boost the Canadians’ offensive prowess. Yet, for all of that, Canada’s finish in this tournament rests on one player: Diana Matheson. If she is able to play and do so effectively, this team can pull a similar surprise to that in London and make it to the third-place match. If not, then Canada will operate much like we saw yesterday against China, in that it will be a slog through the group phase with the hope of a favorable match-up in the round of 16 and an eventual exit in the quarterfinals.
That’s my take, what’s yours?