Tom Sermanni's squad has encountered its first losing streak.
Just three days after the United States women’s national team lost its first game in a two-year, 43-game span, the USA dropped a second in a row on Monday in a 5-3 loss to Denmark. It was the first losing streak of any kind in 13 years by the American women, who last lost consecutive games in 2001 to Sweden and Norway.
The game was part of the Algarve Cup, an annual tournament held in Portugal which the USA had won three of the last four years. But the Americans have been out of sorts in this year’s edition. Goalkeeper Hope Solo allowed an uncharacteristic goal from distance against world champions Japan in the opener, a 1-1 draw last Wednesday. On Friday, a lone Lotta Schelin tally induced a 1-0 loss to Sweden.
On Monday, the Americans were down 3-0 after an abject first half against a team that had lost its first two games, courtesy of dreadful defending, a goal by Katrine Veje and a 3-minute double salvo from Nadia Nadim. The USA seemed to be gaining a foothold in the second half, coming out of the break looking more composed. And as Christen Press wriggled her way through traffic in the 51st minute and slipped in the 3-1, the tide seemed to be turning.
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Denmark, strangely, had made three substitutions at half-time – two defenders and their goalkeeper. But they remained clinical as Johanna Rasmussen beat Solo from the edge of the box, against the flow of the game. Sydney Leroux quickly brought the Americans back to their two-goal deficit, capitalizing on some defensive bungling. The USA dialed up the pressure further and Megan Rapinoe was gifted a simple tap-in to make it 4-3 in the 68th minute after more defensive malpractice from the Danes.
More even than the result itself, the general lack of form showed by the Americans is disconcerting on many fronts. There is plenty of time to set things right before next summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. But this swoon poses questions. Tom Sermanni was installed as the head coach in January 2013 after Pia Sundhage, who had lead the team to two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup final lost on penalties, returned home to manage Sweden.
Since taking charge, he has sought to rejuvenate an aging side and to implement a less direct, more possession-oriented playing style, in line with the evolution of the modern women’s game. Before the tournament, he told FOX Soccer that he planned on using the Algarve Cup to push the envelope further on that front.
But until the second half against Denmark, the American front line had been frightfully ineffective, in spite of boasting more talent than any other country in the world, and receiving its supply of scoring chances from some of the finest playmakers around. Certainly, star forward Alex Morgan is injured and the veteran Abby Wambach easing her way into the new year slowly. But in Leroux, Press and Amy Rodriguez, Sermanni still has three other strikers that would be the envy of any other coach at his disposal.
Attacking issues predate this tournament though. But they had been masked by solid results. In January, the USA beat Canada 1-0 but had the utmost trouble in forging chances, as the Canadians clogged the center of the field, disrupting American traffic. Russia tried the same approach in a pair of games in February. As it turned out, they didn’t have the talent to keep the USA at bay for 90 minutes, falling to 7-0 and 8-0 losses, but in both games they made things hard early on.
Form and performance at the Algarve Cup is not generally considered to be hugely significant. But it’s the only tournament-setting the USA will see until World Cup qualifying for the North American CONCACAF region kicks off in Mexico in October. That tournament isn’t expected to provide much of a test, however. The Americans won their qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics by a cumulative score of 38-0 over five games.
By the soaring standards of the American women, and within the context of their own excellence, they now find themselves in a crisis of sorts. On Wednesday, the USA will play for either ninth place or 11th place in the tournament.