Despite an opening win over Australia, the United States women’s soccer team is targeting an improved performance when taking on Sweden in its second 2015 World Cup Group D match in Winnipeg on Friday. The U.S. beat the Matildas 3-1 thanks to two goals by Megan Rapinoe but struggled to get going and was outplayed for much of the opening 45 minutes. And the challenge promises to be even tougher when going up against the world’s fifth-ranked team.
“We had some newer players on the field in a big, big moment,” coach Jill Ellis said after the victory over Australia, reports FIFA.com. “I didn’t think we really played with a rhythm or a sense of calmness. “We looked a bit nervous. The important thing is that we grow and that second half is something we can build upon.”
The match with Sweden has added spice thanks to the presence of Pia Sundhage on the Sweden bench. Sundhage coached the U.S. for four years, taking the team to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 as well as coming within a penalty shootout of beating Japan in the final of the 2011 World Cup. The Swede left the job to take up the challenge of leading her own country three years ago, but has made some potentially inflammatory comments about some of her former team ahead of their reunion on Friday.
In an interview with The New York Times Sundhage stated that 35-year-old striker Abby Wambach, who was in the lineup against Australia, wouldn’t be starting if she was still coach. She also described midfielder Carli Lloyd as a “challenge to coach” and controversial goalkeeper Hope Solo as one of the most challenging players she has worked with, “especially when it comes to trouble.”
Despite her continued off-pitch issues, Solo was superb against Australia, making two exceptional saves to keep her opponents at bay in the first half. While the defense looked vulnerable, the U.S. attack also struggled to pose a consistent threat. But there is reason for optimism for Ellis and her team, thanks to the return from injury of Alex Morgan.
The star forward, who earlier this year became the third-fastest American to reach 50 international goals, had spent two months on the sidelines before coming off the bench for the final 11 minutes against Australia. After the team’s final warm-up friendly at the end of May, Ellis stated that Morgan would have to build her fitness during the tournament, and thus it remains to be seen if the 25-year-old will be thrust into the starting lineup as early as the team’s second match. However, it is clear that the team could use her presence.
And Sweden could very much use a positive result on Friday. Coming into the tournament with high expectations after reaching the semifinals of Euro 2013 and recording a 1-0 win over the U.S. last year, Sweden were given a surprise by Group D’s lowest-ranked team, Nigeria, in its opening match. Despite leading 2-0, Sweden was constantly given problems by a quick Nigeria attack, and eventually had to settle for a 3-3 tie.
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox, NBC Universal