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Time for a formation change

Daniel Karell | Sports Editor

Through the first three weeks of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team has failed to live up to their previous standards.

Sure, the team achieved their goals of winning their group in the group stage and are in the quarterfinals of the competition.

But they’ve been very underwhelming along the way.

The U.S. needed a couple of moments of brilliance in the second half from winger Megan Rapinoe to pull away from Australia after a rough first half, couldn’t score against a Sweden team that, while defensively strong, did give up three goals to Nigeria.

Against Nigeria, the forward pairing of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan failed to pay dividends in the run of play. The game’s only goal was scored on a corner kick, where Wambach took advantage of her height and anticipation of the cross to score.

Last Monday, the U.S. again rebounded from a rather average first half to defeat Colombia, but despite their superior talent level to the South Americans, the USWNT struggled to hold onto the ball for long stretches and establish a rhythm. In addition, the USWNT played nearly the entire second half up a man, yet had only a slender advantage in overall possession.

While the team’s stars may complain about the playing surface – every match at the Women’s World Cup in Canada is being played on artificial turf – or the referees, it’s clear that the team’s formation and lack of cohesion is hurting the team.

The USWNT resembles more of an all-star team than a well-oiled machine. A team of talented parts on their own but in the group, not understanding their specific roles to lead the U.S. to World Cup glory.

Head coach Jill Ellis had 10 exhibition games in 2015 alone ahead of the World Cup to work on the team’s chemistry, but with Alex Morgan out of the lineup for the team’s warmup games, Ellis was unable to show USA fans what the team’s true best eleven would look like.

One of the bright spots so far in team USA’s defense has been the play of centerbacks Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn. Johnston, playing in her first World Cup, took the starting job when veteran Christy Rampone went down with an injury and hasn’t let go, playing with the passing vision of a midfielder and the aerial awareness and talent of a dominant defender.

Sauerbrunn alongside Johnston has been solid and steady the whole way, making life easy for Hope Solo.

But outside of the strong defense, it’s safe to say what’s going on right now for the USA isn’t working, and it’s time for Ellis to recognize this and make some changes.

Heading into the USWNT’s quarterfinal match against China on Friday evening, I propose that the U.S. change from their flat 4-4-2 formation to a more fluid 4-3-3.

Keep Abby Wambach in the center of the forward three, with Alex Morgan on the left and Tobin Heath on the right.

In the midfield three, put Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd as central midfielders with Lauren Holiday playing the holding midfield role right behind them, similar to the way Sergio Busquets plays at Barcelona.

And then keep the backline as it is, with Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg gunning down the wings to deliver crosses and Johnston and Sauerbrunn patrolling the backline.

This formation should give the U.S. a chance to take advantage of their strengths, superior speed, strength, and desire, while also giving players like Heath and Morgan the chance to attack defenders from their wide positions.

If the U.S. fails to make it to the World Cup final, this tournament would be considered a failure by the fans, and it would be a crushing blow to Wambach’s legacy. She’s the all-time leading goalscorer in men’s and women’s soccer international history, but she’s never won a World Cup.

If Jill Ellis makes the required changes this team needs, that can happen. But if not, it will lead to disappointing memories.

Reach Daniel at 937-378-6161. Follow him on Twitter @GNDKarell

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