Straphangers by Liniers
Rebecca Weld’s Nantucket-themed decorated cookies.
After the USWNT’s performance at the Algarve Cup (ending their two-year unbeaten streak; not winning a game in group stage; two consecutive losses — which hasn’t happened since 2001; conceding five goals in the Denmark loss — the USWNT have never conceded five goals before; and placing last in their group), a change obviously needs to happen.
I don’t think it’s a crisis or panic time. We have a great roster. At the Algarve Cup, I think we definitely missed some players who weren’t there. I think we were a bit unlucky. But, ultimately, I think the solution is that Sermanni needs to finally decide on a relatively set starting lineup.
Since he became the coach he’s been trying out different lineups (pretty much every game is a different one) and giving more players a chance — including players that previously didn’t get much attention under Pia, as well as brand new players (even college players). His problem, if you can imagine, is he’s had too many good people to choose from.
It’s nice the team has so much depth. Up to this point, there hasn’t really been a problem with Sermanni changing the lineup so much. All of 2013 he was trying out different players and the team never lost a game. However, when the team gets into trying situations and faces adversity (e.g., getting drawn into a really tough group at Algarve; missing players due to injury and family obligations, such as Alex Morgan and Lauren Holiday; being frustrated by a skilled opponent that decides to mostly defend, clog up the midfield, disrupt the US’s rhythm, and then pounce on a counterattack), I think it would help to have a lineup that knows how to work together well.
That seemed evident in today’s 5-3 loss to Denmark. Individually, all the US players that played on the backline are excellent defenders. But they didn’t seem to always be on the same page. Denmark players were left unmarked and there were holes in the defense. The backline was often not together on the offside trap, with one player usually hanging too far back. I think the team would benefit by having a pretty set backline, so that the players have more awareness of each other and know the movements/habits of the people next to them. Conceding five goals means the defense isn’t organized. It’s hard to be organized when you’re playing next to someone new each game. (That’s not to say the defense is solely responsible for the loss. The offense definitely needs to finish chances — which also comes with playing next to someone you have a good rhythm with.)
My hope is that Sermanni will soon pick his starting XI (or at the very least narrow it down). He can make adjustments, of course. World Cup qualifiers are in October. But he should start deciding on a fairly consistent lineup — no more 3 different backlines for 3 consecutive games. Let this XI learn to play alongside each other, communicate with each other, and established a good rhythm so that they can become a well-organized team (particularly when the game gets frustrating against tough opponents).
I know it will be hard to make final decisions because the roster is so deep and each position has strong contenders. But I think the experimenting phase (which was all of 2013 and up until now) needs to wind down — lots of players have had a chance to make their case — and it’s now time to pick the team and fine-tune it.
It was hard to pick, but my starting XI would probably be:
Goal: Hope Solo
Defense: Ali Krieger (right), Becky Sauerbrunn (center), Christie Rampone (center), and… well, left back is kind of a tough choice for me. I think Stephanie Cox has been looking pretty solid (though some errors have resulted), but I thought Kelley O’Hara did a great job there before her injury (I was impressed at how quickly she learned that position). I feel like she has more speed and can chase down defenders and move up the flanks more quickly for a counterattack. So if both are perfectly healthy (which K.O. is not quite all the way back), O’Hara has the speed but Cox has more experience at defense. So that’s a tough choice.
Plus, I think Ali Krieger wins the spot for right back, but I’ve been really impressed with Crystal Dunn. She did play briefly at left back, but Crystal has mostly been playing right back. If she could possibly train more at left back, having Crystal Dunn & Ali Krieger on the flanks might be interesting. (But then again, that leads to more experimentation and I’ve been arguing it’s time to start making decisions. However, qualifiers aren’t until October.).
I think Engen does a really good job at center, but I think Sauerbrunn & Rampone are a little bit better of a pair (and Rampone brings more experience). If Rampone doesn’t play, I think the center should be Sauerbrunn & Engen.
Midfield: Heather O’Reilly (right), Carli Lloyd (center), Lauren Holiday (center), and Megan Rapinoe (left).
I like Carli best in the attacking/offensive mid role (I think she’s a good playmaker/number 10), but I feel like Lauren doesn’t do as well as a holding/defensive mid. So if she’s going to play, offensive mid is her best spot (she has an offensive mindset and can be a very creative player in that position). So that pushes Carli to holding mid. If I want Carli in the offensive mid position, then it would probably be Yael Averbuch as holding mid (or veteran Shannon Boxx, if she comes back from injury & maternity and is fit. Two big ifs). This is Yael’s natural/preferred position. Morgan Brian has played that spot a few times, and while I thought she did a good job, she seems more suited for (and probably prefers) the attacking mid position.
Offense: Some combination of Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Abby Wambach.
I think all of those players play well together. All three permutations (Alex + Syd, Alex + Abby, Syd + Abby) seem to get results. Abby helps set up Syd/Alex for breakaways, plus Abby can put away crosses from Syd/Alex. She’s a good aerial force, as well. Syd and Alex have the speed to get past the opponent’s backline. They’re great at breakaways and drawing defenders away, leaving other players open.
I think Christen Press is a fantastic forward and goal scorer. However, in my opinion, she doesn’t seem to pair as well with Sydney or Alex. They don’t seem to have much chemistry, or play off each other. They seem more like two forwards playing alongside each other, as opposed to playing together. They don’t set each other up as much. I don’t know if that’s a result of them simply not having much playing time together, and with more time alongside each other they would click. I don’t know if there’s a competitive relationship with each other — where one doesn’t want to help the other look too good. For instance, passing to Syd could result in her scoring and not Christen, so Christen elects to take a shot when Syd maybe had the better position (and vice versa with Syd). I have no idea if this is the case, it’s just a possibility based on how they play together.
Obviously Syd and Alex (and Abby) are competing against each other for spots too, but I just feel like Syd & Alex have more of a rapport/connection on the field than Syd & Christen / Alex & Christen. That could possibly change as they play together more (Algarve is the most Christen & Syd have played alongside each other), but as is, I feel like some combination of Alex/Syd/Abby up top is probably the most productive. Christen and Abby seem to pair up fine, but I don’t feel it’s a good enough pair for Alex or Syd to start on the bench. At the very least, I think Christen would be a good sub.
[P.S. If I haven’t mentioned a player, it doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re good. I just feel another player is currently a better fit for that spot. For instance, I like Kristie Mewis as a player, but I just feel like she’s not first choice for left back or a midfield wing. Players not mentioned would make good subs or alternates.]
[Q: What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?]
I have not read most of the big 19th-century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping.
(Illustration by Jillian Tamaki)
"The great story about [this song] is that Cameron Crowe took Jackson Browne to see the movie, and when that scene comes on, Jackson Browne elbows Cameron Crowe and says, ‘Man, I used to play like that.’ And Cameron Crowe goes, ‘It is you!’ He forgot that he had played on the song. He got so caught up in the movie that he lost his own sense of history."
— Randall Poster, music supervisor for Wes Anderson films
Ben and the Iron Throne extended version/deleted scene from this week’s Parks & Recreation.
The original scene (starts at 1:46):