This is it, folks.
The U.S. women’s national team has the chance to lift a trophy and lock up a spot in the 2024 Olympics on Monday against Canada. The United States and Canada are both undefeated at the Concacaf W Championship, each with four wins and a +12 goal difference.
What should you be watching for from the USWNT in this final? Let’s talk about that.
A CHANCE TO PRESS
We’ve seen glimpses of the U.S.’s press during this tournament, but rarely have we seen any sort of consistent high press or counter press from this team. Why? Because teams are afraid to play out of the back or even to hold much of the ball at all against the United States. Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, and Costa Rica were all at a pretty significant talent disadvantage relative to the USWNT and they all ceded possession.
On talent, Canada is much, much closer to level with the United States. They have quality players in every line and a number of dangerous attackers. Bev Priestman’s team dominated possession in all four of their W Championship games to date and while I wouldn’t expect them to do that against the U.S., they’ll be willing to use the ball for stretches.
A more aggressive Canada team means that there should be opportunities for the U.S. to press and create transition moments. That’s where this USWNT really thrives under Vlatko Andonovski.
Watch out for the United States in transition in this final.
WHO STARTS IN THE BACK?
I said it earlier in this tournament, but I think it’s time for Naomi Girma to start next to Alana Cook in the back. Girma has looked confident, capable, and, maybe most importantly, mobile during her minutes down in Mexico.
Becky Sauerbrunn is a hugely important figure for the United States, but I do have questions about her ability to defend in space. She was already exposed against Haiti (the only team that has really tested the USWNT even for short spells) at this tournament. Given the skill and speed that Canada has in the attack, I think it’s fair to question if Sauerbrunn is the right player to start next to Cook in the center of the U.S.’s 4-3-3 defensive shape.
I’m not sure that Andonvoski will make this swap. But with how strong Girma has looked in the back, I think this is the right time to change the guard in central defense.
If one thing is clear after almost three years of the Vlatko era, it’s this: the United States can be lethal in the attack if they stop crossing so much. At times in this tournament – especially against Jamaica and for stretches against Costa Rica – the U.S. found other ways to attack that didn’t involve forcing balls into the box from wide areas.
Sophia Smith was dangerous against Jamaica, taking advantage of chances to go one-v-one on the right side. Plus, Ashley Sanchez and Rose Lavelle drove forward in midfield and helped create opportunities. Against Costa Rica, the U.S. had some strong moves down the left side with Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh working together to pull the opposition’s right side apart.
They crossed the ball in both of those games, yes, but they also found other ways to create chances.
If we see more diverse attacking play from the U.S., with a mixture of transition attacking, off-ball rotations, central combinations, and smart crosses, they’re going to be almost impossible to stop against Canada.