The young American team made a statement as to the depth of the U.S. Women's National Team program, playing an exciting end-to-end match that featured several painfully close misses combined with a solid defense marshaled by captain Michelle French.
The USA is tied with Sweden on points at four a piece, but possesses a much higher goal difference courtesy of last Friday's thrashing of the Czech Republic, and therefore can now win the tournament with a victory over host Australia in Adelaide on Thursday, Jan. 13. The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Local/3:30 a.m. ET at Hindmarsh Stadium, an Olympic venue for the 2000 Games.
"I was very pleased not only with the result, but also the quality of soccer that this team played," said U.S. coach Lauren Gregg. "The team was very disappointed not to win and that makes us even prouder of their effort. Our fitness was excellent and that really helped us press them at the end."
It was the first 0-0 tie for the USA since a scoreless tussle with China in Guangzhou in January of 1998 and only the 5th scoreless draw in the 218-game history of the women's national team. The last time the USA and Sweden met it also ended in a draw, that time 1-1 deadlock during the Algarve Cup in Portugal last March.
The USA out-shot Sweden 8-6 in the tightly contested match, but had a 5-1 edge in corner-kicks and goalkeeper Lakeysia Beene, despite numerous grabs on dangerous crosses, did not have to make a save. The two teams traded early forays with forward Mandy Clemens running at the defense to create two chances in the first seven minutes while Sweden's captain Malin Andersson pinged a free-kick off the outside of the right post in the 11th minute.
In the 21st minute Clemens turned the corner on her defender and raced toward the goal, but her skipping cross just eluded the sliding Sherrill Kester at the near post. It would become a theme for the USA in the match. Sweden had its best chance of the first half in the 31st minute when the USA failed to clear a cross and it bounced to Tina Nordlund, who miss-hit her shot, but hit it well enough to bounce it under the onrushing Beene. As the ball rolled toward the U.S. goal, Kester sprinted back to cover, and with a hook-slide, pinned the ball on the goal line, just missing knocking it in with the momentum of her body, before rising to her feet and clearing it up the field.
"The team is really responding well to this environment," said French. "Everyone is so excited just to represent our country and all of our Under-21 National Team experience has been really valuable. We're all dedicated and focused to try to beat Australia."
The U.S. midfield of Aleisha Cramer, Aly Wanger and Nikki Serlenga played a highly rhythmical match, giving the Americans a significant advantage in possession over the more direct Swedes, while repeatedly springing the forwards behind the defense.
The USA had a golden chance in the 33rd minute when Wagner picked off a square pass in midfield and put Clemens through on the right side of the penalty box, but her hard shot from a sharp angle was snagged by Sweden goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson. Another brilliant save by Jonsson denied Jen Mascaro in the 40th minute after a pinball session in the penalty box featured three U.S. shots. The ball bounced to Mascaro and her shot from four yards out seemed to get behind Jonsson, but the Swedish 'keeper reached back to pin the ball on the goal line.
The USA got around the outside of the Swedish defense on numerous occasions in the second half, most notably through Susan Bush, but couldn't connect on its crosses. The USA also avoided tragedy in the 77th minute when Nandi Pryce headed a bouncing ball off the U.S. goal line.
"The defense was solid all game," said Beene, who has played every minute of the USA's two Australia Cup matches so far and picked up the first shutout of her international career. "They really got stuck into tackles and won most of the air balls, which was very important against Sweden because they had some big players. I couldn't be more confident in the defense."
The Americans made a run at the tiring Swedes in the last 10 minutes with the best chance coming in the 83rd when Bush turned the corner and dribbled down the goal line toward the near post, but her cross sailed through the six-yard box and out of danger.
"All of our forwards had chances today, but we had trouble finding the seam with our final pass," said Bush. "We really need to be sharper on our finishing to beat Australia."
U.S. coaches Jay Hoffman and Gregg shuffled their back-line from the Czech Republic match inserting Nandi Pryce in the central defense with French while moving Kelly Lindsey to outside right. Along with defensive midfielder Cramer, they won the majority of balls in the midfield and back.
"This event is providing everything we could hope for," added Gregg. "It's giving our young players invaluable game experience as they keep giving us reasons to invest in them to help us win next summer and in the future."
In the nightcap of the doubleheader, Australia defeated the Czech Republic, 3-0, scoring twice in two minutes during the second half on a free-kick goal from Anissa Tann-Darby and a strike from Women's World Cup star Julie Murray. Sharon Black added a third just minutes from time. The match saw six yellow cards issued and one Czech ejection.
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||United States National Team vs. Sweden National Team|
|Competition:||2nd Australia Cup|
|Venue:||Bob Jane Stadium (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)|
|Date:||January 10, 2000 - kickoff 5:30 p.m. (local); 1:30 a.m. (ET)|
|Weather:||78 degrees - Hot, Humid|
USA - 18-Lakeysia Beene, 3-Kelly Lindsey, 4-Nandi Pryce, 11-Michelle French (C), 17-Danielle Slaton, 10-Aleisha Cramer, 7-Aly Wagner, 15-Nikki Serlenga, 13-Jen Mascaro (12-Christie Welsh, 46th, Veronica Zepeda, 78th), 16-Sherrill Kester (9-Susan Bush, 46th), 5-Mandy Clemens (Heather Aldama, 70th).
SWE - 1-Caroline Jonsson, 2-Karolina Westberg, 7-Cecilia Sandell (14-Jessika Sundh, 67th), 13-Hanna Marklund, 6-Malin Mostrom (11-Victoria Svensson, 56th), 3-Jane Tornqvist, 5-Kristin Bengtsson (4-Asa Lonqvist 64th), 9-Malin Andersson (C), 15-Linda Green (17-Linda Fagerstrom, 71st) 16-Tina Nordlund (8-Malin Gustafsson, 89th), 10-Hanna Ljungberg.