The U.S. meets England at 4:55 a.m. Saturday on ESPN2 in the World Cup quarterfinals as the knockout phase of the tournament begins.
South Bay resident Brian Boswell, coach of Women’s Premiere Soccer League team Ajax America Women agreed to provide a pre-match analysis for 100 Percent Soccer.
Ajax America Women are the current U.S. Open Womens Cup Champions and ranked No. 4 team in the world by Womensworldfootball.com.
Under Boswell, Ajax America Women have won the U.S.Womens Open Cup five times since 1998. Boswell is ranked the No. 5 womens coach in the world behind U.S. coach Greg Ryan by the same ranking service. Boswell is a native of London, England.
Former South (Torrance) High star Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach played for Ajax America before joining before the U.S. Womens team camp.
Here’s Brian’s view of the contest:
One of the tournament favorites, the U.S., plays an up and coming England team, with the Americans winning their group and England finishing second to a powerful Germany.
Before the start of the tournament forecasting this result was easy, with the U.S. ranked No. 1 in the world and unbeaten in 42 games playing the tenth-ranked England team who just made it out of Europe to qualify for the World Cup.
But now the tournament has started things are a little different.
The U.S. battled to a tie with North Korea in their first group game after being 2-1 down. The U.S. was lucky not to concede a third in the final minutes to a Korean team that had more possession, better movement off the ball and matched the U. S. athletically.
The second game against a Swedish side that plays similarly to the U.S. finished with a fairly comfortable 2-0 victory for the Americans.
In the third game a deflection off a soft shot gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead against Nigeria after 57 seconds and the Americans were able to hold onto that lead for the next 90 minutes.
England also tied their first game against Japan after being ahead twice. Japan tied the game with two great free kicks from just outside the penalty area, although England should have won.
Englands second game was a 0-0 tie with Germany which had just come off of an 11-0 demolition of Argentina. England defended for most of the game but was able to keep the free-scoring Germans at bay.
Englands third game was a 6-1 thrashing of hapless Argentina.
So how do they match up now?
The U.S. certainly has not hit their stride yet. Is it the pressure of being pre tournament favorites or knowing they were in the group of death with the third, fifth, and nineteenth ranked teams in the world? Or the expectations of their soccer playing homeland that feel anything less than a championship would be failure?
I think it was all these.
I have got to know a number of the U.S. players and I know the pressure and expectation has been intense. Comparisons with previous American teams have also been thrust upon them. Can they compare with the teams of Mia, Julie, Brandi, and Joy etc.?
All of these factors heaped upon the shoulders of the least experienced team the U.S. has sent to a World Cup since 1991 made for a difficult beginning to the tournament. The group of death has gone, it’s time to play. I think it is easier now the games are must win.
England is certainly living up to expectations. They had a tie that should have been a win against a Japanese team that was almost playing at home. A great game against Germany and a resounding win against Argentina.
How do the teams stack up against each other?
U.S. Coach Greg Ryan has tinkered with the formation playing 4-3-3 against North Korea and reverting back to a more comfortable 3-4-3 against Sweden and Nigeria.
The U.S. plays forward quickly and has great attacking options in Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly.
The problem in the early games is that the defense was bypassing the midfield and going straight to the forwards, asking too much of the forwards without support from their midfield. Im sure that in the last few days the coaching staff has emphasized more midfield possession and playing the ball wide earlier. The nerves should be gone and the confidence to play the ball out of trouble will again be apart of the U.S. game. Abby and Kristine will get more support and you will see Carli Lloyd become much more of an attacking option. The U.S. is the fittest, most athletic team in the tournament and when their game comes together they will be very, very difficult to beat. They need to possess the ball more and not rush to get it forward.
England on the other hand seem set in their 4-4-2 formation.
They possess the ball well, but I feel with the U.S. pressure this will become more difficult.
Look for them to defend in numbers and try to hit the U.S. on the counter attack.
They rely greatly on Kelly Smith (four goals so far) who is one of the best-kept secrets in the World Cup. Kelly was with Philadelphia in the WUSA before tearing her ACL. She now plays for the Arsenal womens team along with seven others in the England squad. Arsenal are the English League Champions, F.A. Cup champions, League Cup Champions and European Champions. This core of players adds greatly to the England success. They have all played many high profile matches, which is helping them in their first World Cup.
Both teams have some great players, but I feel the U.S. has more.
The attacking pair of Wambach and Lilly is probably the most potent in the world and should be too much for the England defense.
The U.S. midfield is young, but it is anchored by Shannon Boxx who when on her game is the best holding female midfield player in the world. She started off slowly against North Korea but now seems to be back into stride.
The defense is anchored by two veterans, Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf. Stephanie Lopez, still at college, seems to get better with each game. Behind all of these is Hope Solo, possibly the best goalkeeper in the World Cup, although she did let a soft one in against North Korea.
Expect deep-lying Smith to battle with Boxxy.
Katie Chapman is Englands Boxx; She did not play against Argentina due to yellow card accumulation, but will be well rested for the U.S.
England will depend on her to win balls and settle things down. Faye White, the player of the game against Germany, is the glue for the defense.
England is playing better as a team, although their group was easier, but the U.S. just has too many weapons.
The game should be tight, but I think the U.S. pressure will wear the English down.
Prediction: 3-1 U.S.
Boxxy sat down for an interview with U.S. Soccer before Saturday’s game.
AP has more on the game here.
Also, one of the best American soccer reporters, Steven Goff of The Washington Post, has been blogging from China.
A couple of notes from U.S. Soccer:
FAIR PLAY DAY – FIFA will hold World Fair Play Days during the quarterfinal matches to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Peace Friday, an invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities around the world. Shortly before kick-off, both team captains will read a declaration to support fair play on the pitch and in society. The special activity will be broadcast to 200 territories across all six confederations. FIFA has celebrated Fair Play Days since 1997 and this year is the fourth time that the events will be linked to the International Day of Peace.
ABBY TO HIT 100 – The England match will be the 100th career cap for Wambach, making her the 20th U.S. player to hit the century mark. The 27-year-old has the best goals per game ratio in U.S. history, having found the net 80 times in her 99 matches, and averages a goal for about every 90 minutes she plays for the national team.
WEATHER REPORT – A crowd of more than 30,000 is expected in what will likely be the first match in the Womens World Cup for the USA played in good weather and on a pitch in excellent condition.