USWNT: Notes Ahead of the Germany Friendlies

[Edit (20-Oct-2012): Additional information and clarifications have been added. Those have been denoted through italics.]

On Saturday, October 20th, and Tuesday, October 23rd, the top two women’s national teams in the world — #1 United States and #2 Germany — will face each other in a pair of friendlies.  The USWNT is bringing its Olympic Gold Medal squad, while Germany, who were knocked out of the Women’s World Cup by Japan in the quarterfinals, and consequently did not qualify for the Olympics, is in a rebuilding process as it prepares for the Women’s Euros in 2013.

Most of Germany’s players come into this series having played at least a month of domestic league soccer, as the Frauen-Bundesliga kicked off in early September. Only three of the players on the travel roster play outside of Germany: Anja Mittag in Sweden (LdB FC Malmö) plus Annike Krahn and Linda Bresonik who both play for PSG in France. Conversely, none of the USA player’s are actively playing with a professional-level team, so their match fitness, both physical and mental, is likely not near peak levels. This juxtaposition could lead to interesting dynamics during the matches, as the USA’s defense has been shown to be vulnerable on counterattacks — which is one of Germany’s typical strengths. However, Germany’s usual preference of zone marking on set pieces such as corner kicks should allow the USA enough opportunities to score, whether off the head of Abby Wambach or another player.

TELEVISION INFORMATION — In the United States, both friendlies will be televised. The Saturday, October 20th match in Chicago will be shown live on FOX Soccer (U.S. Soccer news item), with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. EDT, although based on the DFB’s website, kick-off is not until 7:06 p.m. EDT.  FOX Soccer will also re-air the match on Monday at 5:00 p.m. EDT.  The second match, on Tuesday, October 23rd will air live on NBC Sports Network, with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. EDT. In Germany, both friendlies will be televised. The first match will be shown live on ZDF early Sunday morning at 1:00 CET and will also be live streamed on ZDF’s Mediathek site (Flash link, non-Flash link), which may or may not be geo-blocked.  Those ZDF links should also work for on-demand viewing once the match is over. Edit: According to the DFB’s website and EuroSport.de the second friendly on October 23rd (early morning on the 24th in Germany), will be shown live on Eurosport (Germany) starting at 1:30 CET.

THE RIVALRY AT A GLANCE — The United States leads the series fairly convincingly with 19 wins, 4 losses, and 4 draws (.778 win percentage).* The two nations have met three times in the Women’s World Cup, with the USA winning the first two encounters, in 1991 and 1999, both en route to world titles, while falling in a stinging loss at the 2003 Women’s World Cup.  The two squads also met once in the Olympics, in 2004, where the USA defeated Germany in extra time in the semifinal, en route to a Gold Medal. Since the loss in 2003, the USA is 5-0-2 against Germany, although one of the two draws was a loss on penalties in an Algarve Cup final.  Also, the two nations have met often at the youth level, most notably at Under-20 Women’s World Cups, with the USA recently defeating Germany in this year’s final to claim its third title at the age level.

*This includes two matches against West Germany’s WNT, which were both wins for the United States.

WHAT’S AT STAKE? — Beside rivalry pride, there are ranking points up for grabs. As this is a friendly between two top ten teams, the weight of these matches in FIFA’s rankings is doubled (PDF). Germany is currently 53 points behind the USA (2221 versus 2168) as of the August 2012 rankings. For Germany, two away wins against the United States should allow them to overtake the USA at the top of the rankings. A split decision of a win for each squad or draws in both matches should not affect the ranking points too much, although anything less than two wins for the USA will see them drop at least a few points.  For a look at how possible outcomes will affect the rankings, see this BigSoccer.com post.

GERMANY’S ROSTER — The DFB released Germany’s 23-player travel roster on October 8th. The most notable player absent is midfielder Fatmire Bajramaj, who tore her ACL in late September. A late scratch is the dangerous goal threat Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, who injured her thigh in one of the team’s practices after arriving in Chicago (DFB.de, in German). The loss of Okoyino da Mbabi is significant, but Germany still has plenty of scoring prowess left with Alexandra Popp and Anja Mittag, among others. Usually, only 7 substitutes are allowed on a team’s bench, so for each match, five of the players on the travel roster (including COdM) will not be available.

USWNT’S ROSTER — All eighteen players from the Gold Medal Olympic Team should be available for the match (USWNT blog).  Back-up goalkeeper, Nicole Barnhart, who had a minor injury which made her unavailable for the earlier Fan Tribute matches, is listed in the roster.

INTERIM HEAD COACH ELLIS: WILL SHE MAKE ANY CHANGES? — With the departure of Pia Sundhage to Sweden, U.S. Soccer has named Jill Ellis as the interim head coach.  What this means for the USA’s line-up, formation, and tactics is unclear.  Given the lack of recent camps and a contractually limited roster, it is unlikely that there will be wholesale changes made by Ellis. She could follow an autopilot model, by using the USA’s standard line-up of late and following Sundhage’s normal substitution patterns. Or, Ellis may mix up the line-up a bit and even try a different formation, such as the 4-3-3 with Abby Wambach as a target striker flanked by Alex Morgan on the left and either Megan Rapinoe or Sydney Leroux on the right.

LAST MEETING — The United States has not faced Germany for at least 28 months, going back to May 2010, when the USA defeated Germany 4:0 in Cleveland, Ohio (USSoccer.com match report).  The starting line-ups for that match were (crossed-out names are players who are retired or not available, italicized names denotes players unlikely to start):

USA: Solo; Mitts, Buehler, LePeilbet, Cox; O’Reilly, Boxx, Lindsey, Lilly; Rodriguez, Wambach.
GER: Angerer; Bartusiak, Krahn, Bresonik, Fuss, Hingst, Laudehr, Behringer, Garefrekes; Prinz, Grings.

For the USA, of the five substitutes used in that match, only two are available: Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan. For Germany, two of their four substitutes from that match are available: Kim Kulig, and Alexandra Popp, while Celia Okoyino da Mbabi is unavailable due to a late thigh injury.

THE USWNT’S NEXT HEAD COACH IS? — If Sunil Gulati and the search committee have finalized the hiring process by Saturday, there could be an announcement and possibly a formal introduction before the match. If the new head coach is from the collegiate ranks, as the match is on Saturday night, which is typically an off-day for soccer matches due to the dominance of gridiron football, there should be a large enough travel window for the new coach to attend the match. Edit: To clear up some possible confusion, yes Gulati has said that the end of October is projected timeframe for when the hiring decision will be made and could be extended into November, so there is no guarantee that an announcement will be made during the Germany series.

POSSIBLE NEW PRO LEAGUE NEWS — Sunil Gulati has said that the current USWNT will be briefed on the status of a possible new professional women’s soccer league during this series. More specifics on the league structure and teams could come out over the next week or so. However, until the vetting process of candidate team owners is completed, it is unlikely that there will be any major formal announcement of a new league.  For more on a possible new pro league, see this earlier post.