Hold off on the celebrating, we’re not there just yet.
If there’s one thing you can say about the USWNT these days, it’s that they certainly know how to win ugly. Whether it’s last gasp goals or helpful refereeing decisions, the team has been known to turn results at vital moments, artfulness be damned. They also know how to draw and lose ugly, as has been made abundantly clear in recent matches against Sweden, China and Mexico.
This time around, a draw or a loss could be fatal. Alex Morgan’s stoppage time goal may have been a touch offside, and perhaps only occurred because the referee swallowed her whistle but it injected needed hope into the USWNT’s World Cup aspirations.
The 1-0 lead still puts the home team in a precarious situation as they try to stave off Italy’s attempts at a critical away goal in Bridgeview, Illinois tomorrow. A goal produced from a defensive mix-up or an infrequent goalkeeping gaffe from Nicole Barnhart would level the aggregate score, thus requiring a penalty shootout to break the deadlock. An unanswered USWNT goal would afford the team some much-needed breathing room.
The USWNT’s squad and formation will not likely reveal any surprises. It’s clear that Coach Pia Sundhage has her preferred XI in mind and she isn’t going to be swayed by any of the clamors for change from fans and bloggers alike. While this is problematic for the long-term, it’s hard to blame her playing it safe for this match. The stakes are too high to take any risky gambles.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Italy shed its defensive shell for a more attacking formation. Pietro Ghedin may not opt for the 4-5-1 formation that nearly succeeded in frustrating the United States in Padova. Ghedin may have a trick up his sleeve with attacking force Melania Gabbiadini who missed the first leg due to injury. If this is the case, a role reversal might be required.