One of the first assertions made in the aftermath of the USA’s clinical dismantling of Canada in the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament final was that the US squad had much more depth. Canada were far too reliant on a handful of players and in a tournament that required you to play five games in eleven days if you were Canada and five games in ten days if you were the United States, strategic resting or rotating of players was crucial.
There can be no arguing that the primary goal of the tournament was to qualify for the Olympics and that squad rotation and decisions on who to rest should and would have been calibrated on keeping each country’s optimal lineup ready for the crucial semi-final rather than the ‘bragging rights’ final.
So I’ll concede that point but what interests me more is how Canada stacks up against the US women so I’ve done a more head to head comparison that treats the tournament final as perhaps more important than it was from a competitive point of view. This approach affords a more complete view of the depth of each team’s rosters.
Below is a chart I put together of how much each player played in the five games. It then separates out how much each player played in just the semi final and final and then how much they played in the three round robin games that preceded the knock out phase.
Keep in mind that American defender Ali Krieger was injured in the first half of the first game so the States played most of the tournament with one less out field player than Canada.
Lastly, I’ve subjectively picked out each team’s five impact players and looked at their playing time.
As the legend at the bottom of the chart says, the numbers in red indicate all the outfield players who played at least 80% of the available minutes (ie. 360 of a possible 450). The green boxes display the total number of minutes played by the players selected as impact players and the orange box simply shows which outfield players played every minute of the semi final and the final.
Note: the orange boxes haven’t come through on the American roster but the players that should have been highlighted are Rampone and Lloyd.
Here’s the conclusions I think are relevant.
- Canada had five outfield players who played 80% of the time in the tournament while the USA only had three
- All five of those players played every minute of the semi final and final while only two American players did the same
- The five impact players on Canada selected (Sinclair, Chapman, Scott, Parker and Schmidt) played an average of 362 minutes while the five American players selected (Lloyd, Wambach, O’Hara, Morgan, Rapinoe) played just 277.4 minutes. That’s almost an entire game more for the Canadians on average.
- Perhaps more relevantly, as the teams headed into the crucial semi final game, Canada’s five impact players had averaged 190.8 minutes of play in the round robin phase while the American impact players had only averaged 135 minutes. In other words, Canada’s five had played over 41% more than their American counterparts.
In the end, would resting Sinclair and company a bit more have paved the way to a win over the States? I don’t think so. Perhaps the most prominent number in the chart above is Shannon Woeller’s 450 minutes. If she’s being groomed as a long term starter at centre back then you can understand these minutes better as an investment in her. She’s young and the position requires a lot of time, at this level, to get comfortable with teammates you’ll be playing with and to hone decision making so that you read the game quickly and accurately.
The concern is that if this is Herdman’s strategy for Woeller the issue of lack of pace is not going to be rectified simply by giving her lots of playing time. Even if Woeller had another 40 caps under her belt, Alex Morgan is going to make her life miserable.
So the lack of depth has demonstrated two ways. Our better players had to play far more than the US impact players had to. This kept them fresher and made them more dangerous over 90 minutes. Secondly though, our lack of depth was perhaps exposed by having to play players who aren’t quite ready for the elite teams in women’s soccer. Not just Woeller but also Kaylyn Kyle, Christina Julien and most of our outside backs (Sesselmann, Gayle and Booth come to mind).
Bear in mind that the stated goal for this team, short term, is to be on the podium in London this summer. Given that the US will be there along with defending World Cup champs Japan, France (who beat us 4-0 in the World Cup), Sweden (who beat the States twice in 2010), Brazil and the hosts Great Britain, that’s a lofty goal.
If Herdman and the CSA branded the next two years a development period to try out a variety of younger players to prepare for the World Cup we’re hosting in 2015, they’d probably get a sympathetic ear from the soccer savvy public. But by saying we’re going for medals it means you’ve got six months to get players ready and that really precludes experimentation. It means going with what you have in terms of a squad. It means persisting with them so they get more and more used to playing with each other and working towards making them tight and cohesive at the back and fluid and dangerous in attack.
The only really big squad questions that Herdman has to figure out short term is whether to bring back Emily Zurrer given where Woeller is at and where a healthy Diana Matheson fits in now that Desiree Scott has announced her presence and shown she can be a huge boon to the side in the holding mid position that Matheson was known for.
Beyond those decisions it’s really just going to be trying to make what he has better and that will take some work if they’re serious about coming back from London with medals.