On Tuesday, June 30, the United States face a tough Germany squad in the Women’s World Cup semifinals. It almost feels like a final itself, as Germany and the U.S. are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, respectively.
The teams come to the tournament with similar accomplishments. Both teams own two Women’s World Cup titles, which means they are tied for the most of any country. Germany has made the quarterfinals of all seven Women’s World Cups and the United States has never finished worse than third.
Basically, this has all the ingredients of an epic battle. So what will it the U.S. need to do to win?
Keys to the Match
Organized defense: It takes an extremely organized defense to defeat Germany. Luckily, the U.S. defense has been its strongest link this tournament, allowing just 2.6 shots on goal per match, according to The New York Times. Centerbacks Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston work extremely well with one another and their positioning has been world class. Seattle Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo, after two game-changing saves against Australia, has been largely untested thanks to her solid back line.
They will all need to be even better against Germany, a side that averages 26.8 shots per game and has several players who can take defenders on one-on-one. As they proved against Sweden, Germany can create chances out of nothing — and they are not afraid to unleash a shot from distance. This will require the entire team to be organized defensively, not just the back line.
Quick combination play: The U.S. have had a difficult time generating dangerous chances on the attack. They showed signs of life against China, but will need even more creativity against Germany, who struggled to contain the possession-focused, quick-passing French team in the first 45 minutes of their quarterfinal match. The U.S. again have Reign star Megan Rapinoe, their most significant playmaker this tournament, which will certainly provide a boost.
Look for the counter: While Germany has a well organized defense, they lack pace and are vulnerable to the counter attack. Outside backs Leonie Maier and Tabea Kemme like to push far into the attack, and France was able to punish this by making diagonal runs behind the defense. The U.S. could do the same, especially with a speedy forward like Alex Morgan making those runs.
Ride the momentum: The U.S. looked energetic against China, while Germany had their most difficult challenge against France, playing 120 minutes before outlasting France in a shootout and potentially losing midfielder Dsenifer Marozsan in the process due to an injury. Five of the seven goals the U.S. scored in this tournament have come in the second half. While it is great they can outlast opponents, momentum could be huge against Germany. The Americans will want to come out aggressive and keep the intensity throughout the match.
Wear them down: It's worth repeating: Germany played 120 tough minutes against France in brutal summer heat. The U.S., on the other hand, kept most of the ball against a weaker China team, only had to play 90, and didn't play two of their key players at all. If the match is still close late, and especially if it goes to extra time, expect the U.S. to be fresher.
Players to Watch
Hope Solo v. Nadine Angerer: Two of the best keepers in the world face off in this match. Hope Solo, who earned her 175th cap against China, can put a stake in the ground as the best keeper in the game. Angerer, who will retire after her season with the Portland Thorns concludes, saved the final France penalty to help her team advance to this semifinal match.
Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic: These two have wreaked havoc on opposing defenses. Combined, they average 8.5 shots per game and have scored 11 of Germany's 20 goals. Mittag has looked slightly more dangerous, creating 17 goal-scoring opportunities at this World Cup. But both are equally threatening.
The battle of the central midfield: For Germany, center midfielders Lena Gossling and Melanie Leupholz are dangerous on both ends of the field. They are skilled at putting their forwards in goal-scoring positions and at winning balls on the defensive end, especially in the air. Morgan Brian was the rock for the U.S. against China, but, unfortunately, will likely cede the center to Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday. Both Lloyd and Holiday, who has taken on a larger defensive workload this year, will need to be magnificent in the center.
U.S. forwards: Who starts up top for the U.S. is a big question. Amy Rodriquez gave the U.S. some much-needed spark against China, but was unable to finish her chances. Alex Morgan is looking more and more dangerous, but still lacks a strong touch and has let a few opportunities get away from her. She still doesn't look comfortable with her partner up top like she did with Abby Wambach in the 2012 Olympics.
Speaking of Wambach, she proved she can still score against Nigeria, but has clearly lost some pace. Christen Press is a technical player who could be what the U.S. needs to break down the German defense. Oh, and don't forget about the speedy and tenacious Sydney Leroux.
Jill Ellis has two tactical options: does she want to play a cautious, defense-first game or would she prefer an aggressive, high-pressing style of play like the U.S. deployed against China? The answer to that question will likely determine who starts up top. Whoever Ellis selects, they will need an outstanding performance from their midfield to find them in space, and they will need their defense to quell a dangerous German attack.
FiveThirtyEight gives Germany a 57% chance to defeat the U.S. in the semifinals. But when have Americans been concerned with stats? WE ARE AMERICANS. WE DO WHAT WE WANT.
The U.S. can win this, but to do so they will need to play better than they have all tournament.