In the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, where the United States took on Brazil, USWNT central defender Rachel Buehler was sent off for denying Marta a clear goal scoring opportunity in the penalty area. The USA went on to win that game, but her sending off caused her to miss the semifinal against France through suspension.
Enter Becky Sauerbrunn. The star central defender for magicJack South Florida, formerly the Washington Freedom, started every single WPS game since the league's inception before being called up to the USWNT squad for the World Cup. In two warm-up games for the World Cup, Sauerbrunn was nearly perfect, proving that Pia Sundhage had a great option on her bench if any of her players went down through injury or suspension. When that happened to Buehler, Sauerbrunn made the most of her opportunity, putting in a fantastic performance against France.
Prior to the quarterfinal match against Brazil, Buehler put in a performance against Sweden that was below average by her standards. She looked a bit slow as she was out-played by Sweden forward Lotta Schelin in a loss for the United States. Buehler's mistakes against Brazil unfortunately marked what could be the start of a pattern. It was, at least, a small dip in form.
That small dip in form, combined with Sauerbrunn's WPS form and her last three performances in a USWNT shirt are why Sundhage should give her the nod in the final on Sunday. I mean no disrespect to Rachel Buehler, who is an excellent player. She should remain in subsequent USWNT squads and compete for a starting central defense spot in the upcoming London Olympics, without a doubt. But in this game, on Sunday, Sauerbrunn is the better option. She proved it when she shut down Marie-Laure Delie and didn't put a single foot wrong against France.
This is more about rewarding Sauerbrunn than punishing Buehler. Going away from the hot hand - especially when the hot hand is as consistent as Sauerbrunn - would be unwise.
For all of our coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup semifinals and how the two teams got to the final, give our Sweden vs. Japan and USA vs. France StoryStreams a read. For all of our previous coverage of the tournament, check out our 2011 Women's World Cup section. For more on the final, bookmark this StoryStream. We'll have updates in the build-up to the game. You can catch the game on Sunday at 2:45 P.M. ET on ESPN. We'll have more information on the schedule of events and where to watch as the game approaches.