Both teams walk away disappointed after this match, with the United States and Sweden being forced to settle for a 0-0 draw. The match was combative at times and frantic at others, but neither side could get quite everything together in attack to create a goal.
The match got off to a frantic start, with both the United States and Sweden eager to put shaky first matches behind them. Both teams wanted to snag an early goal to put their opponents on the back heel, an idea that showed through with lots of long balls played over the top, but neither team managed to succeed in that goal.
Once that opening spell settled down, we saw a match where Sweden won the possession battle, but the USWNT had more and better chances. Sweden were able to keep the U.S. off-kilter by playing a more physical game, something that lead to a penalty appeal early in the half when Christen Press appeared to be held back off the ball in the penalty area by Nilla Fischer, but Japanese referee Sachiko Yamagishi kept her whistle silent.
She did so again several minutes later when Sweden appealed for a penalty of its own, when it appeared that Sydney Leroux's arm made contact with the ball while defending a long ball in to the box. Both incidents looked like pretty clear penalties, and while each team likely felt aggrieved by being denied, at least there was balance in the denied decisions.
Neither side proved capable of creating a goal in the first half and that stayed true early in the second half as well, though the quality and danger of the chances being created certainly went up. The U.S. made the first sub, rolling the dice in a big way by taking off one of their best players in the match so far, Morgan Brian, to bring on another forward in Amy Rodriguez, presumably to use her pace to get behind Sweden's defense.
That forced Press back to right wing, a position she didn't fare well in against Australia. She struggled there again for the next ten minutes before Abby Wambach was finally brought in, a move that also coincided with the U.S. starting to take more control of the match and take things to Sweden. The Swedes were still plenty dangerous on the counter, but more and more of the match started being spent with the U.S. attackers on the ball and Swedish defenders and midfielders trying desperately to keep them at bay.
Sweden tried to claw their way back in to the match, using a series of set pieces to generate several very dangerous chances, including one that required Meghan Klingenberg to risk clearing the ball in to the crossbar to keep Sweden from scoring. Jill Ellis used her last sub to bring Alex Morgan in to the match to try and give the U.S. one last shot of attacking energy, but the USWNT still stayed too static as a whole in their attacking efforts, failing to exploit space between Sweden's lines in their poor efforts to build up play.
There were signs that Sweden was starting to break down physically late in the match, but the USWNT failed to take advantage, and in fact surrendered a couple good scoring chances to their opponents on the break and on set pieces. One of those counters took a great tackle from Julie Johnston to break, putting an exclamation mark on an excellent performance from the young defender.
Neither side will be happy with the draw, with both the U.S. and Sweden leaving chances to win out on the pitch. The U.S. in particular will be disappointed, losing a chance to clinch a knockout round berth and put themselves in a strong position to win the group outright. They don't look at all like the presumptive title favorites many thought they would be coming in to this World Cup, and will have to dig deep and work very, very hard in training in order to fix their problems and turn things around at this point.
United States: Hope Solo; Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg; Morgan Brian (Amy Rodriguez 59'), Lauren Holiday, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe; Christen Press (Abby Wambach 68'), Sydney Leroux (Alex Morgan 78')
Sweden: Hedvig Lindahl; Elin Rubensson, Amanda Ilestedt, Nilla Fischer, Jessica Samuelsson; Sofia Jakobsson, Lisa Dahlkvist, Caroline Seger, Lina Nilsson (Linda Sembrant 71'); Therese Sjögran (Emilia Appelqvist 75'), Lotta Schelin
1. Benching Abby Wambach was a risk -- and it didn't work out
The U.S. elected to go with a front line of Leroux and Press to start the match, leaving top scorer Wambach on the bench alongside Morgan, who is still recovering from an injury. Wambach hadn't really been at her best in the opener against Australia, and resting her for a matchup against a shakier Nigeria defense probably wasn't a bad idea anyways. But taking away your most accomplished attacker, the woman most likely to find success, is always a big risk, though, even if it's understandable and offers a tactical option that could work well.
Using the Leroux-Press pairing up top gave the USWNT more pace and energy up top, and at first blush it appeared they could be asked to press and harry Swedish defenders, a tactic that Nigeria used to great effect in their match earlier this week. Trouble is, they didn't actually play that way. There was almost no pressure from either Leroux or Press when the USWNT lost possession, and while Press spent some time floating out wide to try to drag defenders around, neither woman did much to exploit a previously-shaky Sweden defense. Things were too static up top, with not enough in the way of supporting runs or efforts to find space between Swedish players to utilize.
In the end, the gamble just didn't work. Both women stayed too high and didn't link up well enough with the rest of the side, an issue that plagued the U.S. in their first match as well. Whether that would have been any different with Wambach on the pitch instead is debatable -- let's be honest, it probably wouldn't have been -- the USWNT failing to use the change to shift their tactics to a better tactical matchup with Sweden means the idea ultimately failed.
2. Sweden were better, but still might not be as good as we thought
Coming in to the World Cup, Sweden were ranked as the fifth-best team in the world. They were a favorite to make a deep run in this competition, and even maybe make the final with a little bit of luck going their way. Then came Sweden's World Cup opening match with Nigeria, a match that saw them play sloppy, tactically inept football that saw them fritter away a 2-1 lead in a match that ended 3-3. All three goals surrendered saw horrific defensive mistakes, something they had to fix to face a lethally talented U.S. side.
Sweden played more firmly in defense, especially in the first half, but their tactics still looked sloppy, proving too easy to penetrate through midfield and struggling to break down the USWNT back line when they had the ball. After two disappointing performances in a row to open this World Cup, it's time admit that maybe Pia Sundhage's Sweden side just isn't as good as we thought it was.
3. The USWNT needed Megan Rapinoe to be spectacular again, but she was just OK
Rapinoe won the match against Australia almost single-handedly on Monday, and she needed to put up a similar performance today with much of the team around her struggling in the same ways they did in their first match. They needed more of her magic, her high-quality crosses and through balls, and her ability to make scoring chances out of nothing.
They didn't get it.
Rapinoe didn't play badly by any means, and she started the match quite well, but she just didn't have anywhere near the impact that she did in the first match, even if you leave aside the goals she scored against Australia. She struggled against Rubensson and Dahlkvist and didn't link up nearly as well with Leroux as she did on Monday. Without that divine spark, the USWNT really struggled to get clean chances to score, and the end result was that tepid, static performance we saw today from the side.