The United States weren't good on Friday, drawing Sweden 0-0 in a poor game. Neither team looked dangerous going forward and a lot of the issues that the USWNT had in their opening game and warm-up friendlies persisted in this match. But this performance wasn't all bad, and U.S. fans shouldn't get down on their chances to win the World Cup quite yet.
Two games into the World Cup, the USWNT have already played two of the toughest opponents they'll see in the tournament. It's unlikely that the Americans run into better teams than Sweden or Australia in their first two knockout stage games, and if they put in repeat performances over their next three matches, they'll get to the semifinal. It would be disappointing to see the U.S. limp their way to the final four, then bow out when they came up against France or Germany, but that currently looks like a near-worst-case scenario.
There are still a lot of issues that the U.S. needs to work out before they get to that stage, but one might have been solved against Sweden. Becky Sauerbrunn was the only member of the American defense who looked great against Australia, but the entire back four played well against Sweden. The Swedes could have done a bit more to put the USWNT defense under pressure, but the back four's performance, as a unit, had just as much to do with Sweden's lack of chances. Julie Johnston, in particular, was significantly improved from the first game and was probably the woman of the match for the United States.
Jill Ellis is also trying to fix the team's other problems, even if she hasn't figured out exactly how to do it yet. She gave Morgan Brian a shot on the wing for this match, moved Christen Press up top and brought on Amy Rodriguez as her first sub. The midfield is still a mess, and everyone's looking to play a direct ball into the box instead of passing their way to a quality chance, but Ellis recognizing that there is a problem with the attack and trying things is an improvement.
It's disappointing that she hasn't fixed anything yet, but realistically, she has a couple of games left to experiment. The U.S. should be able to limp their way to a narrow win over Nigeria even if they don't play well, and their Round of 16 opponent is likely to be weaker than all three of the teams they face in the group stage. Even a quarterfinal opponent like Switzerland or China shouldn't be able to beat the USWNT if they turn in even an average performance.
Fans have every right to be disappointed with Ellis and the players at this stage. She's been at the helm for over a year and these are some of the most talented players in the world. But improvements are being made, there's time for Ellis to figure out her best team, and it's not like any of the other big favorites for this tournament look unbeatable at present. Everyone has problems and there is no clear, established favorite.
A draw against Sweden is a good result, and the USWNT defense is getting better. Hopefully, something else gets better next game, and the Americans are in form by the time the semifinal rolls around.