How will the USWNT line up?

All the tactical talk of the U.S. women’s soccer team may boil down to one question: How’s Lauren Holiday’s defense?

Everything else is working. Tobin Heath is a creative monster on the left. Megan Rapinoe has the playmaking skills and the engine to run all over the field and distribute. Right wing may not be the best place for Christen Press, but it’s good enough. Carli Lloyd’s role hasn’t changed all that much. The central midfield triangle, well-profiled this week by ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, has plenty of attacking power.

First things first — let’s clarify that the difference between a 4-5-1 and a 4-3-3 is minimal.

Here’s a 4-5-1:

football formations

Here’s a 4-3-3:

football formations

Either way, the left and right wings will get down to the end line to put in crosses, and they’ll have some defensive responsibilities.

Back to the main question here: There’s little question Holiday can distribute from a deep-lying role. But she hasn’t been challenged defensively.

Maybe Mexico will provide that challenge. Maybe not.

The best precedent the WNT has for an attacker-turned-defensive … er .. holding mid … er … No. 6 would be Michelle Akers. She won everything in the air as a forward, then won everything in the air as a No. 6.

If Jill Ellis wanted to follow that precedent, she’d move Abby Wambach to No. 6. That’s not happening. And the “Wambach to No. 10” discussion hasn’t gained a lot of traction — it’s too tough a gear shift to switch from Rapinoe covering the whole field as a No. 10 to Wambach covering a bit less. And while Wambach has underrated foot skills, playing No. 10 might not give her as many opportunities to use her world-class aerial ability.

The common refrain after Meghan Klingenberg’s scorching performance Monday night, including that goal, was that we couldn’t award her the left back (No. 3) spot until we saw her against better competition.

The No. 6 spot seems to be Holiday’s. But can she fill the defensive duties?

It’ll be a while before we know, so to fill the time, here’s the Klingenberg goal again.

 

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