“On the Bubble” – With the 2012 Summer Olympic games just around the corner, we will be profiling players one at a time who are on the verge of breaking into the U.S. Women’s National Team regular starting 11.
When Tobin Heath, Lori Lindsey, Megan Rapinoe and Amy Rodriguez are players coming off the bench, then you know that the U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) midfield is stacked. I’m talking, like, a triple order of pancakes stacked. STACKED. (All caps means I’m serious.)
As a result of this midfield depth, and especially because of Ali Krieger’s recent ACL and MCL injuries, the team’s back line has become a land of opportunity for players looking for more time on the field. Exhibit A: Kelley O’Hara, a player aiming to convert into an Ashley Cole-esque defender. I believe that this is ultimately a smart move – the 2009 MAC Hermann Award-winner is feisty, fast and one of the fittest, if not the fittest, players on the team.
However, my personal endorsement for who should replace Krieger at right back now is Becky Sauerbrunn. Even if Krieger were healthy, I would say, slot Sauerbrunn right into starting 11! While head coach Pia Sundhage recently switched back to a 4-4-2 formation (because how do you justify not putting goal-scorer extraordinare/former “super sub” Alex Morgan into the starting lineup?), she still emphasizes a possession-oriented attack with defenders staying high and making runs down the flank. Although a natural central defender, the last few times that Sauerbrunn has played at outside back, she has excelled, making crisp passes to switch the field of play and staying patient and tough on defense. Furthermore, the 2007 ACC Defensive Player of the Year has become known as an “iron woman” of sorts in the women’s game – she was the only player to play every minute of every game in both Women’s Professional Soccer seasons.
While analysts have lauded her play—Ian Darke called her “excellent” prior to the 2011 World Cup semifinal game against France—it seems as though Sauerbrunn’s toughest critics are the USWNT coaching staff and herself. “They tried me [at outside back] a while ago to see if I could play there if needed,” she said last month in St. Louis Today. “I thought I did fine, but they see me as a center back…They want people that can run all day up and down the flank…I don’t quite fit the mold.”
Perhaps getting substantially more playing time in the immediate future is not in the cards for Sauerbrunn. Though with 36-year-old captain and center back Christie Rampone retiring after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Sauerbrunn is prime to take over as the team’s defensive anchor. As teammate Abby Wambach emphasized last May, “She does so many things that you wouldn’t consider flashy. She’s consistent. She’s really good on the ball. She’s just solid.”
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