USWNT: A controlling midfield crucial to Olympics system

The USWNT have steamrolled their way through Olympic qualifying, dismantling Mexico 4-0 at the CONCACAF semi-final stage. And at the heart of their system is a controlling, dominating central midfield.

The U.S. Women’s National Team have continued with the same system that now departed coach Jill Ellis used so brilliantly in last summer’s World Cup triumph. The 4-3-3 is a staple of modern football, expressing the need to control matches through a dominant central midfield trio. And few teams in football, men’s or women’s, execute it better than the USWNT.

Throughout Olympic qualifying, the USWNT have dominated matches due to their superiority in central midfield. Whoever new head coach Vlatko Andonovski has selected, they have strolled their way through matches with consummate ease.

The USWNT used that formation to win the FIFA World Cup and they’ll power it up all the way to an expected Gold Medal in this summer’s Olympic Games.

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At the heart of it is Sam Mewis. She started both wins over Costa Rica and Mexico and was excellent in both. Mewis focused on her holding midfielder position, assisting the four defenders as necessary — in the 63rd and 82nd minutes of the Costa Rica win, during goalmouth scrambles, she intercepted balls and fired into the net for two goals.

Normally in her position, Mewis would hold a position with the defenders, allowing the two attack midfielders to work. Her defensive instincts are superb and she boasts both the physical and athletic range to cover the ground as well as the technical skill to play out when she does recover possession.

Mewis is not the only shining star in central midfield. Lindsey Horan, World Cup sensation Rose Lavelle and the ever-present and ever-brilliant Julie Ertz have all played key roles. In fact, the USWNT’s domination of Costa Rica, with Ertz, Horan and Mewis comprising the central midfield, was a clear illustration of the superiority of the midfield.

The USWNT achieved 71% possession in the game. Costa Rica didn’t spend much time in the US defensive zone in the first half and they seldom worked their way into that area in the second.

Mewis and Horan were relentless throughout the game, especially the times their defensive zone got crowded. During those few instances, they were frequently there to turnover possession, flow through opponents, and clear to teammates. Because of their working effectively in the 4-3-3, US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher didn’t even record a save in an easy shutout.

The 4-3-3 formation, as well as the savvy and intelligence of the players that comprise it, allow the USWNT to adapt within games. They can mix it up in the midfield. Then, when gaining control, they can push forward, the midfield shifting from a double to single-pivot at different periods in the game.

Next: USWNT: Team of the Decade

It is this central midfield superiority that sets the USWNT up so well in the present and beyond. And even with a final to play against Canada, when they take to the Olympics stage, it will be this central midfield that wins them the gold.

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