They've struggled finding chemistry, they struggle finding cohesion in the attacking third. And really, this is just a sum of how this team's been playing for the last year.

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USWNT Performance Analysis During The 2023 Women's World Cup Group Stage

What grade would you give Team USA, so far in group stage heading into knockout rounds?

Lindsay Tarpley: Oh, you're starting with the tough ones. Well, I've always been hesitant to give a grade. But when I look at that, I see it as a pass/fail. And they've passed. They are through. They’re in the knockout rounds. And you look at teams like Germany and Brazil that aren't there. And they have essentially failed that first portion. Instead of looking at it as a grade, I see it as they are continuing on, they're moving forward. And this tournament is about gaining momentum as we go. I hope that we can continue to refine and keep it going.

Leslie Osborne: I like your positivity, Tarp. I'm going to go ahead and give them a grade. I give them a C-. I think this has been below-average performance. They know it's not good enough. We know it's not good enough. But looking back at the last nine months, this team has not played well. They've struggled finding chemistry, they struggle finding cohesion in the attacking third. And really, this is just a sum of how this team's been playing for the last year. I don't think there's a whole lot of surprises there. I think we thought at some point things were going to start clicking and they have not. So yes, they're moving on. That's what we can celebrate. But the way that they're playing, it's not going to be able to win them a World Cup.

So, C-. There's a lot of room to improve here. And like you said, we're now in knockout rounds and playing on the national team, it's another set of games and you kind of have to, to forget about the first round games, especially in their case, because they were not good and it's not good enough. And the standard must be better. Team USA, I'm giving you a C-.

Against Portugal, and particularly the Netherlands, they seemed unable to control possession and build attacking momentum. Is this a major concern?

LT: For me, I look at that as Portugal and the Netherlands were very well organized, well coached. The way they came out against the US they did a really good job with it. However, yes, is there room for improvement? Absolutely. And again, that starts with being able to have people step up on the US team, playing through the midfield more, having the ball at Lindsay Horan’s feet more often. And really connecting in that final third. With time, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to start breaking these teams down. I don't give them a C-. But you know Les, what you said is accurate. I just hope that with all the game-changers on that team that we can continue to dig deep and figure this out.

Speaking of game changers, what would you change to this US lineup?

LT: I actually like how we're playing, I just think we need more cohesion in that final third. And we've had some chances and we just haven't finished those off. The World Cup, you look back at the ones that we've won, and we always have games that are difficult, but we score the goal. The fact that we didn't score the goal in the last two games, we still are creating. To me the Netherlands game was a tale of two different halves. The first half, they came out and took it to us. In the second half, I thought we controlled the majority of the game.

LO: No, I think that the second half is really the only positive we can take away in three games. And we were able to respond. And I feel like the start of the first three games in group stage, we talked about how important would be for the US to start off strong on their front foot attacking and pressuring and they weren't able to do that. And you can't wait till halftime to turn that on against some of the best teams in the world and they weren't able to control the ball because they didn't have the ball and the US is not comfortable being uncomfortable. These are teams, Portugal especially, that are incredibly good. They've been good, they've played on youth teams before, they have the same coach, they have an identity and a style of play. And the US struggled not having that ball and when they did get the ball, there was no one able to control tempo and get some passes.

The most passes the US had was two-pass sequences, which is extremely low for this team. Although, I agree with you that we have to finish our chances, we have to be able to keep the ball and create chances. And against Portugal, we didn't create enough chances and against these teams, it's only going to get harder and harder because these teams are gaining confidence and possessing the ball around us.

I thought Portugal was so confident in tight spaces. They wanted to pressure us because they knew how uncomfortable we were with their pressure. So as much as the US didn't play well against Portugal, I want to make sure that we give our credit to Portugal and how good of a team they are and the potential of this Portuguese team because I think that in the next four years for the next World Cup, they could be a team that could be everyone's dark horse going into it.

LT: I totally agree with what you're saying. If we are able to focus on that final third and actually start converting and again more passes more combinations more possession on our end, but hopefully with a few changes here and there we can start to connect those.

USA vs Sweden Preview – A Big Challenge  

Would you make any changes to the US lineup? And how would you approach Sweden in this game?

LT: I would keep a 4-3-3. I would like to see Lynn Williams come in on the flank. I think that she created chances, we just have to finish those chances. With that, I also I keep Julie Ertz in the back. I like her mentality back there, her leadership presence but we need the ball in the midfield more. We need at Lindsey Horan’s feet. We need to be able to change the point and connect Alex to that frontline. Get Sophia Smith, 1-vs-1 against their backline. All of those I think will be really important for us to have success against Sweden.

LO: Yeah, I'm thinking we put we push Julie Ertz into the midfield. I think we've been lacking that bite. We don't have any connection and partnership and chemistry in the midfield. I think Andi Sullivan has been pulled out in that midfield and there's no one in the midfield that's able to dictate the tempo like what you're talking about. For me, that's Julie Ertz. I would actually put Alana Cook in. I think it gives height advantage for our team against the Swedish side that is deadly on set pieces and aerial battle. So that would give us some height, and also be able to push up Julie Ertz to be able to control that midfield because I think that's what this team is lacking the last couple of games as somebody's been able to dictate the tempo in the midfield.

We'll see. We made a bet on Fox that if Vlatko makes any changes to the backline personnel or tactically, then Heather O'Reilly will be going swimming with the sharks in the cages. Fun stuff over here.

Since getting a late winner in the first game against South Africa, Sweden hasn’t conceded. What have you made of this so far?

LT: Sweden is a very good team. They have players that have been on the team for a long time. They have their veteran players who are very good, they're well organized, they're great in the air, they are going to be a very difficult opponent. However, I believe with our frontline, Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman, Alex Morgan, and Lynn Williams, we have the ability to beat them 1-vs-1. But what we've talked about is keeping possession to actually get to that final third. So those are going to be important points as we continue to progress, but also making sure we're capitalizing on our chances.

LO: Yeah, I agree with you. I think the US thrives in a game like this, although it's very difficult to play against Sweden, they've always found a way to frustrate us sit in that low block and then quicken transitions. I think the US team likes a transitional game. And I think like you said, Trinity Rodman, Lynn Williams, Alyssa Thompson, whoever he has on those wingers will actually thrive in those positions. The US is used to and actually comfortable playing against physical teams.

But I do look at the aerial duels and the presence that we have and we don't have as many good headers  anymore. You've got Julie Ertz, you've got Lindsey Horan, and that's why I think Alana Cook might be good in this lineup. But Sweden is absolutely dangerous on set pieces. They scored three goals in their second game, just off corner kicks. Ilestedt is one of the best players in the world on set pieces.

How is the US team going to organize and defend set pieces? That is going to be crucial for the US but I do think in the run of play, the US is going to enjoy playing this game. Whereas Portugal and some of the other teams have really sat back and haven't looked to transition and fly in the wings. So it'll be a little bit of cat and mouse on the outsides too, which will be fun too. Everyone tuning in will enjoy this game. There's so much history and rivalry between the US and Sweden. And really, there's no World Cup experience without playing Sweden. That's just what the US know. So I think it's familiar territory. Right?

What is your prediction for the match with Sweden?

LT: It's going to be a tough match. Listen, don't get me wrong. I agree with everything you've been saying. I just feel that with our mentality and the way we attack games that's going to help us and in a World Cup, you need a little bit of momentum, little bit of luck, things to go your way. I think that that's going to continue for us. And I think Alex Morgan is due for a goal. I do and she's gonna get it. She's a big time player, she always has been, she thrives in big moments. I'm gonna say US 1-0 over Sweden.

LO: I like that. I think this game is going to be so tight. I think it's going to come down to the wire. And honestly, I think whoever scores first is going to win this game. I think the US can't afford to have a slow first 45 minutes, it's only going to put pressure on them in the second half. Although I do not think the US are playing well, I still think they're going to find a way to pull this one off against the Swedish side that's gained momentum and confidence throughout group play. I do think the US has that psychological edge over them, and we'll find a way to move on. Here's our good luck vibe. And chalk points to the US.

What other teams have impressed you so far in this tournament?

LT: It's been such a fun tournament. I mean, if we would have predicted that Brazil and Germany would be out before the knockout rounds, I wouldn't have believed it until it happened. I've been really impressed with Japan and England. I really like the way they're playing. I feel like they have a game plan. They're sticking to it. Japan has always been fun to watch. They are not fun to play against because they're so technical and tactically, they are making adjustments now. So again, those two teams are the teams that I think have been really fun to watch in in different ways.

LO: I love the underdog teams. I love the debutantes. Last night watching Morocco getting tears here on the Fox set, watching a debutant who has achieved something for literally the best moment in their lives. They had expectations to try to win a game and they are going through. A team like Jamaica who did not concede a goal the entire group stage, they are going to go on and play against Colombia, who's also another team who's surprising people, who have an international 18 year old star in Linda Caicedo who is now helping take them to another level. It's not as much about the teams that are expected to perform. It's about the debutantes and the teams that people were just sleeping off to see how much this game and that level that we talked about. The bar has closed and you never know. You never know now who's going to win.

That's what makes this World Cup so special. You're seeing the investments made from federations and everything that's paying off so for me, it's the Jamaica's, it's the South Africa, it's the Morocco's. These are teams that went far above and beyond what people thought that they could do. And now anything from here on out is a win because they can play freely, they can play as the underdog. They can go show the world what they're made of. That for me, makes this World Cup so special.

What has been the biggest surprise of the tournament so far?

LT: Oh, biggest surprise. Um, I would say Morocco for me, just like you said, all of these teams who you've heard about, but this is their chance to shine. It's the world stage. And they are coming and performing. And now going into the knockout rounds. It's really remarkable. Morocco was ranked number 72 and they're going to the knockout rounds. It just shows you that you never know what's going to happen. And the world has gotten so much better with women's soccer and the investment has been huge. We need to continue to invest, we need to continue to move the ball forward because now we have platforms like this where you don't know who's going to advance and you don't know who's going to win and every match is going to be at another level. It's been so fun to watch and follow it along.

LO: Yea, it has. I've been working with Karina LeBlanc here, former Canadian goalkeeper, who played in six World Cups and I know for her as much as we talk about strides moving forward and how the game has elevating and CONCACAF, especially Jamaica and seen how well they're doing. We have teams like Canada who won the Olympic gold last year and have now been I'm knocked out of the group stage. And it's crazy to think that the tide is rising. But we can't leave behind a team like Mexico who didn't even make this World Cup and a team like Canada, who won a gold medal last summer. That's what's so interesting about this World Cup. And that's why World Cups are so amazing as new teams get to emerge. We have to also look at the teams that are not succeeding, and what's happening to their federations and look at their professional leagues and what's going on.

I think Germany is going to do the same. Germany has been a powerhouse and played in every World Cup knockout, ever, for them to get knocked out is a massive, massive disappointment. For that Federation, what they're going to do to figure out what their next four years look like, I think those are critical pieces and making sure that the teams that are on top and have been on top, how they continue moving forward too. That's the beauty of this World Cup and why it's been so crazy.

Women’s World Cup Round of 16 Predictions and Picks

Let's go through predictions for the round of 16 games.

England vs Nigeria Predictions and Pick

LT: England.

LO: Yeah, this is a tough one. I, Nigeria is such a dangerous team, and people kind of wrote them off. And they're just like gaining this momentum. And I think this one is going to be so tight. I'm going to go ahead and say that England might win, but it might go into PK’s because I think this Nigerian squad is that dangerous.

Japan vs Norway Predictions and Pick

LT: I'm going to take Japan, Like I said earlier, I really like how they're playing. I feel like they are so technical. And then tactically, they're solving other teams. So I'm with Japan.

LO: Yeah, me too. I think I've been most impressed with Japan. And I don't think we know what version of Norway is going to show up. We've seen a lot of different versions and although they have an amazing attacking three, they actually play better without Ada Hegerberg and so I'm intrigued to see who shows up for coach Hege Riise that we know very well so I'm gonna go ahead and say Japan as well

The Pick: England to Qualify (-1100)

Colombia vs Jamaica Predictions and Pick

LT: I am going to take Jamaica. They have been so fun to watch I love their energy the way they're playing their personality. So, I'm sticking with them.

LO: Oh, Melissa Ortiz is going to be so mad at me if I say a Jamaica but I want Jamaica to win. Defensively what they've done, how good Drew Spence is in the midfield, their goalkeeper Bunny Shaw. This group collectively is amazing. And they found a way to not concede a goal -- I want them to do well. I'm going to go ahead and say that I think Jamaica might have a slight edge. I don't think Colombia showed up against Morocco and although they had an amazing game against Germany, I don't know if I see them gaining momentum as we go on.

The Pick: Jamaica to Qualify (+140)

Australia vs Denmark Predictions and Pick

LT: I am going to take Australia because I'm hopeful that Sam Kerr is going to be back in the lineup and host country, doesn't get better than that.

LO: Yeah, I would agree, host country here in Sydney. It is amazing vibes regardless of Sam Kerr’s been playing or not the energy here, it's been so cool to see and be part of and I actually think this team is playing well. And they played better without Sam Kerr and I don't necessarily know how I would insert her back into the starting lineup. Just based on their last game, I thought collectively they were so strong. Everybody, Caitlin Foord, Raso, Steph Catley -- they all picked it up a notch. And because they did collectively, I think they were unbeatable. I would bring in Sam Kerr off the bench. The home crowd here is waiting for her to make an appearance. That's the way she'll get inserted into the game.

The Pick: Australia to Qualify (-236)

France vs Morocco Predictions and Pick

LT: I'm going to take France, I think they've been fun to watch. They have so many personality players. Morocco has done incredibly well. They have been such a surprise but in a good way and have come and shown the world what they can do and where they want to take their woman's team.

LO: Yeah, just like their men's team. They're doing incredible things. They're finally pumping money into their women's professional leagues, the Federation is supporting them and you're starting to see what happens when federations support their teams. I think that France does have a slight advantage although I haven't been very impressed with France throughout this tournament. I think they've been inconsistent. France is a team that never ends up winning when it matters. I do think they're going to make it to this game but we'll see if they make it any farther after that.

The Pick: France to Qualify (-3300)

Netherlands vs South Africa Predictions and Pick

LO: Yeah Netherlands. The Dutch. I think they've been gaining momentum throughout the group stages. I think collectively they are a very cohesive unit. Roord is one of my favorite midfielders in this tournament, she can score goals, she runs at midfield along with van de Donk, I think they are incredibly hard to play against. Lieke Martens is having a good tournament. They're slowly gaining momentum. They've been pretty consistent in all of their matches. Although South Africa is really organized defensively, they have a strong cohesive unit. I think the Netherlands will eventually release that and end up winning this game.

LT: I agree with you. I think the Netherlands will solve it tactically, and then be able to attack the spaces that they want to attack. They're sophisticated and will be able to solve that pressure in the way that South Africa defends.

The Pick: Netherlands to Qualify (-2500)

Switzerland vs Spain Predictions and Pick

LO: Spain. We saw a very inconsistent performance and Spain got exposed especially in their backline. Rocio their center back, I hope that we do not see her in the next game because I think she was the weakest part of their team. She made a lot of errors in the backline. That's how they conceded those first two goals. What's so crazy about the Spanish side is how well they can possess the ball and Bonmati and Hermoso are so incredible in that midfield in dictating tempo and the way that they play. Japan came out with a tactical plan and executed them and found a way. Other teams are watching that Japanese performance and are going to come out similarly against Spain. They are going to have the edge over Switzerland. Although Switzerland is very organized defensively, and they like to possess the ball, Spain just has too much attacking talent and fluidity and creativity in that attacking third that they will win that game.

LT: I totally agree with you. It’s going to be a good match. Spain will be able to solve it and figure out how they want to tactically go on and win this match. I do agree with you with how they defend. They need to spend more time and figure out that backline and with time, but again, knockout rounds, it's a whole new tournament now. The first portion is done. The second portion -- all of the teams, it's win and you go on, lose, you go home. So again, the pressure is immense. And it's going to be awesome to see who continues to rise and who uses that momentum throughout the tournament.

LO: Yeah, Tarp, you keep talking about time, there's no time left. It's do or die for these teams.

LT: Right, right. That's what that's what I'm saying. Like, you know, the US for example, it's go time, but I do believe that they're here. Like look at Germany, they're not here. So again, it is knowing what you need to improve on and being able to put the work and figure it out and move forward. And I believe that the US has those players to be able to make those changes quickly.

Back to USWNT. Did you say you'd make any subs? You'd have Lynn Williams starting?

LT: I have Lynn Williams.

Same lineup as last game?

LT: Yes, yes.

LO: Okay. Got it. Okay, Lindsay Tarpley, Leslie Osborne here, we just ran through the group stages, we are on to the knockout rounds people and this is where it gets even more exciting. So make sure you tune in and go USA!

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