When coaches make unorthodox or unpopular decisions, it’s a rare opportunity to gauge their true worth to an organization.
Fans are used to watching skippers make conventional choices all the time, saying things in press conferences like “Every decision we make on behalf of the Indianapolis Colts is a decision on behalf of the Indianapolis Colts.” I understand why PR machines and CEOs are expected to give the media absolutely nothing substantial to chew on, but it doesn’t help much in handicapping.
Former USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo harshly criticized USA manager Jill Ellis prior to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, opining that only the superior athleticism and veteran seasoning on the roster would be able to pull the squad through to a gold-medal triumph.
When the United States opened the tournament with a 13-0 farce against overmatched Thailand, I was inclined to agree with “Han” Solo, whose Jedi Mind Trick against Célia Šašić in 2015 was largely responsible for the Yanks winning the Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Rarely is a 3-0 victory more impressive than a double-digit win, especially in the relatively low-scoring sport of FIFA soccer. But I changed my mind when I saw how the Stars & Stripes dialed it back on Matchday 2.
Scoring 50 goals on lowly national teams has nothing to do with beating the best in the world in the final bracket and successfully defending the crown.
But strangely, the USWNT’s romp through the group stage – which appears to be in absolutely no danger of ending against Sweden this Thursday – could be preparing the team quite well despite the reverse-weighted bat effect of killing underdogs in non-competitive matches.
Perhaps Ellis is a little more clever than Hope had allowed herself to hope.
USWNT vs Sweden on Matchday 3: Comparing the Sportsbook Odds
As usual, we’ll start with the Women’s World Cup odds at “big shot” Bovada Sportsbook, where the handles and action tend to be steeper than at Mom-and-Pop bookmakers.
At least a majority of gamblers do not seem to have overreacted to the Stars & Stripes outscoring its foes 16-0 in the first 2 Group F fixtures. The USWNT is a (-360) favorite to prevail on Thursday afternoon (U.S. time) while the Over/Under is only (2 ½) total goals. Sweden’s moneyline is a long (+850) with a (+425) Draw line.
To contrast another popular soccer betting site, the 3-way moneyline at Sportsbetting.ag sees a better chance of a Tre-Kronor upset or a drawn result, with (+400) on a 90+ minute deadlock and only a (+680) payoff on Sweden-to-win.
Meanwhile at MyBookie – where the Yanks are now a cool (-1000) futures wager to win Group F – the USWNT is a similar (-370) favorite to beat Sweden while the Swedes’ market enjoys an almost 10-to-1 payoff at (+936) on the winner.
Like Bovada Sportsbook, MyBookie is promising an “Over” payoff on 3 total goals or more scored in the match.
I think Sweden’s moneyline at MyBookie is worth a look, maybe because it’s 1/3rd longer in payoff than the Sportsbetting.ag market.
But it’s that “Over” (2 ½) I’m most interested in.
USWNT: Controversy Won’t Slow the Yanks in France
On the surface the USA’s display of run-it-up goal scoring and cheesy celebrations against Thailand could be seen as a disgrace, unbecoming of a gold medal contender.
Gender and race issues often come up when making this sort of commentary on international football, so let me offer a disclaimer before going forward.
I don’t like anyone running a score up. I don’t think anyone should ever run-up a score unnecessarily in any competition if they can help it. This view is rather old-fashioned and puts me in some admittedly dubious company, such as the hockey mogul and former Boston Bruins head coach Don Cherry.
Grapes has been criticized rightfully for his edgy and often-prejudiced remarks about gender, race, and sexuality. But when the Canadian women’s team opened the ice hockey tournament at the 1998 Winter Olympics by nearly crushing Japan by 20 goals, others patted them on the back or laughed about the result. Not Don Cherry, whose attitude – I would argue – has always been more respectful to the Team Canada and Team USA women than hockey pundits who chuckle at the lopsided scores. To Cherry, women’s sports are to be taken seriously, subject to the same psychology as men’s sports. “Don’t run the score up, you’ll put a target on your own back!” Cherry railed to the Canadian players while imploring the distaff team to knock it off. “It’s not the Canadian way!”
Canada now takes pains not to run scores up anymore in the Ice Hockey World Championship, on the Men’s side or the Women’s side. In the long run, it helps everybody, including the Maple Leaf – which consistently medals in World hockey.
Back to soccer. It was lousy optics when the USWNT appeared to be playing 22 on the pitch vs 11 from poor Thailand last Tuesday, and things got even worse when the squad celebrated every goal like it was a winner against France, China, or England.
Mike Golic, whose last original thought came over dinner in 1987, does manage to point out the key reason why the controversy over the celebrations is largely bunk.
I don’t think that Ellis’ decision to turn the USWNT’s high-powered attack loose against the overwhelmed Chaba Kaew last week – the incomparable Alex Morgan stayed in the match long enough to score 5 times – was 100% because of FIFA’s goal-differential tiebreaker rule, though that aspect of the World Cup is a big part of it.
Timing was always a crucial factor in the team’s tactics. Consider all of the dynamics.
It’s a challenge to avoid overconfidence with a powerful lineup like the United States has brought to France. Taking the Group F tiebreaker-possibility like it’s the real deal is at least a good “excuse” for the squad to have goals (excuse the pun) in a lopsided round-robin opener.
Supporters thought that the scorers were full of themselves. Actually, they were likely fuller of the coach’s precise instructions – score so many times right away that nobody can touch them in a tiebreaker.
The idea is that once the catharsis of an unstoppable 90+ minutes is under the USWNT’s belt, the squad can settle down and focus on getting solid wins en route to the semifinals.
Mission accomplished. In the follow-up match against a more stubborn Chilean side, Carli Lloyd and the Americans simply scored 3 times in the 1st half and left it at that. Keeper Alyssa Naeher had few problems posting a clean sheet against an opponent that only attempted 1 shot.
Don’t Take Tre-Kronor Lightly, But…
The Over/Under line of 2 and ½ goals tells us what Las Vegas and London handicappers are thinking, along with at least a good chunk of the betting public.
Sweden is expected to be the team that will finally slow down the Yanks. The underdogs posted their own clean-sheet win over Chile on Matchday 1, and beat Thailand 5-1 in the follow-up as 5 different players scored.
But the fact that Thailand took 3 shots on-target against keeper Hedvig Lindahl – and even scored a tally in the end – should tell us all we need to know. The United States is far and away the best lineup and best coaching staff in Group F, not even breaking a sweat against sides that bothered its upcoming opponent in the 3rd match.
Yes, Tre-Kronor beat the United States at the Summer Olympics in ’16.
As the Monkees once put it in a song…
Prediction and Over/Under Pick for USA vs Sweden
The U.S. attack is demolishing backlines early in fixtures, and there is little hope for the Swedes to circle wagons and keep the USWNT out of the box with a cautious style.
On the other hand, should Sweden attack and score a goal of its own early? Then the underdogs might really be in for a whipping.
If the United States romps again, they’ll win at least 3-0. If Sweden surprises and scores in the 1st half, there’s likely to be all kinds of scoring in the 2nd frame as the superior squad takes over.
That adds up to very little chance that the “Over” (2 ½) will lose on Thursday.
Wager on USA-Sweden to produce 3 or more goals at the Women’s World Cup.