Becky Sauerbrunn: “I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to keep a clean sheet.” (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
In a side that has boasted such deadly players as Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and most recently Alex Morgan, it’s easy to get lost in the avalanche of these world-class US women’s national team goalscorers.
After all, they grab the headlines when they score goals – they’ve proven productive – but there’s another side to the overall success of the team and in Women’s World Cup qualifying.
As devastating as the attack is, the defense was near perfect.
Admittedly, outside of Canada and Mexico, Concacaf women’s teams will never be compared to, among others, Brazil, England and France. And yes, USA are known for maintaining possession for long periods of time.
But a goal conceded is a goal conceded.
And the USWNT has amassed many of them in seven qualifying campaigns since 1991.
The Americans, who head into their opening game against Haiti in the Concacaf W Championship on Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET (Paramount+), have recorded 29 shutouts in 33 games and conceded just five goals during WCQ.
“I can’t tell you how proud it makes me to keep a clean sheet,” US center-back and captain Becky Sauerbrunn said during a Zoom press conference on Sunday. “After every single game, the first thing I do is go back to my goalkeeper, because that’s what we do. We’re so proud of it. And what’s so great is having Vlatko. who played as a defender even when he, i think he has such an appreciation for defense. Not only the defense and the goalkeeper are so proud of the clean sheets, but the entire team. On the field you can see that everyone from the nine to the goalie is switching defensively. The team is really very proud of that.”
This reporter relayed the above figures to Sauerbrunn via the USWNT.
“To me that you rattled off this record of shutouts and wins is really amazing,” she said. “I know attacking this team is ridiculous because unfortunately I have to face them every day, but it’s also fortunate because they’ve definitely prepared me and the defense and anyone who plays defense for what we’re up for will come across this tournament.”
While this author was the editor of Soccer Magazine, I was actually in Montreal covering the Concacaf Women’s Championship in Montreal in August 1994 – aka World Cup qualifiers for the 1995 competition in Sweden I was writing
The day before the USA faced Canada in their fourth and final Concacaf Women’s Championship game, a television crew from England conducted a series of interviews with the team by the pool at Montreal’s Universal Hotel.
Suddenly some of the equipment started falling onto the pool but goalkeeper Briana Scurry prevented it from hitting the water. US Press Secretary Paul Martin noted that Scurry had made their first save in Montreal after three games. As it turned out, Scurry had to make four saves in America’s 6-0 win in the Aug. 21 game, but the scenario said a lot about America’s continued dominance in the region.
When asked how important it is for the USWNT to remind their opponents that it’s difficult to score against one’s team, head coach Vlatko Andonovski replied, “It’s primarily a reminder to ourselves that we don’t want to that someone will score against us and that’s the right mindset that we strive for in every training session when we’re playing. That’s the mindset. We go to every friendly match and also to big tournaments.
“We would just do anything not to get hit. That speaks for the defense and the goalkeeper, but also for the whole team. We want to both defend as a team and attack as a team. So I don’t think anything will change. We’re going to come out with a mindset that we don’t want to get hit with, while also hitting as many as possible on the other side.”
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