Women's World Cup: Coach Pia Sundhage uses different pitch
Sundhage risked playing with three defenders after Rachel Buehler was red-carded against Brazil, and the Americans got a late goal in overtime to force penalty kicks. During the semifinal against France, she switched from a 4-4-2 alignment to a 4-5-1, dropping forward Abby Wambach deep and shifting Cheney into central midfield to calm the frantic Americans.
"Pia just brings that calmness," Rampone said. "She never shows through her body language that she's nervous. She's someone you can look toward in tough situations as a leader."
The Americans have supported these chess moves without complaint, O'Reilly said, because the players appreciate that Sundhage reinforces what they do right instead of stressing what they do wrong.
"It has to do with her looking at everything in a positive light," O'Reilly said.
Sundhage often says that she coaches "what is healthy," meaning that if a player makes a determined run, bends a daring pass or takes an ambitious shot, "I try to tell them this is good, try it again," instead of "this is not good enough."
"It is OK to make mistakes," she said. "The biggest mistake you can make is if you don't try. You need relaxed players who try hard."
But trying hard may not be enough to win another World Cup.
The United States is still prevailing more with athleticism, fitness, speed and resolve than with soccer skills. Sundhage has implored her team to rely less on the long ball and headed goals from Wambach, to be more unpredictable and patient, to draw more players into the attack, to string together more than two or three passes. Otherwise, the Americans risk exposure and exhaustion if they are forced to chase the Japanese for much of Sunday's final.
"We need to keep possession better, need to be more patient," Sundhage said. "It will be hard only to defend and defend."
During her own career with the Swedish national team, Sundhage played several positions, but as her position changed, her personality did not.
"She used to sing at all the banquets," said Julie Foudy, a former U.S. captain who played in those earlier World Cups. "We used to chant for her to sing and laugh and say, 'Who is this crazy lady? We love her.'"
Women's World Cup
Third place game
France vs. Sweden
Saturday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2
United States vs. Japan
Sunday, 12:45 p.m., ESPN
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