Lindsay Tarpley is set to miss the World Cup after tearing the ACL in her right knee in Saturday’s friendly match against Japan. Injuries at crucial times always seem cruel. Injuries to veterans who successfully rebounded from a series of similar injuries to return to tip-top form seems downright unfair. But alas, these things happen. The USWNT is simply the latest team to fall victim to the injury curse that has already claimed World Cup bound players including the likes of Canada’s Josee Belanger and Stephanie Labbe, Australia’s Kate Gill, and possibly Germany’s Dzsenifer Morazsan.
There really is no bona fide replacement for Tarpley in the current USWNT player pool. Next to Abby Wambach, Tarpley had the most career goals in the World Cup roster with 32. Her brief appearance against Japan proved that she still has plenty of game left. However, Pia Sundhage won’t have her services at her disposal anymore, which paves the way for another player to fill the void.
Sundhage has until approximately June 13 to make her final decision on a replacement. The two most obvious option are Kelley O’Hara and Yael Averbuch; two midfielders who narrowly missed out on the World Cup squad. Judging by nc-soccer.com’s terrific photos of the USWNT’s training session, neither player has been called up to train with the team ahead of its friendly against Japan in Cary on Wednesday. Not yet, at least. (Sinead Farrelly has been called up, however, which is immensely intriguing in it of itself. Other then Whitney Engen, the Independence rookie seems to be the only new face not included in the original World Cup roster.) Regardless, Sundhage might have already have Tarpley’s replacement in mind and perhaps that player has already been notified. Or maybe she doesn’t, and will plan to assess O’Hara and Averbuch over the next few weeks before making a decision. Or maybe she’ll fool everyone and call up, say, Tina DiMartino. Or heck, Sinead Farrelly.
Anyway, for the sake of this (potentially) straw man argument, here’s a case for and against the call-ups of both Kelley O’Hara and Yael Averbuch.
Like-for-like. The most obvious one, no doubt, and the factor that works in O’Hara’s favor the most. KO was one of the most productive wingers in WPS last year. She needed no time fitting in to FC Gold Pride’s star-studded attack, recording six goals and four assists over 18 total games. O’Hara could be a serviceable, quick, creative, tenacious option when the USWNT is in need of some fresh legs off the bench.
One for the future. If called up, O’Hara will be the second youngest player in the squad behind Alex Morgan. One of the biggest gripes amongst USWNT fans about the World Cup roster was the lack of youth. O’Hara’s call-up will most certainly help to correct that. O’Hara is primed to be a prominent figure in the USWNT for years to come. Of note, Tony DiCicco seemed particularly perturbed by O’Hara’s snub, as per the Boston Breakers’ World Cup roster press release. In it, DiCicco’s very first quote didn’t address the call-ups of Lauren Cheney, Amy LePeilbet, Rachel Buehler and Stephanie Cox. Rather, it was about O’Hara’s non call-up. “I am very proud of our national Team players, and that includes Kelley O’Hara, even though she did not get the call-up this time,” he said, “Kelley is a young star with her best soccer and a wonderful international career ahead of her.” Perhaps not that far ahead, as it turns out.
Inury concern. O’Hara has been nursing an Achilles injury as of late, which forced her to miss the Breakers’ match against the Flash this past weekend. Official word came in last night, and DiCicco says O’Hara is expected to play this week. O’Hara says her Achilles feels “very good”. So maybe it’s not so serious after all.
Relatively inexperienced. Despite having plenty of experience at youth level, KO is still a new arrival to the senior USWNT scene. In all, she has a total of five caps, 158 minutes, and zero goals. She’s made two brief appearances in 2011, one of which came in the Four Nations tournament and the other in the Algarve Cup. Will Sundhage roll the dice on a player who perhaps isn’t fully integrated in the USWNT set-up?
Holding midfielder. If Sundhage is serious about employing a holding midfielder and Shannon Boxx continues to look out of sorts at the position, Averbuch could stand at the ready. Her involvement will add some variability to Sundhage’s options in midfield. If the team needs some clean-up work done in midfield late in games, Averbuch could be called upon to keep things tight and secure. It’s really all up to Sundhage and the formation she wishes to utilize.
One for the future. Barring any surprise call-ups of Flash teammate Becky Edwards, the 24 year-old could be the most obvious candidate to step in and fill Shannon Boxx’s boots. Although Averbuch has been making a steady stream of USWNT appearances for an entire World Cup cycle, she’s still a young player who will look to play a large part in the complexion of the team moving forward.
Experienced and dedicated. Averbuch earned her first cap at the age of 20 back in January of 2007. Since then, the former Tar Heel has collected 16 total caps, 10 of which came in 2010. Averbuch is also a solid option in dead ball situations. Her first ever goal came off a free kick against Costa Rica in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying this past October. The New Jersey native has been in the USWNT’s books for years, so shouldn’t have to worry about a prolonged adjustment period. Her decision to forego club play in order to train with the USWNT in West Palm Beach also shows her desire and dedication to the cause. A call-up would be a nice, if bittersweet, reward.
Holding midfielder. Again, it all comes down to Sundhage’s preference as to whether she’d like to take two defensively-minded midfielders or several out-an-out wide attackers. Averbuch has spent time out wide (notably in the USWNT’s friendly against Mexico in March of 2010) but the position didn’t seem to best suit Averbuch’s strengths. Her complete abandonment at the Algarve Cup could also be telling.
And just for fun…Sinead Farrelly:
A true attacking central midfielder: Carli Lloyd’s exact function is getting more and more difficult to peg as Abby Wambach continues to emerge as a deep-lying playmaker who is most dangerous in the hole behind the lone striker. Sinead Farrelly entered WPS after a highly impressive tenure at UVA. Chris Henderson called her a “rampaging” midfielder after she was drafted second overall, and she’s confirmed the tag in the handful of games she’s played in for the Independence. Philadelphia head coach Paul Riley said Farrelly was one of the most natural midfielders he had ever coached before she had even made her pro debut. Farrelly appears utterly confident and strong on the ball, is an accomplished distributor, and isn’t afraid to rip a shot from distance.
Inexperienced: Farrelly has yet to earn a USWNT cap or even get called up to a game day roster. The 21 year-old made it to her first senior camp when Sundhage invited upwards of 30 players to the first USWNT’s first training stint in Florida two months ago. She’s had a modest career with the youth national teams, although she did tally two assists in the U-23s tournament in La Manga, Spain in early March.
She’s an attacking midfielder. Carli Lloyd is never going to get displaced and Lori Lindsey is almost certainly the second option at central midfield. That really leaves no place for Farrelly in this squad, unless she can slot in at outside mid. Perhaps she’s just auditioning to be one of the nine reserves?