The Netherlands has shown it has enough weapons to challenge the United States for the Women’s World Cup championship. Not now, but in 2023.
The US has been the dominant team of the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup, outscoring six opponents, 24-3, and never trailing in a game. The Dutch, reigning European champions, are technical enough to provide a challenge for the US in the title game in Lyon, France, on Sunday. But the Leeuwinnen do not seem prepared to overcome the physicality of the defending champions.
■ Experience counts in a final. The US will be competing in its fifth World Cup title game, and 12 American players were on the team that won the 2015 championship. That includes Carli Lloyd, now used as a super sub, who had a hat trick in a 5-2 win over Japan in the ’15 final.
■ Players claim the US “A” team or “B” team could win the World Cup. Could be, but the Dutch can say that in a one-off game, you only need 11 players at their best to have a chance. The Netherlands could perform as well as Spain, France, or England, but none of those opponents seemed capable of actually winning against the US. England had the best chance of equalizing in sustaining a 2-1 loss in the semifinals, but likely would have been routed in extra time. The Lionesses would have been playing shorthanded, while the US would have been boosted by Lloyd and other reserves.
■ So far, the Netherlands’ youthfulness has been an asset. The Dutch players are athletic enough to take on one-on-one challenges anywhere on the field, they present a skillful style, and they have been resilient. Only one Netherlands field player — defender Anouk Dekker, 32 — is older than 29, the average age of the US team. In a 1-0 extra-time win over Sweden in the semifinals, the Dutch seemed to grow stronger as the match progressed. But they are missing battle-tested veterans to provide guidance.
■ The best chance for the Netherlands to score could come from the combination of center forward Vivianne Miedema and playmaking midfielder Danielle van de Donk. But there are questions whether wingers Lineth Beerensteyn and Shanice van de Sanden can stretch the US back line. If not, there will be little room to maneuver for Miedema and van de Donk.
■ The Americans’ sheer athleticism and competitiveness should make a difference. The US can strike quickly via Tobin Heath on the right wing and Christen Press or Megan Rapinoe on the left, or play long balls through Alex Morgan. In midfield, ball-winners Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan, and Sam Mewis could overwhelm the Dutch. Left back Crystal Dunn is a formidable obstacle, and if shoring up on the outside is needed, Horan or Mewis can provide support. The Netherlands’ Lieke Martens (foot) will be missing, and that could open the way for US right back Kelley O’Hara to join the attack.
■ US roster depth and versatility allow coach Jill Ellis tactical options. The Yanks went 4-1-4-1 against England, an alignment that helped generate offense from the flanks and out of the back. The US has been vulnerable through the middle, and in late-game situations switches to a 5-4-1 with Ertz plugging the gap. Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman played for the 1989 NCAA champion University of North Carolina, and that experience should help her understand the US mind-set. Wiegman will likely have the Oranje play to their strengths, attacking on the right wing and through van de Donk in the middle — unlike England coach Phil Neville, who basically surrendered the battle on the wings in an attempt go through the middle. But the Netherlands players will need to adjust to the pressure of a final and figure out how to react to the hard-charging US midfield.