Any­thing but the ti­tle is ‘a fail­ure in our book’

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

WIN­NIPEG, Canada — Shan­non Boxx has vivid mem­o­ries of the last women’s World Cup. And not just be­cause the U.S. lost.

Rather, it was how the Amer­i­cans lost that proved im­pos­si­ble to for­get, with the U.S. twice blow­ing one-goal leads be­fore fall­ing to Ja­pan on penalty kicks.

“We were so close,” Boxx said, drawing out the fi­nal word. “It took me months to get over that one. You’re see­ing ev­ery sin­gle per­son that was in that one say­ing we

need to win this one.”

The U.S. will get started on that Mon­day when it meets Australia in the first of its three group-play games be­fore a largely pro-U.S. crowd of more than 30,000.

But for Boxx and her team­mates, 14 of whom were on the U.S. ros­ter four years ago, this World Cup isn’t so much about mak­ing up for lost time as it is about mak­ing this time count. Ten play­ers will be at least 30 years old when next month’s fi­nal is played, mak­ing the U.S. team the old­est in the tour­na­ment.

And for some — in­clud­ing for­ward Abby Wam­bach (35), mid­field­ers Boxx (37) and Carli Lloyd (32) and goal­keeper Hope Solo (33) — that means this is prob­a­bly their last op­por­tu­nity to win a World Cup ti­tle, a prize that has eluded the Amer­i­cans for 16 years.

“This is it. The last chance to add an­other star above that crest,” Lloyd said.

“I want to win a World Cup, as [do] so many other play­ers. So any­thing but first place is def­i­nitely a fail­ure in our book.”

Mak­ing that hap­pen won’t be easy, though. Although the U.S. got good news Sun­day about for­ward Alex Mor­gan, who will be avail­able af­ter miss­ing the last two months to a bone bruise on her left knee, an ex­panded World Cup field means the Amer­i­cans will have to play seven games in less than 30 days if they make the fi­nal.

And for the first time, the tour­na­ment will be played on ar­ti­fi­cial turf, a sur­face U.S. mid­fielder Megan Rapi­noe likened to padded con­crete.

“Turf makes a dif­fer­ence and puts a lit­tle more wear and tear on the body,” Wam­bach agreed.

That could work in the Amer­i­cans’ fa­vor, though, be­cause more games on a pun­ish­ing sur­face will test a team’s depth — and in ad­di­tion to hav­ing the old­est team in the tour­na­ment, the U.S. may have the deep­est team as well.

Mor­gan’s sta­tus could change that, though. If she suf­fers a set­back or her play­ing time is limited, that could force U.S. Coach Jill El­lis to give ad­di­tional min­utes to the aging Wam­bach, short­en­ing the U.S. bench.

“If called upon to start, I’d be ready to start,” said Mor­gan, who was wear­ing an ice bag on her left knee af­ter train­ing Sun­day. “If I need to play 90 [min­utes] then I would play 90.”

That’s un­likely, since Mor­gan re­turned to full train­ing just a week ago. But she said there was never a doubt in her mind she’d play in this World Cup.

“I al­ways felt like when it came to the World Cup, when we got to Canada, I would feel healthy. It would be mind over mat­ter,” she said. “It puts me more at ease know­ing that I ac­tu­ally feel healthy. And that my knee is ac­tu­ally do­ing well.”

Then there’s the group the U.S. was drawn into, which is, on pa­per, the most com­pet­i­tive in the tour­na­ment. Af­ter Australia, ranked 10th in the world, the U.S. faces No. 5 Swe­den on Fri­day be­fore closing pool play against Nige­ria, a nine­time African cham­pion, next week in Van­cou­ver.

Any stum­ble in the first round could prove costly for the Amer­i­cans, listed be­hind only Ger­many in the FIFA world rank­ings. That’s be­cause if the U.S. wins the group it would be matched against a third-place team in the round of 16, mak­ing the path to the fi­nal con­sid­er­ably eas­ier.

If they fin­ish sec­ond though, the Amer­i­cans are likely to face Brazil in their first knock­out game. And if they win that, they could meet de­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­pan in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

A quick start is im­por­tant, then, and the U.S. is con­fi­dent it can achieve that against an Aus­tralian team it has not lost to in 24 tries.

“There’s an air of con­fi­dence,” Lloyd said. “But at the same time, this isn’t just a walk in the park. This is the first game. It’s go­ing to be a lot dif­fer­ent.”

The play­ers on both sides cer­tainly know each other be­cause nine Aus­tralians have played pro­fes­sion­ally in the U.S. One of those is speedy for­ward Lisa De Vanna, who scored five goals in the last two World Cups, lead­ing Australia to the quar­ter­fi­nals both times.

But for Wam­bach, who is mak­ing her fourth run at that elu­sive ti­tle, none of the chal­lenges are in­sur­mount­able. In less than a month, a World Cup will be awarded in Van­cou­ver, and to get there, the U.S. must get through group play first.

“We’re go­ing to play Australia, Swe­den and Nige­ria,” Wam­bach said. “They’re in my way to what I want to do. And if you’re in my way, look out.”

Doug Pensinger Getty Images

SHAN­NON BOXX will fight, maybe for the last time, to win a World Cup.

Brian Bahr Getty Images

ABBY WAM­BACH (20), shown at a match last month, says Australia, Swe­den and Nige­ria are in her way at the World Cup. “And if you’re in my way, look out.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.