Blame lies at their feet

Wam­bach says the World Cup team is be­ing af­fected by not play­ing on grass.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

U.S. play­ers say ar­tif icial turf at Women’s World Cup is hin­der­ing their of­fense.

VAN­COU­VER, Canada — Fi­nally, an ex­pla­na­tion for the U.S. team’s of­fen­sive strug­gles at the women’s World Cup: It’s the ar­ti­fi­cial turf.

In the team’s open­ing game, a 3-1 win over Australia, Abby Wam­bach hit two head­ers that went wide. And in Fri­day’s score­less tie with Swe­den, Wam­bach’s div­ing header off the turf was def lected over the cross­bar by goal­keeper Hed­vig Lin­dahl.

“I score if we’re on grass,” Wam­bach said af­ter the U.S. re­lo­cated from Win­nipeg to Van­cou­ver for Tues­day’s group-play fi­nal with Nige­ria. “The ball, as it comes off my head against Swe­den, hits a dry turf and bounces higher. If it hits grass, it’s harder for a goal­keeper to re­act.”

Against Australia, the abra­sive sur­face had Wam­bach think­ing be­fore div­ing.

“I don’t com­pletely lay out and com­mit to those head­ers and that’s why they glance off my head rather than me con­tact­ing them,” she said Satur­day. “I def­i­nitely think that the United States has more goals if we’re play­ing on grass.”

Wam­bach led a coali­tion of more than 60 top play­ers in chal­leng­ing FIFA’s de­ci­sion to make this tour­na­ment the first World Cup played solely on ar­ti­fi­cial turf. That chal­lenge, in front of the On­tario Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal, was dropped in Jan­uary.

But one of the ar­gu­ments in the com­plaint was that soc­cer is played dif­fer­ently on ar­ti­fi­cial turf. And both Wam­bach and the law­suit may have a point since scor­ing is way down in this World Cup.

Take away Ger­many’s 10-0 victory over Ivory Coast and two losses in which Ecuador gave up 16 goals, and there have been only 2.24 goals per game in the tour­na­ment. That’s down nearly half a goal from four years ago.

Two games have ended score­less, the first since 2007, and six have pro­duced only one goal.

But for­mer U.S. coach Pia Sund­hage, now coach of Swe­den, cred­its par­ity for the change.

“The gap be­tween the best team and the worse team is get­ting closer and closer,” she said. “Nowa­days it’s not just ‘go for goals.’ Twelve years back … we’ve got to show every­body we’re a good team and we’re so much bet­ter than the op­po­nents. That is not the case to­day. You have to be more care­ful with the game plan.”

The U.S. was shut out twice in six games on grass be­fore get­ting to Canada. In the last of those, a score­less tie with South Korea in Har­ri­son, N.J., the U.S. failed to score at home for the first time since 2008. And the five shutouts the Amer­i­cans have en­dured since De­cem­ber tie for the most in a 13game span in 26 years.

U.S. for­wards have scored as many goals (six) in the last eight games as have the team’s de­fend­ers.

“I don’t think it was as ef­fi­cient as we needed it to be,” Coach Jill El­lis said of her lat­est lineup, which part­nered Syd­ney Ler­oux with Chris­ten Press up front against Swe­den. “In terms of qual­ity looks and qual­ity chances, I think we could have been bet­ter and more pro­duc­tive out of the two of them.”

So against Nige­ria, a team the U.S. must beat to win the group and as­sure it­self of an eas­ier route through the knock­out stages, there prob­a­bly will be more changes, with Alex Mor­gan or Amy Ro­driguez likely to get her first start of the tour­na­ment.

Wam­bach be­lieves that mak­ing ad­just­ments is ut­terly im­por­tant.

“Cham­pi­onship teams are the teams that are able to deal with all things, in all mo­ments, in all sorts of ways,” Wam­bach said.

‘The gap be­tween the best team and the worse team is get­ting closer and closer.’

— Pia Sund­hage, coach of Swe­den

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