Length of trip is at stake for U.S.

Where the team plays its game in the next round de­pends on its fin­ish in Group D.

Los Angeles Times - - WOMEN'S WORLD CUP - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@latimes.com

VAN­COU­VER, Canada — The task is rather sim­ple for the United States if it wants to win its group at the women’s World Cup and pre­vent a lengthy trip across Canada to New Brunswick for the sec­ond round. Just win, baby. Any other re­sult in the team’s group-stage fi­nal with Nige­ria on Tues­day and things get com­pli­cated. Here are the sce­nar­ios:

Win the game and the U.S. wins Group D. If that doesn’t hap­pen, the U.S. needs help. If it ties with Nige­ria, it can still fin­ish atop the group but only if Aus­tralia and Swe­den tie or Swe­den beats Aus­tralia by one goal. Even if Nige­ria wins, the U.S. can win the group pro­vided it loses by only a goal and Swe­den ties Aus­tralia.

The U.S. fin­ishes sec­ond if it ties Nige­ria and Aus­tralia beats Swe­den; it ties Nige­ria and Swe­den beats Aus­tralia by more than two goals; it loses to Nige­ria and there is a win­ner be­tween Aus­tralia and Swe­den.

And although los­ing to Nige­ria by two goals or more would cost the U.S. the group ti­tle, it wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily elim­i­nate it from the World Cup be­cause it could still ad­vance to the round of 16 as a third-place team, pos­si­bly play­ing Ger­many in the next round.

“One of my scouts the other day said there’s like 13 dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios,” U.S. Coach Jill El­lis said. “Well, I’ll be hon­est. I can spin that.”

The U.S. be­ing knocked out re­ally isn’t likely at this point. But where it goes could have a big ef­fect in how much longer the team stays in Canada.

That’s be­cause the Group D cham­pion wins a 90-minute flight to Ed­mon­ton for a knock­out-round game against a third-place team. Win that game and it will face a group run­ner-up in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Fin­ish sec­ond in Group D and the U.S. must take a 2,650-mile flight across Canada to play un­beaten and un­tied Brazil in tiny Monc­ton, in the province of New Brunswick. Get past Brazil and the likely quar­ter­fi­nal op­po­nent would be Ja­pan, the only other un­beaten and un­tied team in the tour­na­ment.

So in this case, the dif­fer­ence be­tween first and sec­ond is more than just a spot in the stand­ings.

“If you were to say ‘Hey, you’re in the group of death and go­ing into your last game you have an op­por­tu­nity to try to win it.’ Yeah, I’d take that,” El­lis said. “For me, I just fo­cus on one game at a time. It’s all I can con­trol.

“I’ve just got to fo­cus on the per­for­mance of the play­ers, get­ting them men­tally ready, get­ting them fo­cused and sharp.”

Even though the U.S. is un­beaten in group play, it didn’t score in its last out­ing and has been shut out five times in its last 13 games, match­ing the long­est such streak in U.S. history. So ex­pect some changes Tues­day, with for­ward Alex Mor­gan pos­si­bly get­ting her first start of this World Cup and Tobin Heath a likely ad­di­tion to the mid­field.

“I would say this to ev­ery sin­gle player on the team: We’ve got to raise our per­for­mance,” El­lis said. “To me it is about get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. The nerves should be gone. And now it’s re­ally time to fo­cus on what we need to do.”

For Nige­ria it’s ba­si­cally win or go home. With one point af­ter two group games, the team needs a vic­tory, or a draw and some help from Aus­tralia in the other group­play fi­nal to stay alive.

Nige­ria isn’t in­ter­ested in do­ing com­pli­cated math at this point, though.

“It’s a must-win game for us,” for­ward Asisat Oshoala said.

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