U.S. is ready to up its of­fense

Af­ter win­ning group stage with few goals, fo­cus is on scor­ing in the knock­out round.

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

ED­MON­TON, Canada — The group stage of this World Cup didn’t go ex­actly the way Carli Lloyd hoped it would.

Oh, sure, the U.S. won its group for the first time since 2007, earn­ing what should be a rel­a­tively smooth ride through to the semi­fi­nals. But that proved harder than it should have, with the U.S. scor­ing just once in its fi­nal two games.

Now the Amer­i­cans have four op­por­tu­ni­ties to make ev­ery­one for­get that, be­gin­ning with their first game of the knock­out stage Mon­day against Colom­bia.

“Those three games are in the past,” Lloyd said of group play. “It doesn’t mat­ter what hap­pened. If we reach the fi­nal, no one talks about the group games.”

And that’s a con­ver­sa­tion Lloyd would def­i­nitely like to end.

As a cen­tral midfielder, Lloyd is among those most re­spon­si­ble for fu­el­ing the U.S. at­tack. But she strug­gled in the group stage, and as a re­sult, so did the Ameri- can for­wards, who scored just once.

When Lloyd showed up for Thurs­day’s train­ing ses­sion, how­ever, she was smil­ing. It was a new day and the start of a new round, so she was look­ing ahead, not back.

“Per­son­ally, it’s been tough,” she said. “We’re mov­ing for­ward. We know that we can do bet­ter. There’s more in us.

“We know we can still push and still give more.”

De­fender Christie Ram­pone, play­ing in her fifth World Cup, says the U.S. has no choice. In the sud­den­death elim­i­na­tion stage, one mis­take could end the tour- na­ment.

“Now it’s re­ally fo­cus­ing. Ev­ery minute mat­ters,” she said.

For Ram­pone, that pres­sure can be strangely lib­er­at­ing. Which is why she ex­pects the U.S. at­tack to come alive as well.

“The mind-set is hav­ing a pos­i­tive out­look.... And kind of just let­ting loose and get­ting more into our at­tack and not so much be­ing on our heels,” said Ram­pone, 39, whose 10-minute shift off the bench Mon­day against Nige­ria made her the old­est woman to play in a World Cup.

“We need to go af­ter teams a lit­tle bit more. It’s now just kind of re­leas­ing and be­ing a lit­tle bit more free and con­fi­dent on the of­fen­sive side.”

The Amer­i­cans also got good news with the full-time re­turn of for­ward Alex Mor­gan in time for the knock­out rounds. Mor­gan, who was nurs­ing a bone bruise to her left knee, started in the group-play fi­nale for the first time in more than two months and played 65 min­utes, com­pletely chang­ing the U.S. of­fense.

“Huge,” said Abby Wam­bach, Mor­gan’s strike part­ner. “We need Alex Mor­gan to win this tour­na­ment.”

There’s one other sig­nif­i­cant change be­tween group play and the knock­out round, though, and that in­volves the sched­ule. Af­ter play­ing three in eight days in the first round, the U.S. won’t play again un­til Mon­day.

The Amer­i­cans won’t even train Fri­day, which Ram­pone said will mean rest for her 39-year-old legs — and bore­dom for the rest of her body.

“A lot of movies. A lot of TV shows,” she said when asked how she’ll fill the down time. “Just kind of try­ing to get the mind away from the game of soc­cer. Be­cause you need that.”

Julio Cortez As­so­ci­ated Press

CARLI LLOYD said if U.S. reaches the Cup fi­nal, no one will care about its scor­ing woes in the first round.

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