U. S. plans to punch up play for Colom­bia match

The World Cup team, amid ques­tions on its at­tack, says stronger play starts now.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

ED­MON­TON, Canada — Alex Mor­gan said the U. S. has been too pre­dictable. Christie Ram­pone said they’ve been too tight. And Abby Wam­bach blamed the turf.

But while the ex­cuses ... uh, ex­pla­na­tions ... for the Amer­i­cans’ punch­less per­for­mance in the women’s World Cup may dif­fer, there is agree­ment within the team on one thing: It is go­ing to get bet­ter.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be peak­ing at the right mo­ment,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “And that’s the most im­por­tant thing.”

The right mo­ment could come Mon­day night, when the U. S. plays Colom­bia in the round of 16. The stakes have in­creased since the for­giv­ing three- game group-play stage. Now it’s win and go on or lose and go home.

So far in this tour­na­ment, the U. S. hasn’t given it­self much mar­gin for er­ror.

Although the Amer­i­cans won their group and en­tered the elim­i­na­tion stages un­beaten, they scored just four goals in do­ing so. Ger­many has two play­ers — Anja Mit­tag and Celia Sa­sic — who have scored more than that by them­selves.

Mor­gan’s re­turn to the start­ing line af­ter more than two months spent nurs­ing a bone bruise to her left knee brought new energy and un­pre­dictabil­ity to the U. S. at­tack in its f inal group- play game with Nige­ria. And though that led to 14 shots and seven shots on goal — the most pro­duc­tive night of the tour­na­ment for the U. S. — it re­sulted in just one goal.

Ram­pone, play­ing in her fifth World Cup, said she ex­pects the U. S. to thrive un­der the pres­sure of the elim­i­na­tion rounds.

“It’s just play­ing to our strengths,” she said. “I think you’ll see peo­ple re­ally loosen up and go af­ter it. We were play­ing too tight.

“We have such cre­ativ­ity and amaz­ing play­ers up top, the per­son­al­i­ties will start shin­ing through.”

U. S. Coach Jill El­lis isn’t buy­ing that com­pletely. With a ros­ter that came into this tour­na­ment with a com­bined 25 years’ worth of World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence, nerves shouldn’t be a prob­lem. Fin­ish­ing, how­ever, has been.

“When a ball comes across the box and you’ve got to meet it with your head and you have that op­portu- nity, I don’t think that’s tight­ness,” El­lis said. “It’s the ex­e­cu­tion piece at the crit­i­cal mo­ment in a pres­sure sit­u­a­tion.

“The thing that gives me con­fi­dence is I’ve got the play­ers that have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in the pres­sure cooker. And our chances are com­ing. From set pieces, from wide ar­eas, from cen­tral ar­eas. And now it’s that fi­nal piece.”

So for El­lis, the chal­lenge is f ind­ing that f inal piece while keep­ing her play­ers — es­pe­cially the 35- year- old Wam­bach — fresh. If the U. S. beats Colom­bia, it will play China in the quar­ter­fi­nals four days later. It’s un­likely Wam­bach will be able to play ex­ten­sively in both games, so El­lis must de­cide when to rest her and who to start in her place.

The Amer­i­cans also need to an­swer the vex­ing ques­tions about their at­tack, be­cause de­spite their swag­ger, ex­pe­ri­ence and un­matched star power, they no longer in­tim­i­date op­po­nents. Dur­ing the group stage, the Aus­tralians said the U. S. was all talk and “a team stuck in the past.” Nige­ria was equally unim­pressed.

Now comes Colom­bia and midfielder Lady An­drade. She sucker- punched Wam­bach in the 2012 Olympics, earn­ing a two- game sus­pen­sion. And she’s been ver­bally jab­bing the U. S. again here, pre­dict­ing a Colom­bian up­set.

It wouldn’t be the f irst of the tour­na­ment for the South Amer­i­cans, who stunned third- ranked France, 2- 0, in group play.

The good news for the U. S., then, is the play­ers say they can get bet­ter. The bad news is they may be run­ning out of time to make that hap­pen.

“We want to con­tinue to grow,” said Wam­bach, who ear­lier in the tour­na­ment said the U. S. may have lost as many as three goals to the ar­ti­fi­cial turf. “We’re still a work in progress. I don’t want to be peak­ing un­til we’re stand­ing on that top podium at the end of the tour­na­ment. That is the mo­ment when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether, when ev­ery­thing fits.

“We got real close four years ago but ... some­thing was miss­ing. What that is, I can’t tell you. But hope­fully I can tell you in a cou­ple of weeks.”

Kyle Ri­vas Getty I mages

CHRISTIE RAM­PONE says her team will loosen up in elim­i­na­tion rounds. “We were play­ing too tight.”

Jonathan Hayward As­so­ci­ated Press

ALEX MOR­GAN brought energy and un­pre­dictabil­ity to the U. S. of­fense af­ter her re­turn from in­jury.

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