Room for goals, not for er­ror

De­fense has been strong, but Wam­bach wants U. S. to find the net more of­ten

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

OT­TAWA — Carli Lloyd and Lori Chalupny have thought about it. And both say the U. S. would be a lot bet­ter in this Women’s World Cup if the play­ers thought a lit­tle less.

“When you over­think too much you can kind of be un­sure of your­self,” Lloyd said. “At the end of the day it’s a game we’ve played our whole lives. And when we step out on the field, we’ve just got to let in­stincts take over.”

Added Chalupny: “In the at­tack it is kind of about [ be­ing] a lit­tle bit more free f low and less think­ing. We’ll f ig­ure it out.”

They’d bet­ter. Be­cause a mis­take against China in

Fri­day’s quar­ter­fi­nal could hand the U. S. its ear­li­est exit in World Cup history.

On the other hand, that pres­sure could fi­nally be the thing that helps the Amer­i­cans shine.

“This team per­forms bet­ter when we are un­der pres­sure,” U. S. de­fender Becky Sauer­brunn said. “We put a lot of pres­sure on our­selves to be the best. Ev­ery game we go into, we ex­pect our­selves to win.

“So we’re kind of used to that pres­sure.”

This World Cup has been a tale of two ex­tremes for the U. S. On de­fense, the Amer­i­cans and their young back line have been bril­liant, giv­ing up just one goal — none in the last 333 min­utes — and only 11 shots on tar­get.

For the de­fend­ers, then, any talk of de­fi­cien­cies in the U. S. at­tack has fallen on deaf ears.

“Well, you can call it de­fi­cien­cies but we’ve got­ten the re­sult that we’ve needed to get in ev­ery sin­gle game,” left back Meghan Klin­gen­berg said of the team, which is un­beaten in four games. “If we keep teams to zero goals and only score one per game I wouldn’t say that’s a de­fi­ciency. I’d say that’s win­ning.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, the play­ers whose job is to score goals have a dif­fer­ent take.

“We want to def­i­nitely con­vert more on our op­por­tu­ni­ties to score,” Abby Wam­bach said of a U. S. team that has scored just twice from the run of play in its last three games. “There’s cer­tain things that we can do bet­ter. And from a for­ward’s po­si­tion — and ac­tu­ally [ as] a leader on this team — I want to score more goals.”

In­ter­na­tional soc­cer’s all- time leader with 183 ca­reer goals, Wam­bach has scored just once in this tour­na­ment and has, at times, looked very much like the 35- year- old part- time player for­mer U. S. coach Pia Sund­hage said she was.

Wam­bach has played 159 min­utes on the un­for­giv­ing ar­ti­fi­cial turf in the last 10 days — badly shank­ing a penalty kick in the progress — but she is the world’s best player in the air. And with the U. S. en­joy­ing a de­cided height ad­van­tage over the Chi­nese, she may start again Fri­day.

“Abby has some unique tools,” U. S. Coach Jill El­lis said. “I look at China, I look at what they present and what tools we have to be suc­cess­ful and break them down.

“I think [ Abby] would be ready to go 90 min­utes if asked.”

There are two other key play­ers who def­i­nitely won’t play, though. U. S. mid­field­ers Lau­ren Hol­i­day and Me­gan Rapi­noe both picked up their sec­ond yel­low cards against Colom­bia on Mon­day and are in­el­i­gi­ble for the quar­ter­fi­nal game. El­lis said Mor­gan Brian will take Hol­i­day’s spot and Chris­ten Press is Rapi­noe’s likely re­place­ment.

Whether the change in per­son­nel will lead to a change in tac­tics, El­lis wouldn’t say. But Press is a nat­u­ral for­ward, so if she starts the U. S. could dump its static 4- 4- 2 for­ma­tion and go with three play­ers in the mid­field and three up top .

“At this point it’s not about chang­ing shape,” El­lis said. “A lineup is just an align­ment of play­ers. It’s how you play within any shape. So it’s re­ally about how mo­bile we are.

“It’s not a mat­ter of be­ing sat­is­fied. These are play­ers that love chal­lenges. Cer­tainly we’re ca­pa­ble of a lot more. And that’s the ex­pec­ta­tion.”

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