U.S. says ex­e­cu­tion, not the game plan, changed

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

MON­TREAL — The in­ef­fec­tive per­for­mance of the U.S. at­tack through­out most of this Women’s World Cup has left Coach Jill El­lis de­fend­ing her­self against crit­i­cism her game plans are out­dated and pre­dictable.

Then came Fri­day’s quar­ter­fi­nal, a 1-0 win over China, in which the Amer­i­cans turned in their best per­for­mance of the tour­na­ment. Af­ter­ward El­lis said the strat­egy hadn’t changed — but the ex­e­cu­tion had.

“It’s not like sud­denly this is a dif­fer­ent game plan,” she said. “Keep­ing pos­ses­sion, change of point, tempo — all these things are stressed in ev­ery game. Be­cause at this level all those things, all those com­po­nents, are im­por­tant to be suc­cess­ful.

“This team steps up in big mo­ments. And they rec­og­nized we needed to step up. It wasn’t any­thing dif­fer­ent than they’ve been di­rected to do be­fore.”

El­lis did make one change that proved im­por­tant. With reg­u­lar mid­field­ers Me­gan Rapi­noe and Lau­ren Hol­i­day sus­pended with two yel­low cards, El­lis used Mor­gan Brian as a hold­ing player in what es­sen­tially be­came a diamond mid­field. That freed Carli Lloyd to spend more time orches­trat­ing the at­tack and she re­sponded, push­ing deeper into the of­fen­sive end and scor­ing the game’s only goal in the 51st minute.

“I de­fended more than I’ve ever de­fended,” Brian said. “And it worked.”

Abby Wam­bach, play­ing in her fourth World Cup un­der her fourth coach, came to El­lis’ de­fense af­ter Fri­day’s game, say­ing the fact the U.S. is un­beaten and in the semi­fi­nals is proof El­lis’ strate­gies have been suc­cess­ful.

“Our coach­ing staff, they make good de­ci­sions. And I trust their [de­ci­sions],” she said. “They’re pur­pose­ful. It’s re­ally im­por­tant that they stick to their plan be­cause their plan has been work­ing.”

Refs de­serve a red card

Wam­bach played just four min­utes off the bench in the quar­ter­fi­nal, but she al­most didn’t get that.

FIFA con­sid­ered sus­pend­ing her for com­ments she made about French ref­eree Stephanie Frap­part, who gave Rapi­noe and Hol­i­day the cau­tions that got them sus­pended.

Wam­bach quickly apol­o­gized and FIFA let her off with only a warn­ing. But that doesn’t change the fact that her larger point was right: The of­fi­ci­at­ing in this tour­na­ment has been un­wor­thy of a World Cup.

Frap­part was cor­rect in hand­ing the yel­lows to the two Amer­i­cans — Rapi­noe’s was for an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of fouls and some ap­par­ent back talk to the of­fi­cial — as she was for award­ing two penalty kicks to the U.S. in the same game.

But New Zealand was burned by two poor calls in group play, in­clud­ing a hand­ball call that led to its elim­i­na­tion from the tour­na­ment. And Canada won its opener on a stop­page-time penalty kick awarded by Ukrainian ref­eree Kateryna Monzul for a du­bi­ous foul.

In the big­gest game of the tour­na­ment, Ger­many’s quar­ter­fi­nal win over France, Cana­dian ref­eree Carol Anne Chenard seemed un­able to keep up with the ac­tion, once even fail­ing to get out of the way of a French free kick.

She also missed two calls on Ger­many’s Anja Mit­tag — the first an ap­par­ent hand ball and the sec­ond a late studsup tackle that earned only a cau­tion — then awarded Ger­many the penalty kick that tied the score by call­ing France’s Amel Ma­jri for a hand ball. (That call ap­peared de­fend­able though it was close.)

The in­con­sis­tent of­fi­ci­at­ing here has fo­cused new at­ten­tion on a 16-year-old FIFA rule that man­dates only fe­male of­fi­cials can work the Women’s World Cup. The in­tent of the rule is laud­able: Cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male of­fi­cials to gain ex­pe­ri­ence and grow.

But un­til there are enough qual­ity ref­er­ees to meet de­mand — the World Cup started with 22 ref­er­ees, 44 as­sis­tant ref­er­ees and seven sup­port ref­er­ees from 48 na­tions — per­haps FIFA should set­tle for the best ref­er­ees, re­gard­less of gen­der.

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