Amer­i­cans’ sur­vival skills face big­gest test

U. S. has been win­ning with de­fense, but it hasn’t faced an at­tack like that of top- ranked Ger­many.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

MON­TREAL — Carli Lloyd was right.

To break out of its of­fen­sive lethargy and truly put a stamp on this Women’s World Cup, the U. S. had to f irst break out of its com­fort zone, she said. It had to take risks, had to try new things.

In the quar­ter­fi­nal against China the U. S. did all of that, giv­ing Amy Ro­driguez her first start of the tour­na­ment up front and us­ing Mor­gan Brian as a hold­ing midfielder in the back, clear­ing Lloyd to roam free. The re­sult was a tour­na­ment- high 17 shots, a 1- 0 win — on a sec­ond- half goal by Lloyd — and a spot for the U. S. in the semi­fi­nals.

“That was the first game all tour­na­ment where we put them on their back heels,” Lloyd said. “We want to make other teams ner­vous, not vice versa. That was huge for our con­fi­dence.”

The Amer­i­cans are go­ing to need a lot more than con­fi­dence Tues­day, when they meet a pow­er­ful Ger­man team in a semi­fi­nal that is shap­ing up as a study in con­trasts be­tween two un­beaten teams. And this time a few lineup changes might not be enough to get the U. S. over that hump.

The U. S. has sur­vived to reach the fi­nal four — “just kind of find­ing a

way to win,” de­fender Lori Chalupny said — while Ger­many has blud­geoned the op­po­si­tion, lead­ing the tour­na­ment with 20 goals and 59 shots on goal, both more than dou­ble the to­tals of any other team.

The Ger­mans scored seven goals in the f irst 75 min­utes of the tour­na­ment. The U. S. has seven goals in three weeks here.

The Amer­i­cans, con­versely, have won with de­fense, with goal­keeper Hope Solo al­low­ing a tour­na­ment-low one goal — none in the last four games or 423 min­utes. But the U. S.’ young back line has never faced an at­tack like that of Ger­many, whose top two strik­ers, Celia Sa­sic ( six goals) and Anja Mit­tag ( f ive), have com­bined to outscore ev­ery other team in the tour­na­ment by them­selves.

Even the routes the teams took to the semi­fi­nals have been dif­fer­ent. The topranked Ger­mans routed No. 5 Swe­den, then beat No. 3 France on penalty kicks in the knock­out stages. The U. S. hasn’t beaten a team ranked higher than 10th in the FIFA world rank­ings and didn’t meet a group win­ner in the elim­i­na­tion rounds, beat­ing No. 28 Colom­bia and No. 16 China.

None of that will mat­ter Tues­day, though, when both teams take the f ield. But if you’re look­ing for an edge, here’s one: While Ger­many has been the most dom­i­nant team of the tour­na­ment, the U. S. says it has yet to play its best game.

“I would rate it a B- plus. Be­cause we can still score more goals,” Abby Wam­bach said af­ter the quar­ter­fi­nal with China. “And in my opin- ion, if you’ve got to play two more games you might as well want to play in the f inal.”

The al­ter­na­tive, of course, for the U. S. is fin­ish­ing the tour­na­ment in the third- place game, which is where two of Wam­bach’s three pre­vi­ous World Cups have ended.

Wam­bach, in­ter­na­tional soc­cer’s all- time lead­ing scorer, has al­ready won world player- of- the- year hon­ors as well as two Olympic gold medals. A World Cup ti­tle, how­ever, has eluded her.

“She’s been kind of like a big sis­ter to me,” for­ward Alex Mor­gan said of Wam­bach. “Know­ing that this is most likely her last tour­na­ment, ob­vi­ously it’s very im­por­tant for her. She ba­si­cally has the best re­sume any player could ask for. Ex­cept for the fact that she hasn’t got­ten a World Cup. “So that’s huge.” Wam­bach, 35, has looked her age in plod­ding through this tour­na­ment, where she’s been more of a vo­cal leader than one on the field, start­ing just three games, miss­ing on a penalty kick and scor­ing one goal.

But how to use Wam­bach against Ger­many is just one of many vex­ing is­sues U. S. Coach Jill El­lis faces.

Ro­driguez’s energy and pace sparked the U. S. at­tack against China while Wam­bach played just four min­utes off the bench. Still, it would be a gutsy call to leave the Amer­i­cans’ most ac­com­plished and iconic player out of the start­ing lineup in a World Cup semi­fi­nal against a wily, phys­i­cal op­po­nent.

And what to do with vet­eran U. S. mid­field­ers Me­gan Rapi­noe and Lau­ren Holi- day? Both missed the China quar­ter­fi­nal with two yel­low cards, and with­out them El­lis switched to a mod­i­fied diamond for­ma­tion in the mid­dle, with Lloyd on the at­tack­ing point and the 22year- old Brian, the team’s youngest player, on the de­fend­ing one.

Will El­lis throw Brian back out there against Ger­many when she has Hol­i­day and her 128 ca­reer ap­pear­ances avail­able?

“Col­lec­tively we had a game plan,” Lloyd, who has scored the last two U. S. goals, said of the quar­ter­fi­nal. “And you could tell.”

The re­sult was the most com­plete 90 min­utes of the tour­na­ment for the U. S. — but not the kind of dom­i­nat­ing, sig­na­ture per­for­mance the Amer­i­cans typ­i­cally turn in on the world stage.

That game may still be out there. And if it is, Tues­day night would be a good time for the U. S. to find it.

Chris Roussakis Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

CARLI LLOYD ( 10) re­joices af­ter scor­ing the decisive goal for the U. S. in its quar­ter­fi­nal vic­tory over China last week.

Darryl Dyck The Cana­dian Press

ABBY WAM­BACH has been on Olympic cham­pi­onship teams, but World Cup ti­tle has eluded her.

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