De­fend­ing cham­pion USA has plenty to prove in 2019 Women’s World Cup

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Michael Lewis — David Wil­son, The Mi­ami Her­ald

REIMS, France — De­spite be­ing de­fend­ing world cham­pi­ons, the top-ranked team on the planet and tour­na­ment fa­vorites, the United States doesn’t be­gin the Women’s World Cup as a com­pla­cent side.

The Amer­i­cans still be­lieve they have plenty to prove af­ter their poor­est show­ing in 13 FIFA-spon­sored com­pe­ti­tions with an em­bar­rass­ing quar­ter­fi­nal elim­i­na­tion from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

So, this team en­ters Tues­day’s Group F match against un­fan­cied Thai­land at Stade Au­guste De­laune mo­ti­vated.

“This one I feel like so much left to prove,” said mid­fielder Me­gan Rapi­noe, one of 13 play­ers re­turn­ing from the 2015 cham­pi­onship team. “Win­ning the last one feels so far away, and it was dif­fer­ent. We had a dif­fi­cult cy­cle. We’ve been up and down with per­for­mances, up and down with re­sults. This group has that mo­ti­va­tion and de­sire to win it.”

For­ward Alex Mor­gan has liked what she has seen as the USA strives to be­come the sec­ond side to win con­sec­u­tive ti­tles.

“There is a dif­fer­ent feel,” she said. “It feels great. This team is ready to go. I feel like we’re in peak form and we’re ready to find suc­cess in this tour­na­ment.”

Af­ter four days of wait­ing and watch­ing the rest of the 24-team field play, the Amer­i­cans and Thais will be the last squads to per­form.

“The France game, all the games, we have been watch­ing the last few days, has been in­spir­ing for me,” said Mor­gan, not­ing the French’s 4-0 win over South Korea in Fri­day’s opener. “I can’t wait to get on the field just see­ing ev­ery­one play, the ex­cite­ment on their faces when they score a goal. Just the raw emo­tion. We were feel­ing left out.”

The USA has ques­tions to an­swer. Can a shaky back­line hold off the top teams in the knock­out round? Will Julie Ertz play up to her po­ten­tial as de­fen­sive mid­fielder? And can the untested Alyssa Nae­her prove a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to the great Hope Solo, who was fired by U.S. Soc­cer for deroga­tory com­ments dur­ing Rio and for sev­eral off-the-field in­ci­dents?

Even in her ab­sence, Solo has stirred the pot. As a BBC com­men­ta­tor, she crit­i­cized USA head coach Jill El­lis’ coach­ing de­ci­sions in Rio.

Asked about the re­marks for the first time on Mon­day, El­lis said she was more con­cerned about the present than the past.

“Com­ments are com­ments,” she said. “I feel over the past five years I made a lot of im­por­tant de­ci­sions. I have pro­cesses to make those de­ci­sions and own those pro­cesses. At this point ev­ery­thing and every fo­cus is about this group of play­ers that are here. Pun­dits out there, that’s part of it.”

Rockville Cen­tre na­tive Crys­tal Dunn, who forged her rep­u­ta­tion as a for­ward or mid­fielder, is slated to start at left back. North­port’s Al­lie Long, a mid­fielder, is ex­pected to be a re­serve.

“What’s been most chal­leng­ing is that I’m used to peo­ple chas­ing me around and hav­ing mark me and now I’m asked to mark one of the top for­wards in the world,” Dunn said. “I’m up for the chal­lenge.” Cameroon only had pos­ses­sion for 26 per­cent of the match and only ul­ti­mately at­tempted two shots, nei­ther of which were on tar­get. Canada, which scored on a cor­ner kick, got 10 cor­ners to Cameroon’s four.

It won’t get much eas­ier for Cameroon mov­ing for­ward, ei­ther. Cameroon con­tin­ues group play Satur­day against the Nether­lands, then wraps up against New Zealand on June 20. The Nether­lands, like Canada, are a top 10 team in the lat­est FIFA rank­ings and New Zealand checks in at No. 19. Cameroon, for com­par­i­son, be­gins the tour­na­ment as the No. 46 team in the world.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.