HARRISON, N.J. -- Nine days from the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the U.S. women’s national soccer team players say they’re ready — even if the team might not look it.
“Everybody is a little bit nervous; people don’t want to get injured,” forward Abby Wambach said after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with lightly regarded South Korea at Red Bull Arena, its last official match before the quadrennial championship. “We’ve had closed-door games right before world championships before end in ties.
“Knowing what’s ahead, knowing that we’re at the precipice of something big, I’m not disappointed in that people are all healthy. I believe in the individual brilliance that’s going to happen in the collective mindset in Canada in nine days.”
Team USA will leave for Canada and the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday, looking to add to its two titles but first since its much celebrated and remembered crown in 1999. Although the tournament will begin Saturday, the U.S. women won’t play their first game until June 8 against Australia.
The draw with South Korea, which will be making its second trip to the Women’s World Cup, ended a four-game U.S. winning streak and extended its unbeaten run to nine. It also was the fifth shutout the team has earned in that stretch.
“We needed to get some things out of our system before we go there,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “I think some nerves first of all. There are some players that haven’t played in a major tournament like this. And nerves are probably starting to set in. We’re getting closer. It’s crunch time now.”
Notwithstanding Wambach’s medical analysis, the U.S. team will leave with some walking wounded. Wambach suffered a broken nose two weeks ago, her forward partner Alex Morgan has been hobbled for weeks with a bruised knee, and wing midfielder Megan Rapinoe injured her thigh in practice on Friday.
Wambach played only 60 minutes Saturday. Morgan and Rapinoe didn’t play at all.
“I think Rapinoe will be fine,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “She took a pretty heavy knock ... and got some swelling in her quad, and it’s precautionary. We didn’t want her to get another hit, so she’ll be fine.
“In terms of Alex, we’re building her. Realistically, she’s been off for a while. So in terms of minutes, that’s something I think we’re going to have to build through the early games to be ready. We don’t want her to blow up too early.”
With Morgan doubtful to start or even play significant minutes in the first round, Sydney Leroux seems to be a likely choice to get the pairing up front with Wambach.
The combination had little impact on Saturday, despite Team USA having an overwhelming possession advantage and outshooting South Korea 15-7.
“The time wasting; the goalkeeper having us come and chase her every single time; when you play against teams like that, you’re playing teams who pretty much want a tie,” Leroux said. “I don’t think teams can afford to bunker; teams have to play. You can’t hope for ties once you get to the World Cup stage, so I think games will be different.”
Ellis admitted she was disappointed in the score and said that some players “mentally already were in Canada.”
And while that may not have pleased a sellout crowd of 26,467 — many of whom squealed at every touch of Team USA — Ellis felt she got out of it what she needed.
“In terms of getting players in, those types of things, these players have done this,” she said. “It’s the young players. This is a big moment for their sendoff game. But the older players kind of put it in perspective.
“For me, there were some takeaways. We spent a lot of time looking at scenarios, so the last eight or nine minutes, pushing for a goal, tactically trying to execute what we wanted to do, we did that OK, but I think that’s something that visually I’ll be able to get some takeaways from in terms of how we want to play when we’re pushing for a goal.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.