HARRISON, N.J. – A portentous habit for starting matches lethargically continued for the United States on Saturday. The Americans were slow to react from the opening whistle and gave the ball away throughout the first half, playing Korea Republic to a 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena. It was the third time this year the Americans have been held scoreless.
Saturday’s match was the United States’ final official game before the World Cup on June 8. The draw leaves the Americans unbeaten in nine straight matches, a streak that picked up steam in a confidence-boosting Algarve Cup final victory over world No. 3 France, who beat the United States earlier in the year in France. The Americans have not lost a home match in 96 games, dating back to Nov. 6, 2004.
Confidence, however, was in short order in the first half of Saturday’s match. The U.S. struggled through the opening 45 minutes, forcing coach Jill Ellis to make a tactical adjustment in midfield less than 15 minutes into the game. Lauren Holiday dropped off into more of a holding role and Carli Lloyd pushed higher into the midfield in an attempt to create more depth.
“I don’t think we moved the ball well enough and I don’t think our mobility off the ball was conducive to having a high-tempo passing game,” Ellis said. “I said that at halftime, we’ve got to move more for each other.”
But 18th-ranked Korea Republic, with Ji Soyun as the focal point up top, enjoyed stretches of combination play through the midfield. Ji, who was player of the year for Chelsea in England’s FA Women’s Super League, was opportunistic, although the United States’s defense denied any shots from actually reaching goalkeeper Hope Solo’s gloves.
Eager to erase a forgettable first half, the U.S. pressed the issue early in the first half, kicking off the ball before the Koreans even fully broke out of their team huddle. Abby Wambach motioned to the ref to enforce a faster pace of play, even counting out six seconds when Kim Jungmi held the ball after Sydney Leroux placed an open shot right at the opposing goalkeeper.
Korea Republic made Solo work in the 54th minute, when halftime substitute Hwang Boram lofted the ball toward goal and forced Solo to tip it over the bar for a corner kick. Solo also had to make a late save in stoppage time to preserve the draw.
Ellis pushed Christen Press and Tobin Heath higher for the final 15 minutes of the match, but world’s No. 2 team only created passing chances.
Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe both missed the match due to injury. Morgan stretched with the team but did not participate in contact drills during warm-ups. Rapinoe sat out entirely, in sneakers. Morgan hasn’t played in nearly two months due to a bone bruise in her left knee, while Rapinoe picked up a thigh injury. She trained on Friday.
The United States leaves for Canada on Tuesday and will open the World Cup on June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg. Group D has been dubbed the “Group of Death” for its highest combined team rankings of any of the six groups. The Americans are ranked second in the world, with No. 5 Sweden, No. 10 Australia and No. 33 Nigeria – Africa’s top team – joining the fray.
Winning Group D presents a much more favorable travel schedule. The U.S. ends group play in Vancouver against Nigeria on June 16. Finishing first in the group means a short trip to Edmonton for the Round of 16 against a third-place finisher from Group B, E or F. Finishing second in Group D would mean the Americans would need to fly more than 2,600 miles to Moncton on a day less rest to play the winner of Group E, likely to be world No. 6 Brazil.
On the heels of an encouraging showing against the United States, Korea Republic against Brazil on June 9.
USA starters: Solo; Sauerbrunn, Johnston, Klingenberg, Krieger; Holiday, Lloyd, Brian; Wambach, Press, Leroux
KOR XI: Kim Jungmi; Kim Hyeri, Kim Sooyun, Shim Seoyeon, Kim Doyeon; Park Heeyoung, Kang Yumi, Cho Sohyun, Kwon Hahnul; Ji Soyun, Yoo Younga