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Morgan won’t be fully fit to start World Cup

Alex Morgan says she'll be ready for the World Cup despite a bone bruise in her left knee. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Alex Morgan says she’ll be ready for the World Cup despite a bone bruise in her left knee. (Photo Copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

HARRISON, N.J. — The United States’ scoreless draw against Korea Republic on Saturday at Red Bull Arena wasn’t the highest note for a sendoff match for the Americans. Players and coaches alike aren’t sweating the result, but there were concerns up top and in the midfield.

Players and coaches alike said they aren’t panicking, but there are still some pieces that need to come together for the U.S. women in their quest for a first World Cup title since 1999.

Alex Morgan is missed

The United States is one of the deepest teams in the world and it is deepest at forward. But Alex Morgan brings a presence to the field and a dimension to the attack that is sorely missed. She hasn’t played a competitive match for club or country since April 11, and the timeline for her return from a bone bruise in her left knee remains murky.

“In terms of Alex, we’re building her,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Realistically, she’s been out for a while, so in terms of minutes, I think that is something we’re going to have to build through the early games.”

Megan Rapinoe took a shot to the quad in practice on Friday and did not dress for the game, but Ellis says Rapinoe will be ready for the World Cup. Rapinoe’s creativity also would have been useful on the day.

Direct play leads to disjointed midfield

A slow start led to lethargic play and countless turnovers throughout the first half from the United States. Ellis made an adjustment around the 15th minute looking to give her team more depth and plug up the pockets that Korea Republic was finding.

“I think we were just too flat,” U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday said. “I think she wanted a little more dimension in the midfield.”

Ellis pushed for the win in the latter stages of the second half, shifting Christen Press up higher on the field, but the U.S. never looked too threatening in front of goal. Slow starts have been an issue for this team all year and even dating back to World Cup qualifying in October 2014. It’s a trend that could haunt the Americans in Canada.

Korea Republic looks like a knockout-stage team

Give the visitors credit for their performance; it wasn’t all just the United States’ shortcomings. Ji Soyun was active up top and she combined well with her midfield, which impressively managed to wall-pass the Americans on several occasions. Korea Republic coach Yoon Dukyeo wouldn’t bite on the topic when asked about  how physical the Americans played, but he was happy with this team tactically.

“The physical aspect is part of football, so it is part of the game,” he said. “I’m not upset. In the World Cup in the bigger stage, the team will be facing bigger teams and bigger players, so it was good experience playing against a tough United States team.”

Korea Republic looks like it could absolutely be one of potentially three teams to emerge from the highly technical Group E that features Brazil, Spain and Costa Rica.

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