MANHATTAN & HARRISON, N.J. — The 2015 World Cup begins on June 6 and the United States has one last preparation match before heading to Canada on Tuesday. The U.S. will host Korea Republic on Saturday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd of over 25,000 fans.
For some perspective, the U.S. women also played their 2011 World Cup send-off match at Red Bull Arena and drew a measly 5,852 fans. Times they have a changed.
Alex Morgan trained on Friday for the first time in a while as she continues to deal with a bone bruise in her left knee. Morgan practiced with a large strip of kinesiology tape on her knee and extended up her leg. She will not play on Saturday but she said on Wednesday in Manhattan that she will be ready for June 8 against the World Cup.
Christie Rampone said with no hesitation that she is “full-go” after an injury-filled winter that included a back injury followed by a sprained MCL. Rampone has only played 45 minutes this year for the U.S., in the last match against Mexico.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis isn’t overly worried about scouting Korea Republic. Her comments weren’t disrespectful, but realistic in that the U.S. is simply worried about its own game at this stage. Ellis wants to see quicker, sharper play in Saturday’s match, especially in the final third. “We’re potent. We’re potent and deep,” she succinctly summarized on Friday regarding her forwards.
Ashlyn Harris was sick on Wednesday and missed media day, but appeared fine on Friday, when she trained.
There has been a lot of talk about Sweden this week, mainly from the press. A Swedish TV crew was at media day on Wednesday and, naturally, asked about Pia Sundhage and the group stage game between the U.S. and Sweden, Sundhage’s former and current teams. Ellis says she’s excited for the challenge, but she is really only focused on the opener against Australia: “I have no problem playing against my friends. I welcome the competition. Pia is a tremendous lady who’s done a lot for our sport and for our federation here, and I’ll be excited to see her up there in Canada.”
Whitney Engen told me that if it weren’t for her first stint in Sweden with Tyresö, we probably wouldn’t have been talking about her World Cup preparations right now. “I think that if I hadn’t gone over that first time, I don’t know if I would be here playing soccer today.” Engen said she was “never open to the idea of going abroad” until the opportunity to play in Stockholm for two months came up. Engen, who also played for Liverpool in its 2012 FA WSL title-winning season, raved about her two stints with Tyresö. Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press did as well. Read more about Press falling in love with soccer in Sweden in my NBC SportsWorld profile of the United States’ next big star.
Turf is still a hot topic among media members, but players are distancing themselves from discussing it, just as they said they would. They have been asked about the FIFA corruption scandal countless times, but all of them had very little to say about it and, frankly, what are they supposed to say? What is interesting on all the turf talk is that Ellis said her staff has made sure that wherever the team has trained this year that they have at their disposal both a grass field and a turf field to provide flexibility. Ellis said she hopes that the fields in Canada get watered before matches so that the ball is a little slick and made for pinging around.
There is a lot of talk about what the U.S. winning this World Cup could do for the popularity of the NWSL. As I wrote on Wednesday, history shows there isn’t any correlation between the two. Ellis made an interesting point on Wednesday: As much as the 1999 World Cup was a springboard for women’s soccer in the United States, the 2011 World Cup was the same for European countries.
Klingenberg’s energy is palpable; she oozes enthusiasm. She may have had the quote of the day on Wednesday, describing the U.S. backline: “I think that we become one personality and that is to kick ass and take names.”
And also, Abby Wambach on if she needs to win the World Cup to be complete: “You’re damn right I need it.”
Plenty more to come…
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