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October 15, 2014
USA wants to avoid long road to WWC of 4 years ago

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- She might not have been around in 2010, but U.S. women's national team coach Jill Ellis does not want to see history come close to repeating itself during the CONCACAF Women's Championship.

The competition is the qualifying arm for the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Four years ago the USA suffered its lone loss in 23 all-time qualifying matches, a stunning 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the semifinals. That forced the Americans into in a home-and-home playoff with Italy; they secured a berth behind a pair of 1-0 victories. The USA went on to lose to Japan in the 2011 WWC final in penalty kicks.

"I don't think it's something that these players have forgotten," Ellis said. "For the players involved in that it certainly was a wake-up call."

The team, which is considered the favorites to wear the CONCACAF crown, will be leaving little to chance this time. The Americans have never finished below third place in the six previous competitions, winning the title in 1991 and 1999.

In a pair of recent warm-up matches against Mexico, the Americans secured impressive 8-0 and 4-0 victories, making a statement to the rest of the confederation.

Many of the big names are expected to bolster the USA in its quest to reach its seventh world championship in as many tries. The team boasts several players from the reigning 2012 Olympic gold medalists, including goalkeeper Hope Solo, central defender Christie Rampone, the world's active leader with 297 international appearances, midfielders Carli Lloyd, the Olympic-final scoring hero, and Megan Rapinoe, the playmaker, and a strike force that boasts Abby Wambach, the all-time women's goal-scoring leader (170), Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux, who leads the team with eight goals this year.

Since team rosters are 21 players, Ellis felt it was important to have versatile players.

“Most of our players, when I went through the list, versatility was one of the determining factors, especially when it came down to the last spots,” she said. “That’s going to be very important. I think we can have that flexibility.”

The USA starts its Group A quest against Trinidad & Tobago here Wednesday, plays Guatemala in Bridgeview, Ill. Friday and takes on Haiti in Washington, D.C. Monday. The semifinals are set for Oct. 24, the final and third-place match Oct. 26, all in Chester, Pa.

“There are a lot of moving parts of just how we have to move around the country in the short period,” Ellis said. “High focus will be on recovery. I’m definitely at a point with the players where I want to start to build continuity.

"I think the way we play, there will be a high-volume workload at certain positions. I’m going to be sensitive to that. We’re expecting a lot from our outside backs and our wide forwards, but I think trying to build a corps-consistent group will be a big part of it for me.”

One of Ellis' responsibilities will be to use Wambach in the right situation. She is 34 years old, certainly no spring chicken for a high-scoring international soccer forward, and her body has taken more than its share of knocks and kicks through the years. In recent matches, the Rochester, N.Y. native has played much more of a deeper role, allowing the veteran strike to focus on the attack.

“We don’t need her making hard runs out into wide areas because we’re playing with a little more width and we’re asking more of our outside backs,” Ellis said. “Abby can really operate between the width of the 18 and maybe even slightly narrower, so I think it’s been good. We want balls getting wide, her getting at the end of it and also combining and helping our wide players get in.”

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