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October 26, 2010
U.S. team confident going into WWC Qualifying

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

Kristine Lilly is trying to qualify for her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Kristine Lilly is trying to qualify for her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Despite the fact that the U.S. Women’s National Team struggled in a pair of recent games against China, Coach Pia Sundhage and her players are not concerned as they kick off qualifying for the 2011 Women’s World Cup this week in Mexico.

“Nothing concerns me,” said Sundhage following the USA’s 1-1 tie against China at PPL Park. I’m just inspired that we can improve.”

Sundhage says the biggest things in need of improvement are ball control and changing the point of attack, something the team did not do well in the pair of games with the once, but no longer, formidable Chinese.

“International games is so fast, you have to change it maybe two or three times in order to be unpredictable,” Sundhage said of the team’s attack.

The U.S. won the first game against China, 2-1 at Kennesaw State University Soccer stadium, then rallied to tie in Philadelphia on a late equalizer by Alex Morgan, who came off the bench to score her first international goal.

“First of all, we always want to win,” said Sundhage. “That’s why we play. I think I am a positive person, so whatever game we are coming off, I look at in a positive way.”

In selecting her 20-player roster for the Qualifying Tournament, which kicks off on Thursday with a game against Haiti in Cancun, Mexico, Sundhage went with a mixture of veterans and newcomers, with more of the latter than the former. Only seven of the players have previous World Cup Qualifying experience: Kristine Lilly, Abby Wambach Heather Mitts, Stephanie Cox, Christie Rampone, Heather O’Reilly and Carli Lloyd. Six players on the team have less than 20 caps, but half of the squad participated in qualifying for the 2008 Olympics.

“On any roster you want experience, but we also wanted to get some fresh inspiration with some new players,” said Sundhage, who spent much of the summer crisscrossing the country to watch Women’s Professional Soccer games.

A number of the players on the squad made it on the strength of their WPS seasons, including Philadelphia Independence midfielder Lori Lindsey, Washington Freedom defender Becky Sauerbrun and Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Jillian Loyden, who earned her first cap against China.

Sundhage is bolstered by the fact that some of the young players can come off the bench and have an immediate impact on the team’s performance.

“If you look at the last 15 minutes (against China), the fact that we came back, the fact that we have two players, Yael Averbuch and Alex Morgan, they came off the bench and they made the difference. That kind of stuff, you bring back so you regain confidence by knowing that whoever is sitting on the bench, they can make the difference.”

Morgan, the only college player selected for the qualifying roster, came into the second game against China to earn her third cap, and scored the equalizer on what Sundhage called “a world class goal.”

That the team looked a little disjointed in the friendlies against China can be blamed at least partly on the fact that most of the players were coming off long WPS seasons.

“You can’t really look at it as an excuse,” said Lilly, the most veteran member of the team, who is shooting for her fifth World Cup tournament. “You just look at it as, this is what we’ve got, the most important thing for us it to qualify, so these two games helped us prepare to pick a team for qualification and hopefully get a spot for the World Cup.”

Wambach, who is the second most experienced player on the team, said the league season has had an impact on the national team.

“We’re coming off a long WPS season we are just kind of on different pages,” she said “It’s nothing to really worry about.”

The U.S. has easily qualified for every previous Women’s World Cup, winning titles in 1991 and 1999, so getting out of Mexico should not be a major concern, but after finishing third in each of the last two tournaments, perhaps the worry needs to be about next summer’s event in Germany.

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