AP NEWS
Related topics

BC-SOC--US-Defense

March 1, 2019
AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Looking at how the Americans gave up two late goals, including one in stoppage time, has given them a timely reminder of what they need to work on before defending their Women’s World Cup title in June.

Tighten up defensively.

“Honestly, the two goals is probably the best thing we can take away and making sure that we’re focused and locked in defensively the whole time,” forward Megan Rapinoe said Friday.

Japan managed a 2-2 tie Wednesday night in the Americans’ opener of the SheBelieves Cup in Philadelphia, a round-robin tournament serving as a World Cup tuneup. Coach Jill Ellis and the Americans watched tape of that tie Thursday after arriving in Nashville for a game Saturday against England at Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Rapinoe said her comments after the game on needing better defense didn’t change once she watched the tape.

“Defensively, we’ve made some mistakes on the goals that were very clear. So obviously went over that and cleared that up and try not to make those again,” Rapinoe said.

The biggest issue simply may be focus, especially in soccer where a team can do nothing until late in the game.

“Understanding that as a team, we need to really lock in and focus every single minute of the game, especially thinking toward the World Cup and those biggest moments,” Rapinoe said. “It comes down to one or two moments in the game that are really critical.”

Japan, which lost the 2015 World Cup final to the U.S., scored two goals with a third shot hitting a post.

Ellis called those goals “tough lessons” easier to learn now.

“Game management is a massive part of going into a big tournament, and so there were moments there, decisions we made as coaches and players within that you wish you had a do-over, but at least you have the experience,” Ellis said. “So I think that was a massive takeaway for us, as it should be.”

The Americans played Japan without defender Becky Sauerbrunn and midfielder Lindsey Horan because of injury. Ellis said the plan was for Sauerbrunn to take part in training Friday but that the defender was “highly unlikely” to play Saturday. Brazil and Japan play the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

Defender Abby Dahlkemper said they know they need to tighten up. The Americans also talked about game management, valuing the ball and organization.

“Just kind of tightening up and being on the same page and definitely learning from those mistakes,” Dahlkemper said.

Having the chance to play against top teams before the World Cup and see what areas need tweaking or improvement is the biggest benefit of a tournament like the SheBelieves Cup, which debuted in 2016. Ellis said this tournament, with points standings and travel, is a key preparation.

“The most important piece is we’re playing against world-class teams before we get ready for the summer.

This tournament, which closes Tuesday with the United States playing Brazil in Tampa, Florida, features four of the world’s top 10 teams. England, which finished third in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, is ranked fourth.

“To get three world-class teams coming to the U.S. and getting those games under our belt is super important for the big year ahead,” Dahlkemper said. “Really taking advantage of every single minute we can on the field together and you know tweaking the things we need to tweak and getting better and learning and really hitting our peak in June.”

___

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

___

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports