Scouting Report: Turf isn't problem with U.S. attack

The USA closes out group play at the Women's World Cup when it plays Nigeria on Tuesday night. It played Nigeria in three of the last four World Cup, winning the three games by a 13-1 margin, but the Super Falcons are much improved since then. Nigeria's defense is suspect, but the USA has not done a good job so far of creating chances for itself.

1. Both teams will be playing to win.

The USA must win to assure itself first place in Group D and avoid a trip across Canada from Vancouver to Moncton -- four time zones -- and a date with Brazil in the round of 16. It will still clinch the group with a tie unless Australia beats Sweden or Sweden wins by more than two goals.

Only a loss by three or more goals to Nigeria and an improbable set of results in the other three groups playing on Tuesday and Wednesday will send the USA home. It's clinched no worse than third place in Group D.

Nigeria's task is simple: It needs to beat the USA to have any chance of advancing.

"We have to get back out and score goals," Nigeria coach Edwin Okon said after the 2-0 the loss to Australia. "We must qualify. Nigeria must qualify to the next round. So we must get back to the form we had against Sweden."

USA vs. Nigeria
1999: USA 7-1 (Women's World Cup)
2000: USA 3-1 (Olympics)
2003: USA 5-0 (Women's World Cup)
2007: USA 1-0 (Women's World Cup)

2. Turf is not the problem that ails the U.S. attack.

After beating Australia, 3-1, with two goals from Megan Rapinoe and one from Christen Press on a play Rapinoe started, the USA had to settle for a 0-0 tie with Sweden in which it created few decent chances. Through two games, the USA managed to put just seven shots on target -- fewer than such supposed lightweights like Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Thailand. It ranked 18 out of 24 teams, putting just 29.2 percent of its shots on target.

What's wrong with the U.S. attack? Star Abby Wambach, who missed two golden opportunities to score against Australia when she failed to put her diving headers on target and against Sweden had another header tipped away by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, bizarrely blamed the lack of goals on the artificial turf.

"For me," she told ESPNW on Saturday, "I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we're playing on grass." Her logic on her chances? She'd have been way "more carefree" on grass and not worried about diving like she does on turf, and her header against Sweden would not have bounced as high on grass as it did on the Edmonton turf, allowing Lindahl to get to the ball.

The problem with the U.S. attack begins with the service Wambach and the frontline are getting. The Swedes shut down Rapinoe, starving the USA of balls from its primary playmaker. Central midfielders Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday have struggled, and the frontline pairings -- Sydney Leroux and Wambach in Game 1 and Leroux and Press in Game 2 -- failed to get on the same wave length.

3. U.S. backline must handle Oshoala and Okobi.

After absorbing tons of pressure in the first 35 minutes of the opener against Australia, the U.S. backline settled down and shut down the Matildas and then Sweden. The best chance the Swedes had was a shot by Caroline Seger cleared off the line by Meghan Klingenberg late in the second half.

Pregame press conference: Nigeria coach Edwin Okon says he hasn't watched the USA ...

But the U.S. backline, anchored by Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston, has faced no one with the pace of Asisat Oshoala or Ngozi Okobi up front for Nigeria. After trailing, 2-0, at the half, the Super Falcons blitzed the Swedes for three goals after the break before settling for a 3-3 tie. Oshoala, the MVP and leading scorer of the 2014 Under-20 Women's World Cup, drew Nigeria even at 2-2, while Okobi had one goal and two assists.

The problem was, the Nigerian attack disappeared against Australia in a 2-0 loss to the Matildas. The Nigeria defense simply isn't good enough for the Super Falcons to get a result if their attack isn't clicking.

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), 21-Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers), 1-Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC)
DEFENDERS (8): 16-Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), 6-Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), 19-Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), 22-Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), 11-Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), 5-Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), 3- Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), 4- Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): 7-Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), 14-Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 12-Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 9-Heather O'Reilly (FC Kansas City), 15- Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)
FORWARDS (5): 2-Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), 13-Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), 23-Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 8-Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), 20- Abby Wambach (unattached).

Nigeria Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Precious Dede (Ibom Queens), 16-Ibubeleye Whyte (Rivers Angels), 21-Christy Ohiaeriaku (Rivers Angels)
DEFENDERS (7): 2-Blessing Edoho (Pelican Stars), 3-Osinachi Ohale (Rivers Angels), 5-Onome Ebi (FC Minsk, Belarus), 6-Josephine Chukwunonye (Rivers Angels), 15-Ugo Njoku (Rivers Angels), 22-Sarah Nnodim (Nasarawa Amazons), 23-Ngozi Ebere (Rivers Angels)
MIDFIELDERS (5): 12-Halimat Ayinde (Delta Queens), 13-Ngozi Okobi (Delta Queens), 14-Evelyn Nwabuoku (BllK Kazygurt, Kazakhstan), 19-Martina Ohadugha (Rivers Angels), 20-Cecilia Nku (Rivers Angels)
FORWARDS (8): 4-Perpetua Nkwocha (Clemensnas IF, Sweden), 7-Esther Sunday (Sunshine Queens FC), 8-Asisat Oshoala (Liverpool, England), 9-Desire Oparanozie (Guingamp, France), 10-Courtney Dike (Oklahoma State Univ.), 11-Iniabasi Umotong (Portsmouth, England), 17-Francisca Ordega (Washington Spirit), 18-Loveth Ayila (Rivers Angels)
18 comments about "Scouting Report: Turf isn't problem with U.S. attack".
  1. Karl Schreiber, June 16, 2015 at 1:17 a.m.

    Dear Abby, you have been a great player for the U.S. and we treasure the memories and are grateful. Please, don’t leave us with memories of sour grapes and silly excuses. Get with the program, do your job.

  2. James e Chandler, June 16, 2015 at 8:26 a.m.

    Abby's been effective in the past because she's athletic, and big, and strong, and determined, but really she's not all that good of a soccer player. What percentage of her goals has she scored with her feet?
    Now that she's lost a step, she can't get over the top of the ball like she once could.
    No one owes her anything, not even another chance to step on the field with the WNT. She needn't be bitter. just learn to love watching others play "the beautiful game" instead of ugly American soccer.

  3. James e Chandler, June 16, 2015 at 8:44 a.m.

    Unless one is playing on concrete, asphalt, cobblestone, or bare dirt, etc., all soccer matches I've seen are played on "TURF"
    Turf is grass, and the part below held together by its roots. The term has been used for hundreds of years before plastic was invented.
    To adopt the term, "turf" exclusively for the plastic, and rubber stuff on which the WWC is being played is an example of "lazy speak", where people are apparently annoyed at having to use too many adjectives, or pronounce all the syllables of words whereas I'm annoyed at the redundancy at having to add "real" or "natural" before the word so others know I'm not talking about "man made grass like material"
    And it does change the game. The ball bounces on it like a ping-pong ball. Bad decision FIFA to play this year's event on plastic. Why not just play the matches on X-Box, and show it on pay-per-view?

  4. Gus Keri, June 16, 2015 at 8:56 a.m.

    WOW, James. Take it easy man. Nobody is saying Wambach is Marta or Mia Hamm. But surely, she has her place in USWNT soccer history and its hall of fame. I agree with Karl. Abby should not make her last memory a negative one. She was saving herself for this world cup. She should go for it and give it all she's got. This is her swan song. Make it memorable.

  5. Terry Ellis, June 16, 2015 at 9:10 a.m.

    If it is true that plastic grass plays differently from turf then it would seem natural that this would affect the players touch but ALL of the teams have the same issue so it should balance out. Hope the US team breaks out of the semi slump and gets it going with Nigeria!

  6. Greg Giese, June 16, 2015 at 9:53 a.m.

    @ Terry That is "silly" logic. We could play the game on asphalt and ALL of the teams would have the same issue. Top flight soccer should be played on grass. No one ever got a skin burn from grass.

  7. Ginger Peeler, June 16, 2015 at 10:43 a.m.

    James, years ago, it was called AstroTurf. I imagine they just shortened it to "turf" when other companies began manufacturing it. Whatever we call it, FIFA has shown a total lack of respect for this Women's World Cup: forcing the teams to play on "turf" and using inexperienced referees (CRs who've never worked with the ARs before...the men's WC used referee teams who worked together on previous occasions, so they knew each other well). So, we've had a lot of bad calls: card not given, PKs not given and visa-versa. I don't care if the field is faster or slower. Any soccer player can tell you that rain affects the way the ball plays. I DO care that the field is so hard that the chances of injury are heightened! FIFA has made this a 2nd class tournament for the worlds' first class players.

  8. Tim Brown, June 16, 2015 at 10:59 a.m.

    Chandler, you must have really nothing to do. I don't disagree with your assessment of Wambach as a soccer player but you are not the greatest scorer in the game because you are simply athletic. That said I wonder if Holland and Germany after being beaten by USA MEN think it is ugly football. Go USA.

  9. Santiago 1314, June 16, 2015 at 11:38 a.m.

    RIGHT ON, TIM!!!.. Go USA...WE BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN!!!... (I'm just not sure this group of players and coaches believe it)... We are actually fortunate that we are playing on "ASTROturf"... it will help us in the later rounds against the more skillful teams..

  10. Santiago 1314, June 16, 2015 at 11:47 a.m.

    Pasting from the other Post... Santiago 1314 commented on: June 16, 2015 at 9:47 a.m...No Question that Soccer in General is Better on Grass...Players need to be Technically Superior and Precise In Passing to play on Turf...Think Tiki-Taka on Steriods... Watch some OLD Cosmos games!!!....Except for Rapinoe and Heath, I don't see any of our players with the "TWITCHability" to play Controlled game on Turf... Hence the Result of Ugly, Spastic, Ping-Pong Soccer...If we Compete like Hell and are able to Knock the other more Skillful Teams and Players off their game, we have as Good a chance of Winning this WC, as anyone else....And!!! Abby, !?!? Did the Turf cause you to miss those Headers???? STFU and put the Ball in the Back of the Net!!!!

  11. Stuart d. Warner, June 16, 2015 at 12:43 p.m.

    We need possession; we need to reverse the field; we need that creative moment: we need Tobin Heath.

  12. kate bartlet, June 16, 2015 at 12:45 p.m.

    Jill is the problem. She picked her teachers pets for midfielders; they are weakest midfield ever. Shut Rapinoe down= shut down USA. We need Shannon Boxx; Heather Oreilly out there. Holiday& Lloyd don't belong. Morgan Brian should not be on Roster... Tobin Heath sitting? How many MORE articles do we have to read about lackluster performance from midfield.

  13. Raymond Weigand, June 16, 2015 at 1:12 p.m.

    Lalas has a very good teaching point - don't blame the things beyond your control.

    Cheers to the guy for bringing his own style of motivational speaker.

  14. Rick Estupinan, June 16, 2015 at 3:37 p.m.

    Real grass is part of the "beautiful game".Plastic is just to rough,and whether it is top flight matches or unimportant friendlies,they should be play on grass.Sliding tackles,a great part of the game,so beautiful if done in spectacular clean ways,right inside the "hot zone",are not done properly playing on astroturf,because the defender doing it,besides not been a real professional,does it in a clumsy way that results injuring the attacking player and getting a bad skin burns himself.

  15. Rick Estupinan, June 16, 2015 at 4:03 p.m.

    Santiago,who usually makes good comments, welcomes the fact that for the USA would be an advantage to play in this type of fields.But,would it be fair for foreing teams?,it would give them a good argument to complain about it and for us it would diminish the win.Look at the victories the USA had against Holland and Germany,in their own stadiums,on beautiful natural grass.They can't complain.

  16. Ed Cheval, June 16, 2015 at 11:46 p.m.

    As I posted elsewhere today, I see it like this: Soccer players adjusting to turf is like tennis players going from hard surfaces to various forms of clay courts, to grass courts and then back to hard courts. One does it; one adjusts. Yes, the different surfaces have impact on the game. Everyone knows this. But it is not like a US player or any of the elite teams now in Canada lack the chances to practice quite a lot beforehand on such surfaces as now used in these 6 venues. Plus they have several dozen footwear (shoe) options to better optimize and individualize for what each player wants. Everyone has known for over two years at least that it would be turf - a very top quality turf. That was more than ample time to prepare. Only the little minnow teams like Ecuador and Thailand present in this tournament are really at a disadvantage here. None of the top 8 favorites are at the slightest disadvantage with these 6 turf fields.

  17. Santiago 1314, June 17, 2015 at 10:12 a.m.

    @ Ed... Aha..if it were just so easy to adjust...But the Fast Twitch Muscles that are needed to compensate on Turf, aren't present in our Current team...I am looking forward to see if Brazil, Germany have those kind of players...

  18. Santiago 1314, June 17, 2015 at 10:40 a.m.

    And Abby !!!... Thanks for the Excellent goal...That is what we have come to expect from you... Not The Whining. ..

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