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.
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
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)
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.
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 orNgozi 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.