USA end World Cup prep work with lackluster draw vs. Korea Republic

HARRISON, N.J.

The United States women’s national team will say that their offensively unproductive goalless draw at Red Bull Arena against Korea Republic does not matter. They’re shutting the door now on America — but don’t take it personally.

“Not to spin it for the players but given the week we’ve had, some of them are mentally already in Canada,’’ U.S. coach Jill Ellis said.

It was clear from Ellis’ comments and the team’s focus that ending the team’s Send-Off Series in New York, where the players were kept busy with press conferences, "Good Morning America" appearances and cameos with pop singer Ed Sheeran, that enough was really enough.

The next time anyone sees the U.S. women’s national team in action, they’ll be in Winnipeg, playing against Australia, playing for those first three points to announce themselves at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. They’ll also be playing for their lives, because, in case you hadn’t heard, they intend to win.

But in order to compete for the World Cup, let alone win it, against some pretty proficient teams like Japan and France and Germany, the U.S. women may have to be handed a much better game plan, particularly at midfield.

The absence of organizational control in that critical area of play seemed glaring Saturday at Red Bull Arena, particularly against a Korea Republic team that really posed no defensive threat to the superior and dominating U.S. side. The question that begged to be asked, particularly after a scoreless first half for the U.S. women, is why couldn’t they score? It wasn’t as if they needed an entire first half to "solve" Korea’s plan.

Clearly, the U.S. wants to play with midfielder Carli Lloyd as part of the attack; the veteran center mid rarely held the ball and fed it out to the wings on her first touches and instead used her own aggressive offensive mode to take the ball herself up into Korea’s defensive third.

The team might have been missing Megan Rapinoe, who suffered a quad injury in practice Friday and was held out of the game. She is one of the most effective midfielders and gives the U.S. a lot of good service.

With Rapinoe out, Ellis tried to reorganize Lloyd and Morgan Brian in the first half, when there was too much space behind the midfield. But it is Ellis’ strategy to not waste Lloyd as a holding midfielder, instead pushing the U.S. attack by “letting Carli get involved and let Mo (Brian) sit," Ellis said.

The U.S. came out in a 4-3-3 formation, with Sydney Leroux, Abby Wambach and Christen Press playing up front. The team was clearly eager to get that beloved early and first goal, but after several runs and an offside call against Sydney Leroux, coach Jill Ellis stood up on the sideline and told the team to settle down.

From then on, they were much more deliberate in moving the ball across the back line, looking to set up an attack by playing out to Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg on the wings and through Carli Lloyd at midfield.

In the 28th minute, their patience in trying to set up a goal seemed close to payoff. Wambach directed Krieger to play the ball to her, and then Wambach moved the ball to Lloyd, who moved the action to the left, where Leroux had great position and would have connected for a goal except the ball got stuck under her.

In the 37th minute, Wambach was close to padding her all-time goal-scoring record, but a pass from Klingenberg sailed just a little strong and high, leaving Wambach no chance to head home an opening goal.

Leroux brought the crowd to life in the 40th minute when she out-hustled Korea defender Yumi Kang and slid-kicked a shot that narrowly missed wide to the left of the goal.

At the 60th minute, it was time to bring something new to the mix. Ellis replaced Wambach with Amy Rodriguez, while Tobin Heath came on for Lauren Holiday. New Jersey native Christie Rampone was also sent on as a substitute for Julie Johnston.

The intent of the substitutions was clearly to get better playmaking with Heath, a terrific ball handler, and get some added speed up front with A-Rod. The payoff was almost immediate, when Leroux and Heath combined for lead pass that allowed Leroux to push and blaze her way down the left side before launching a blast on goal. Still, the U.S. could not find the net despite a near sellout crowd.

Heath, again, generated a beautiful attack in the 72nd minute when she dribbled toward the midfield line and looked ahead to see the strikers flaring forward. She launched a 30-foot pass straight ahead to Leroux, who centered the ball forward and over for Rodriguez, whose shot on goal again did not produce the U.S. first score.

After that run, Leroux suffered a cramp and wound up being subbed for by Heather O’Reilly. But the sellout crowd of 26,267 implored the U.S. to keep trying to get that goal. At the 82nd minute mark, the U.S. got one of its few corners for the night, even as Ellis ran out more subs to try and ignite the attack. Kelly O’Hara subbed for Klingenberg, but the corner kick yielded a weak cross that Korea goalkeeper Jungmi Kim batted away.

The game just continued to play out without anyone or any combination able to create a goal, including a set piece in the 90th minute that saw yet another shot sail high and wide. In the end, in the brief bit of stoppage time, it was Korea that caused the last bit of excitement when a shot on goal sent Hope Solo flying to make the save, punching the ball out of bounds.

It was a very strange end of a Send-Off Series that aimed to show the U.S. peaking, especially after the 5-1 victory over Mexico on May 17 in Carson, Calif.

“The result isn’t what we wanted today, but there were some takeaways and I think now is the time to get these things out of our system before we head over there," Lloyd said. "We’ll be just fine and I think we made some adjustments at halftime. Just didn’t find the back of the net.

“We played against a good Korea team, the presented some challenges for us," Lloyd continued. "They had their front few popping off into those channels, into those spaces, we’ll just be fine. It’s been a long few days for us in terms of doing stuff in New York but it’s crunch time for us. We’ve got to get prepared and be at our sharpest."

The U.S. has bigger games ahead, against teams far better than Korea and in pressure-cooker atmosphere. They say they are ready, even if the draw and aimless offense Saturday was not anything expected. Maybe next time?