Despite 5 goals, US not making most of chances

The first header was misdirected, going wide by a few feet. The

next soared over the goal. A shot from close range smacked into a

defender, and another easy one banged off the post.

By the end of the game, all Abby Wambach could do was laugh at

the miscues.

”It’s a joke at that point,” she said.

Finishing has been an issue all year for the United States, and

it’s more of the same at the Women’s World Cup. Though the

Americans have five goals from their first two matches, they easily

could have double that. Wambach and fellow forward Amy Rodriguez

have been missing – badly – and others are squandering chances,

too.

The missed opportunities haven’t cost the Americans – yet. But

chances are sure to dwindle the deeper they go in the tournament,

and the Americans can’t afford to keep leaving goals on the

field.

”We didn’t finish our chances,” coach Pia Sundhage

acknowledged after the U.S. routed Colombia 3-0 on Saturday. ”But

as long as we create chances, I’m happy. We’ll put away the chances

eventually.”

Already through to the quarterfinals, the United States plays

Sweden on Wednesday to determine the Group C winner. The Americans

have the advantage in goal differential, meaning they’ll finish

atop the group with a win or a tie.

Goals have been hard to come by for almost everybody in the

tournament. Only Japan, with six, has scored more than the U.S.,

with France also having five. Germany, the two-time defending

champion and pre-tournament favorite, has scored just three

times.

But unlike most teams, the Americans aren’t trying to scratch

out opportunities. They’ve had them. Loads of ’em. In the first two

games, the U.S. had 21 shots on goal.

Compare that with Japan, which had 13. Or Germany, which had

15.

So what’s the problem? It starts up front, with Wambach and

Rodriguez.

Few defenders can keep pace with Rodriguez, and that speed helps

her get plenty of good looks around the goal. But her shots have

been just a touch off. Take her rebound of a Wambach miss early

against Colombia. She had a straight-on shot from close range, only

to put too much power behind it and send it flying over the

goal.

”I have the greatest teammates,” Rodriguez said. ”Every shot

I took, they were like, `You’re going to get the next one; you’re

going to get the next one.”’

That’s Wambach’s mindset, too.

Wambach is the third-leading scorer in U.S. history with 117

goals and is second only to Michelle Akers with nine World Cup

goals. But she has scored just once this season, and her

shortcomings here have been glaring. She is the world’s best player

in the air, yet her headers have clearly been off-target.

”I could sit here and analyze and reanalyze every shot I took

today and why it didn’t go in,” Wambach said after the Colombia

game. ”But that would be selfish on my part. It’s not about me;

it’s about the team.”

Wambach has yet to win a World Cup – the last U.S. title came in

1999 – and has said repeatedly that the title means more to her

than adding to her goal tally.

”I’d rather win it and not score than score six goals and us

lose,” said Wambach, whose textbook perfect pass set up Lauren

Cheney’s goal against North Korea, the Americans’ first of the

tournament.

While Wambach seemed to be pressing at times against Colombia,

neither Sundhage nor her teammates are all that concerned. They’re

not going to tell her to stop shooting, either.

”She didn’t put her chances away today, but she will before the

tournament ends,” Sundhage said. ”She will score a goal, sooner

or later.”

Besides, the Americans would rather look at the positive side.

Their five goals have come from five different players, including

Rachel Buehler, a defender. Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Lauren

Cheney all got their first goals in the World Cup – and Rapinoe

almost scored two more, banging a shot off the crossbar against

Colombia and having one waved off against North Korea on a

debatable possession call.

And the Americans are getting – creating – chances. As long as

they keep doing that, they’re confident the ball will go in at some

point.

”We’ve had five different goal scorers, which is a great thing.

It’s a huge positive,” Heather O’Reilly said. ”The goals will

come.”