No gimmes allowed: US looking for win vs. Sweden

Rest is nice, winning is better.

The United States plays Sweden in the group stage finale at the

Women’s World Cup on Wednesday, a game that would seem to have

little importance with both teams already through to the

quarterfinals. But there is plenty still at stake for the

Americans, starting with the bragging rights – and everything that

comes with them – for winning the group.

”We go for a win,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said Monday.

”Absolutely.”

The two-time World Cup champions need only a tie against Sweden

to win Group C and likely avoid a quarterfinal matchup with Brazil.

The Group C winner plays the second-place team in Group D, likely

Australia or Norway, while the Group C runner-up gets the Group D

winner.

Brazil, runner-up in 2007 and at the last two Olympics, needs

only a draw against World Cup newcomer Equatorial Guinea to win

Group D.

”I can safely say that there’s not going to be one player or

person or staff member from the United States that’s going to say,

‘We want a tie,”’ Abby Wambach said. ”We want to win this game

because we want to keep the momentum going forward. Obviously, you

have to be smart. We want to get some of those 90-minute players

some rest if we can do that. But first and foremost, we want to

make sure and secure the first place out of this group.”

The United States is 18-4-7 against Sweden, including a 3-0

record in the World Cup. But Sweden beat the U.S. 2-1 in January,

one of three losses in a five-month span after the Americans had

gone more than two years without a loss.

Since arriving in Germany, however, the U.S. has had little

resemblance to the team that struggled just to get there. Only

Japan (six) has scored more than the five goals the Americans had

in their first two games. France also has five goals.

Though Wambach and fellow forward Amy Rodriguez have yet to

score, the U.S. is getting production from an abundance of players

and places. Five different players have scored, including defender

Rachel Buehler.

”We know that we’re entertaining people,” goalkeeper Hope Solo

said. ”We’re not just winning games. You can see that swagger back

in the U.S. team whether it’s the way we celebrate goals, whether

it’s the way you can see we’re enjoying the game again. It’s not

just that hard-fought, ‘blood and guts glorified’ game. It’s the

game we love.”

Sweden, meanwhile, had tougher than expected games against both

Colombia and North Korea, and will be without captain Caroline

Seger. The midfielder is suspended after picking up her second

yellow card Saturday against North Korea.

Sundhage will have to keep a close eye on Wambach, who is

carrying a yellow card and would miss the quarterfinals if she gets

another. But Sundhage will be watching her entire lineup

closely.

While winning the game is the priority, Sundhage has been

preaching a ”21 players” mantra. As in, it will take all 21 on

the squad to win the World Cup. She put Lori Lindsey into the

starting lineup against Colombia and gave Shannon Boxx a break.

She’s already gotten World Cup rookies Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath

onto the field as subs, and found a way to get high-energy Megan

Rapinoe significant playing time.

Knowing the Americans are already into the quarterfinals would

allow Sundhage to work a few more players into the mix. Or give a

breather to those players who get the bulk of the minutes or are

already nursing some aches and pains. Wambach (Achilles) and

Heather O’Reilly (groin) both sat out practice Monday as a

precaution.

”We don’t have to force anything which is good,” Sundhage

said. ”It would be totally different if this was a game that would

take us to the quarterfinals but it’s not. We have a chance to play

probably some different players.”

As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the main objective, that

is.

”We want to get a good result against Sweden, we want to play

well,” Wambach said. ”That’s the thing. We want to keep playing

well, performing to our potential because we’re going to continue

to get better as the tournament goes on and, hopefully, we’ll come

into the championship game playing our best.”