Harrison, N.J. — The United States’ fate at the Women’s World Cup may hinge on Alex Morgan’s left knee.
The 25-year-old star forward missed her third straight game due to a bone bruise, a listless 0-0 draw against South Korea on Saturday in their final warmup match.
Morgan hasn’t played in a month but says she will be ready for the Americans’ opener against Australia on June 8. Coach Jill Ellis, trying to lead the U.S. to its first World Cup title in 16 years, said Morgan will have to build her minutes at the tournament in Canada.
“We need her. We need her to win,” said forward Abby Wambach, who may get more playing time because of Morgan’s injury. “I’m comfortable if she doesn’t start games. I’m comfortable if she comes off the bench, that we still are successful throughout this World Cup.”
Three days shy of her 35th birthday, Wambach started in her 242nd international appearance in the only change by Ellis from the starters in the 5-1 win over Mexico on May 17. Wambach replaced Megan Rapinoe, who had a sore quadriceps in training Friday.
While the U.S. outshot the South Koreans 15-7, the Americans had few good scoring chances. The best was in the 36th minute, when Wambach was 1 yard from an open goal line and couldn’t get her head on Meghan Klingenberg’s cross from the left flank. South Korea goalkeeper Kim Jungmi stuck out her right hand to bat away Carli Lloyd’s open 10-yard shot in the 49th minute after Morgan Brian pulled the ball back.
“Now’s the time to get everything out of our system before we head over there.” Lloyd said. “We’ll be just fine.”
The U.S. leaves by charter jet Tuesday for its training base in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Americans’ first-round group also includes games against Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage on June 12 and Nigeria on June 16.
“We looked a little leggy,” Ellis said. “It’s now time to kind of put all the circus behind us and get up to Canada and recharge our batteries and be ready to go.”
The second-ranked Americans were shut out at home for the first time since Nov. 5, 2008, in Cincinnati, also by South Korea. Still, the U.S. extended its home unbeaten streak to 96 since November 2004 (84-0-12) and is 7-0-2 against the South Koreans.
Wambach, who broke her nose in a collision with Ireland goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke on May 10, played until the 60th minute and worked on some combinations with Sydney Leroux.
“She can start. She can come in off the bench,” Ellis said. “I think there’ll be certain games where it’s going to benefit us to have her come in and close a game. … She’s such a clutch player and is used to the spotlight,”
The Americans won World Cups in 1991 and 1999, and they have won three straight Olympic gold medals. But they have struggled in World Cups. Morgan, who has 51 international goals, was expected to lead the U.S. attack.
“Alex is always going to be important because of what she can bring to the game,” Ellis said.
Before a capacity crowd of 26,467 at Red Bull Arena, all 23 U.S. players lined up for the anthem, outnumbering the visitors’ 11. Eschewing their traditional red-white-and-blue color scheme, the American wore white uniforms with black trim and lime socks.
“Everybody’s a little nervous. People don’t want to get injured,” Wambach said. “To be honest, it was a boring game. There wasn’t really much attack. There wasn’t really much brilliance individually or collectively.”
The performance didn’t inspire much confidence. But it was only an exhibition.
“Everybody, don’t freak out,” Wambach said. “We’re going to be fine.”
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