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Soccer

U.S. brings its extreme ways into Women's World Cup quarterfinals

Carli Lloyd and Lori Chalupny have thought about it. And both say the U.S. would be a lot better in this Women's World Cup if the players thought a little less.

"When you overthink too much you can kind of be unsure of yourself," Lloyd said. "At the end of the day it's a game we've played our whole lives. And when we step out on the field, we've just got to let instincts take over."

Added Chalupny: "In the attack it is kind of about [being] a little bit more free flow and less thinking. We'll figure it out."

They'd better. Because a mistake against China in Friday's quarterfinal could hand the U.S. its earliest exit in World Cup history.

On the other hand, that pressure could finally be the thing that helps the Americans shine.

"This team performs better when we are under pressure," U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best. Every game we go into, we expect ourselves to win.

"So we're kind of used to that pressure."

This World Cup has been a tale of two extremes for the U.S. On defense, the Americans and their young back line have been brilliant, allowing just one goal — none in the last 333 minutes — and only 11 shots on target.

For the defenders, then, any talk of deficiencies in the U.S. attack has fallen on deaf ears.

"Well, you can call it deficiencies but we've gotten the result that we've needed to get in every single game," left back Meghan Klingenberg said of the team, which is unbeaten in four games. "If we keep teams to zero goals and only score one per game I wouldn't say that's a deficiency. I'd say that's winning."

Not surprisingly, the players whose job it is to score goals have a slightly different take.

"We want to definitely convert more on our opportunities to score," Abby Wambach said of a U.S. team that has scored just twice from the run of play in its last three games. "There's certain things that we can do better. And from a forward's position — and actually [as] a leader on this team — I want to score more goals."

International soccer's all-time leader with 183 career goals, Wambach has scored just once in this tournament and has, at times, looked very much like the 35-year-old part-time player former U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage said she was.

Wambach has played 159 minutes on the unforgiving artificial turf in the last 10 days — badly shanking a penalty kick in the progress — but she is the world's best player in the air. And with the U.S. enjoying a decided height advantage over the Chinese, she may start again Friday.

"Abby has some unique tools," U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said. "I look at China, I look at what they present and what tools we have to be successful and break them down.

"I think [Abby] would be ready to go 90 minutes if asked."

There are two other key players who definitely won't play, though. U.S. midfielders Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe both picked up their second yellow cards against Colombia on Monday and are ineligible for the quarterfinal game. Ellis said Morgan Brian will take Holiday's spot while Christen Press is Rapinoe's likely replacement.

Whether the change in personnel will lead to a change in tactics, Ellis wouldn't say. But Press is a natural forward, so if she starts the U.S. could dump its static 4-4-2 formation and go with three players in the midfield and three up top.

"At this point it's not about changing shape," Ellis said. "A lineup is just an alignment of players. It's how you play within any shape. So it's really about how mobile we are.

"It's not a matter of being satisfied. These are players that love challenges. Certainly we're capable of a lot more. And that's the expectation."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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