U.S. will shorten trip to next round by winning World Cup group

For the U.S., travel distance to next round is riding on Group D finish

The task is rather simple for the United States if it wants to win its group at the women's World Cup and prevent a lengthy trip across Canada to New Brunswick for the second round.

Just win, baby.

Any other result in the team's group-stage final with Nigeria on Tuesday and things get complicated. Here are the scenarios:

—Win the game and the U.S. wins Group D. If that doesn't happen, the U.S. needs help. If it ties with Nigeria, it can still finish atop the group but only if Australia and Sweden tie or Sweden beats Australia by one goal. Even if Nigeria wins, the U.S. can win the group provided it loses by only a goal and Sweden ties Australia.

—The U.S. finishes second if it ties Nigeria and Australia beats Sweden; it ties Nigeria and Sweden beats Australia by more than two goals; it loses to Nigeria and there is a winner between Australia and Sweden.

And although losing to Nigeria by two goals or more would cost the U.S. the group title, it wouldn't necessarily eliminate it from the World Cup because it could still advance to the round of 16 as a third-place team, possibly playing Germany in the next round.

"One of my scouts the other day said there's like 13 different scenarios," U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said. "Well, I'll be honest. I can spin that."

The U.S. being knocked out really isn't likely at this point. But where it goes could have a big effect in how much longer the team stays in Canada.

That's because the Group D champion wins a 90-minute flight to Edmonton for a knockout-round game against a third-place team. Win that game and it will face a group runner-up in the quarterfinals.

Finish second in Group D and the U.S. must take a 2,650-mile flight across Canada to play unbeaten and untied Brazil in tiny Moncton, in the province of New Brunswick. Survive that and Japan, the only other unbeaten and untied team in the tournament, is the likely quarterfinal opponent.

So in this case, the difference between first and second is more than just a spot in the standings.

"If you were to say 'Hey, you're in the group of death and going into your last game you have an opportunity to try to win it.' Yeah, I'd take that," Ellis said. "For me, I just focus on one game at a time. It's all I can control.

"I've just got to focus on the performance of the players, getting them mentally ready, getting them focused and sharp."

Even though the U.S. is unbeaten in group play, it didn't score in its last outing and has been shut out five times in its last 13 games, matching the longest such streak in U.S. history. So expect some changes Tuesday, with forward Alex Morgan possibly getting her first start of this World Cup and Tobin Heath a likely addition to the midfield.

"I would say this to every single player on the team: We've got to raise our performance," Ellis said. "To me it is about getting better and better. The nerves should be gone. And now it's really time to focus on what we need to do."

For Nigeria it's basically win or go home. With one point after two group games, the team needs a victory, or a draw and some help from Australia in the other group-play final to stay alive.

Nigeria isn't interested in doing complicated math at this point, though.

"It's a must-win game for us," forward Asisat Oshoala said.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
63°