U.S. players are eager to get started at World Cup

With opening game against Australia set for Monday, U.S. players can't wait to get started

The U.S. national team has been pointing toward this month's World Cup for nearly four years. So now, with Monday's group-play opener against Australia just a day away, many players have grown tired of waiting.

"I need it to start," defender Becky Sauerbrunn said Saturday. "Up until that first whistle, I'm going to have nerves. But when that first whistle sounds, it's going to be soccer.

"We've been training for this for so long. It's a dream come true for us. So we're going to make the most of the opportunity."

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe said she and her teammates have been passing the time by reading, watching TV and making use of the ping-pong table at their downtown hotel.

"You have to learn how to be OK with the boredom. Because you can't just be going out and doing a million things," said Rapinoe, who, like Sauerbrunn, will be playing in her second World Cup. "You need that time to relax. It is important to be able to find whatever it is that relaxes you away from the game."

Talking it over

The team also filled some of its ample downtime with meetings.

Lots of meetings.

"We've gone over practically every single scenario that could ever happen on the field," Sauerbrunn said.

But the most important of those meetings may have come Friday, when FIFA officials briefed players about what referees will be looking for during the games.

"The game can be quite dangerous when you look at certain injuries, especially head injuries," Sauerbrunn said. "And they were very adamant about what they would call yellow cards, red cards, things like that.

"Any reckless challenge toward the head — that would result in a yellow or red card pretty easily."

Morgan's status uncertain

Forward Alex Morgan, out two months with a bone bruise to her left knee, trained with the rest of the team Saturday, although her status for the U.S. opener remains uncertain. However, Rapinoe said, the team, which missed Morgan during its recent three-game send-off series, is ready for any eventuality.

"Our hope, obviously, is that she's fit and ready to play," Rapinoe said. "She's a brilliant player with the ability to score goals. So at some point we're going to need her.

"But the team has prepared in different ways — without her or her coming off the bench. And I think that we're ready for that."

If the U.S. determines Morgan is unable to play in the tournament, it has until 4:30 PDT Sunday — 24 hours before its first game — to replace her on its roster.

Several teams have already made injury adjustments, with Brazil, among the tournament favorites, suffering what may have been the most costly loss when experienced defender Erika was dropped in place of forward Rafaela.

Mexico also made a change, dropping midfielder Ariana Calderon of Sacramento for Anisa Guajardo, a midfielder from Fresno and Pepperdine University.

Calderon scored Mexico's only goal in a mid-May loss to the U.S. but left that game shortly afterward with an injury.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11

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