This summer’s women’s World Cup will be the most punishing in history, one that will require the finalists to play seven games on artificial turf in as many as four times zones in less than 30 days.
So for the U.S. to succeed, Coach Jill Ellis said she’s going to have to juggle her lineup and reach deep into her bench, something she’ll get a head start on Sunday at a sold-out Avaya Stadium, where the Americans will meet Ireland in the first of three send-off games (Fox Sports 1, 11:30 a.m.).
Ellis will be without two key players in forward Alex Morgan, sidelined indefinitely because of a bruised left knee, and midfielder Tobin Heath, who has a strained hamstring. Heath may return for next week’s game against Mexico at StubHub Center, but Morgan could be out until the team’s World Cup opener June 8 against Australia.
“We want Alex 100% when we get to Canada. At this point, we don’t need to push it,” said Ellis, who called her approach “cautionary.”
Morgan has been plagued by injuries throughout her career. Ankle problems limited her to four starts last year and she’s had issues with both knees, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in high school and spraining ligaments in the left one twice in the last three years. The latest knock, a bone bruise, surfaced a month ago while Morgan was playing with the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League.
Morgan attended the U.S. training session Saturday morning but was not made available to the media.
“Injuries are part of it. That’s why the past seven months have been so important,” Ellis said. “I said from Day 1 that we’re going to need everybody. I honestly think of our 23 [players], all 23 can play. That gives me great confidence.”
Nevertheless, Ellis will use the three pre-World Cup games to give extended playing time to forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez just in case.
“With Alex it will be a balance of getting her minutes but also not expecting that she’s going to go 90 minutes every game,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “She’s going to have to kind of work back into that and, I guess, take it a little easier.”