The group stage of this World Cup didn’t go exactly the way Carli Lloyd hoped it would.
Oh, sure, the U.S. won its group for the first time since 2007, earning what should be a relatively smooth ride through to the semifinals. But that proved harder than it should have, with the U.S. scoring just once in its final two games.
Now the Americans have four opportunities to make everyone forget that, beginning with their first game of the knockout stage Monday against Colombia.
“Those three games are in the past,” Lloyd said of group play. “It doesn’t matter what happened. If we reach the final, no one talks about the group games.”
And that’s a conversation Lloyd would definitely like to end.
As a central midfielder, Lloyd is among those most responsible for fueling the U.S. attack. But she struggled in the group stage, and as a result, so did the American forwards, who scored just once.
When Lloyd showed up for Thursday’s training session, however, she was smiling. It was a new day and the start of a new round, so she was looking ahead, not back.
“Personally, it’s been tough,” she said. “We’re moving forward. We know that we can do better. There’s more in us.
“We know we can still push and still give more.”
Defender Christie Rampone, playing in her fifth World Cup, says the U.S. has no choice. In the sudden-death elimination stage, one mistake could end the tournament.
“Now it’s really focusing. Every minute matters,” she said.
For Rampone, that pressure can be strangely liberating. Which is why she expects the U.S. attack to come alive as well.
“The mind-set is having a positive outlook.... And kind of just letting loose and getting more into our attack and not so much being on our heels,” said Rampone, 39, whose 10-minute shift off the bench Monday against Nigeria made her the oldest woman to play in a World Cup.
“We need to go after teams a little bit more. It’s now just kind of releasing and being a little bit more free and confident on the offensive side.”
The Americans also got good news with the full-time return of forward Alex Morgan in time for the knockout rounds. Morgan, who was nursing a bone bruise to her left knee, started in the group-play finale for the first time in more than two months and played 65 minutes, completely changing the U.S. offense.
“Huge,” said Abby Wambach, Morgan’s strike partner. “We need Alex Morgan to win this tournament.”
There’s one other significant change between group play and the knockout round, though, and that involves the schedule. After playing three in eight days in the first round, the U.S. won’t play again until Monday.
The Americans won’t even train Friday, which Rampone said will mean rest for her 39-year-old legs — and boredom for the rest of her body.
“A lot of movies. A lot of TV shows,” she said when asked how she’ll fill the down time. “Just kind of trying to get the mind away from the game of soccer. Because you need that.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11