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US seeks to strengthen impressive record against China in quarterfinal fixture

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JUNE 25, 2015

Rarely is an undefeated team as consistently criticized by analysts and its fan base as the U.S. Women’s National Team has been for its performance in the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

This is not to say, however, that the criticism hasn’t been well deserved. The United States has struggled to live up to expectations, especially on offense, where the Americans have looked confused and uncreative.

En route to reaching the quarterfinals, the Americans have yet to play a full game in which they looked like the team they were expected to be. Now Team USA will take on China on Friday in the hopes of proving right the prognosticators who picked the USWNT as the favorite to win the World Cup.

The United States and China have a history on this stage: The Americans’ last World Cup final win famously came in penalty kicks against the Chinese team in 1999. The two teams have played against each other 53 times, and the USWNT holds a huge advantage, with a record of 32-8-13. The teams’ most recent matchup will be much more indicative of what to expect Friday, as they played to a 1-1 draw in December.

Despite the facts that China is ranked 16th in the world compared with the United States’ No. 2 ranking and that the Chinese team struggled to get past No. 53 Cameroon in the round of 16, the Americans still can’t go into the game expecting to walk away with an easy victory. If there is one thing the Chinese have proven to be successful in, it’s presenting their opponents with a stifling defense.

“I think they have one of the best defenses in this tournament,” said Enow Ngachu, Cameroon’s head coach, to the New York Times. “You hardly find less than six players defending. If they keep on like that, they can create surprises.”

The swarming Chinese defense can be especially troublesome for the United States offense, because the U.S. players have done a very poor job so far in the tournament by failing to move the ball quickly and efficiently. If they again fail to do so against China, the Americans could see themselves giving up a lot of turnovers. This could potentially allow the Chinese team to exploit Team USA on the counter, which may be the only way it will have a chance of scoring against the nearly impenetrable U.S. defense.

The United States cannot afford to see any drop in quality in its defense, because that has been the team’s calling card thus far. The offense’s struggles only figure to get worse, as the team’s primary playmaker, Megan Rapinoe, will have to miss the match. She received her second yellow card of the tournament in the last match against Colombia. A bright spot for the team’s offense was the emergence of Cal alumna Alex Morgan in the USWNT’s last game. She was able to play the whole 90 minutes against Colombia and scored her first goal of the tournament. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis will hope that this goal will be the one that opens the floodgates for the team’s young star.

If Morgan continues her improved performance, she has the type of talent to make up for Team USA’s offensive slump on her own. If the offense can also improve on a few technical aspects of its game, most notably making quicker decisions and passing the ball with a better sense of urgency, the Americans should be able to extend their dominance over the Chinese team.

Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian.

JUNE 24, 2015

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