U.S. women prepare for creative Brazilians
THESSALONIKI, Greece -- In its first game, the U.S. women's soccer team took a page out of the Princeton offense. They passed the ball patiently, waited for mistakes, then exploited them effectively.
How thrilling was it? Suffice it to say that Carli Fawcett, defender Joy Fawcett's 7-year-old daughter, fell asleep in the stands.
"Not a very exciting game to watch,'' said forward Abby Wambach, even though she scored one of the goals.
Saturday, the Americans will have to stop emulating slowdown basketball and play a totally different game. Their next opponent is Brazil, where soccer means creativity and flair, giving the U.S. team the kind of challenge that was missing in Wednesday's 3-0 victory against overmatched Greece.
"Things will get better,'' Wambach said before Friday's practice at Kaftanzoglio Stadium. "When the game is moving quicker, when we're playing Brazil, they're going to play us straight up, and that's what we like. The game is more fluid. We'll be able to play the way we normally play, and the rest of the world will see that, too.
"It's going to be more of a fun game to watch for everybody.''
A victory would clinch a spot in the quarterfinals, almost a formality given that eight of the 10 teams in the Olympic tournament will advance. More importantly, it would put the Americans in commanding position to win their group, which would give them a high seeding and a quarterfinal match in Thessaloniki, eliminating a travel day.
Brazil has the same motivation, having won its opener 1-0 over Australia. But unlike the Greeks, whom the Americans couldn't scout properly because the game tapes were of such poor quality, the U.S. players know the Brazilians by heart.
"We've seen them play a million times,'' midfielder Shannon Boxx said. "Their technical skill on the ball is amazing.''
Brazil has been a solid team for many years, but it has generally remained just below the championship level achieved by the United States, Norway, China and Germany.
The Americans lead the all-time series 16-1-2, with the only loss coming in Brazil seven years ago. The Brazilians played the Americans tough in a 1-0 loss in the semifinals of 2000 Sydney Games, but the more telling result could be the 5-1 U.S. rout in Birmingham, Ala., in April, when both teams fielded many of their Olympic starters.
Wambach scored twice in that game, but she has an additional burden to carry Saturday after picking up a yellow card against Greece. If she gets another one in the first round, the U.S. team's leading scorer in 2004 will have to sit out a game.
Coach April Heinrichs has challenged that rule because most teams are playing just two first-round games, but Wambach can't go onto the field assuming it will be changed.
"I wish going into these next two games I didn't have that on my back, but I'm a professional and I know these next two games are going to be tough games,'' Wambach said. "I'm not going to change the way I play, but I also know that getting another yellow card will give me a suspension. I have to have that in the back of my mind.''
Wambach is a very physical player, and she said she'll have to get a quick gauge on how closely the game is being called.
"You just go with what the referees give you,'' she said.
After Brazil, the Americans wrap up first-round play against Australia on Tuesday. By then, they hope any nerves they had against Greece will be long forgotten.
"I don't think we played great,'' Boxx said. "I think we played good. I think we played at the level we needed to play to win that game. I would rather start like that where we know we can improve, then start with our best game and then go down.''
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press