March 1, 2019 / 12:03 AM / a month ago

Soccer-No panic as U.S. women's team struggle to get into gear

Feb 28 (Reuters) - There were no signs of panic after another uninspiring result by the U.S. women’s team in their SheBelieves Cup opener this week as coach Jill Ellis put a positive spin on a 2-2 draw with Japan by saying their World Cup preparations remained on track.

After going unbeaten in 2018, the U.S. women’s team have got off to a sluggish start this year with an away loss to France and a narrow win over Spain followed by Wednesday’s lacklustre display against Japan in frigid Chester, Pennsylvania.

Back on home turf the U.S. let victory slip away when Japan’s Yuka Momiki struck an added time equaliser, leaving the hosts in need of a win over England on Saturday in Nashville.

England beat Brazil 2-1 in their opening game to top the standings in the high quality four-team tournament.

“The result (against Japan) was disappointing for sure, the performance in both halves... I thought there were some really good things. I felt we played as a team,” Ellis told reporters. “They gave a lot.

“I wasn’t disappointed in the players, wasn’t disappointed in the performance but obviously disappointed in the result.”

With all four teams in the top 10 of FIFA’s world rankings, the SheBelieves Cup provides the perfect tune up for this year’s World Cup, which runs from June 7-July 7 in France.

UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY

After this tournament the U.S. have five matches in the run up to the finals but only one against a top 10 ranked opponent.

“It’s exactly how we want these teams in here because they’re so unique,” Ellis had said during the pre-tournament news conference. “Every minute we can get players together to forge those relationships on the field is really important.

“Every coach in here probably recognises the opportunity here to sharpen the tools they are going to need for the World Cup.”

The SheBelieves Cup wraps up on Tuesday when the top-ranked U.S. take on world number 10 Brazil and fourth-ranked England face number eight Japan with the tournament winner determined by who tops the standings based on total points.

Some of the U.S. struggles can be traced to the absence of key players. Midfielder Lindsey Horan is sidelined with a quad injury while defender Becky Sauerbrunn has a knee problem.

The injuries have provided Ellis with an opportunity to evaluate other players, experiment and tweak tactics as the U.S. prepare to defend their World Cup title.

“This is the fine tuning that we absolutely need and that is why we play these games,” she said. “Soccer is a crazy game.

“I’m going to take the positives because I know we have to play seven games to win this thing (World Cup) so I think right now it is all about getting better.” (Editing by Ken Ferris)

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