Ellis downplays USWNT's short rest ahead of Spain
REIMS, France -- The United States will need to overcome both Spain and scheduling disadvantages when it plays its first knockout-round game Monday in the FIFA Women's World Cup.
The U.S. was the tournament's most dominant team in winning all three of its games in the group stage. The Americans set a World Cup group-stage record by scoring 18 goals while not allowing any in wins against Thailand, Chile and Sweden. But in addition to being one of only two group winners that plays a second-place finisher in the initial knockout round instead of a third-place finisher, the U.S. will play Spain with considerably less rest than its opponent.
While the U.S. played Sweden in its final group game on Thursday, Spain played its final group game against China on Monday. Both the U.S. and Spain played those games in Le Havre.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis downplayed the effects and noted that her team hosted tournaments like the annual SheBelieves Cup and Tournament of Nations with an eye toward this sort of scenario.
"We're very used to a three-day rhythm," Ellis said Sunday. "It's what we've done in certain tournaments, specifically for [that] purpose of having a consistent rhythm in what we do. And we can't control, obviously, what our opponent has."
In this year's SheBelieves Cup, for example, the U.S. played Japan on Feb. 27, England on March 2 and Brazil on March 5, traveling at least 700 miles between each game. But its opponents in that and similar tournaments had identical travel and recovery periods.
Complicating matters ahead of Monday's game, temperatures in Reims are expected to peak at 90 degrees in the hour before the 6 p.m. local kickoff, the hottest weather the U.S. has experienced in France.
"I haven't paid attention to the weather report," Ellis said. "But for us, everything has been about making sure our recovery was happening the night of the Sweden game. After the huddle, I just said to them, 'The MVP right now is going to be your recovery and your hydration and your attention to detail,' in terms of making sure they do that. I think our players are fantastic with that, in terms of knowing that the next game starts as soon as that game is over."
Four years ago, the U.S. had five days off between its final group game and first knockout-round game against Colombia, which was ranked 28th in the world at the time. Spain is currently ranked 13th.
The oldest team in this World Cup, the U.S. already faced a condensed schedule by virtue of being one of the final two teams to play its opening game. If it reaches the final in Lyon on July 7, it will play seven games in 27 days.
"I would have taken an extra day or two," Kelley O'Hara said of the Spain game. "But no, it doesn't matter. It's all about getting the job done, whoever we're playing, focus on that."
The winner of Monday's game plays again on Friday in Paris against the winner of Sunday's game between France and Brazil.