U.S. defense will face greater challenges in World Cup knockout round

Much of the attention on the United States rightly goes to its prolific offense, especially after that 13-goal game to open the Women’s World Cup. But the team’s defense has been predictably reliable so far in France.

The Americans have posted shutouts in their first three games, marking the first time the United States has not conceded a goal in the group stage at the tournament. The defending champions open the knockout round Monday against Spain in Reims, France.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher saw little action during the team’s rout of Thailand in the opener, but matches against Chile and Sweden provided incrementally tougher tests.

“To come away from group play with three shutouts, as a team defensively, I’m very proud of that,” she said. “It’s a goal that we have going into every game, especially as a back line, to keep clean sheets. We put a lot of time into team defending as well, all 11 players on the field are defending, and that cohesiveness is what helps bring that.”

The team’s backline in France has shifted due to lineup changes and injuries. Veteran center back Becky Sauerbrunn was held out of the first game because of a minor injury, but came back against Chile when coach Jill Ellis rested players.

Against Sweden, Ellis used the backline that is expected to start in the knockout phase, with Abby Dahlkemper alongside Sauerbrunn, Stanford alum Kelley O’Hara on the right and Crystal Dunn on the left. Dunn was especially effective against Sweden and in thwarting forward Sofia Jakobsson.

Santa Clara alum Julie Ertz has moved up into a role as a defensive midfielder in France. She sat out against Sweden because of a hip contusion but U.S. Soccer characterized the injury as minor.

• U.S. Soccer and players for the women’s national team tentatively agreed to mediate a lawsuit that accuses the federation of gender discrimination and seeks equitable pay.

Twenty-eight members of the current player pool filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in March. The lawsuit alleges “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The federation has maintained the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that establish distinct pay structures for the two teams. Those agreements are not public. Court documents said decisions surrounding the teams have been made for “legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”

Saturday’s games: Germany advanced to the quarterfinals for the eighth straight time, beating African champion Nigeria 3-0 in Grenoble, France. … Ingrid Engen hit the decisive penalty kick and Norway beat 10-man Australia 4-1 in a shootout after a 1-1 draw to advance to the quarterfinals. Forward Isabell Herlovsen put Norway up 1-0 with a goal in the 31st minute. The game went to extra time after Australia’s Elise Kellond-Knight scored from a corner to make it 1-1 in the 83rd minute.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/U-S-defense-will-face-greater-challenges-in-14030771.php.

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