PRE-GAME WORLD CUP HYPE: WNT VS. SPAIN

By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO

The USWNT was always favored to make it out of their group and the smart money was on them winning Group F. But 18 goals scored and none conceded?

Nope. No way. Absolutely not.

Nobody is supposed to do that. It doesn’t matter how easy the group was – and it was, with Thailand somehow in Pot 3, Chile providing little resistance and an aging Sweden team – you don’t show up at the World Cup and throttle everyone in your way.

Then again, winning three of the first seven World Cups is pretty extra too.

And seeing as the USWNT are extra by nature, why not make it four of eight?

The quest for that begins in earnest on Monday. Gone is the room for error, with any loss now sending the U.S. home. And the competition will be stiffer than ever, making for an exciting and also terrifying combination.

We knew before the World Cup started that this was going to be the toughest tournament yet. The competition was going to be better and deeper than ever before and, to this point, that appears to be just as true as we expected. Say what you want about Germany and Japan, a couple teams who don’t look quite as good as they have in the past, but France and England have the look of world powers, while the Netherlands are looking good and Canada just need to get the second-greatest goalscorer of all-time going.

So it’s going to take a lot. And to make matters tougher, the U.S. is in the top half of the bracket, otherwise known as The Stacked Half. The road to the final could include France and England. But that’s if the Americans can get past Spain first.

That is a Spain team that gave the U.S. fits in January. Only a Christen Press moment of magic got them past the Spaniards, as a talented and deep midfield focused the match on the weakest part of the American side and limited the impact of the dangerous front line.

Dealing with that midfield is going to be the Americans’ challenge again this time around. Barring a system change from Jill Ellis, the U.S. are going to be out-numbered in the middle of the pitch. They won’t have the ball as much as they’re used to either, and it’s likely that Spain dictates the tempo.

Not only will the Spain midfield present a challenge to the U.S. for this match, but it will also put them in danger of yellow cards. If Lindsey Horan, Kelley O’Hara or Allie Long pick up another, they’ll be suspended for the (potential) quarterfinal match against France. And any card puts that player a yellow card in the quarterfinals away from missing a possible semifinal.

So tough opponent, terrifying bracket and the threat of playing at less-than-full strength in future contests. All with no more room for error and a single loss ending their dream for a fourth star.

I guess, with a challenge like that, you gotta be a little extra. Good thing the USWNT is that, and then some.