NEW YORK — The U.S. Women’s World Cup squad gathered in mid-town Manhattan on Wednesday with smiles as wide as a soccer field. With their departure to Canada less than a week away, the Americans are carrying themselves like a team poised to end a 16-year championship drought.
From all indications, the month-long training camp has proceeded without a hitch. The first two friendlies out west were won without difficulty, albeit against weak opponents.
Abby Wambach fixed her cracked nose. Hope Solo has been on her best behavior.
The FIFA scandal that erupted early Wednesday did not cause any noticeable distractions; some players said they were barely aware of it.
One outstanding issue does remain: the condition of Alex Morgan’s left knee.
She has not practiced with the full squad, working instead on fitness, and is eyeing a return to training next Wednesday when the U.S. delegation begins practicing in Winnipeg ahead of the Group D opener against Australia on June 8. (The tournament will kick off two days earlier with Canada facing China in Edmonton.)
“I’ve been doing a lot better,” Morgan said during the team’s afternoon of media appearances at the Marriott Marquis. “I’m still day to day. Once the tournament comes, there is no question in my mind I am going to be 100 percent. I am looking forward to the World Cup and knowing that is not going to set me back at all.”
With a power-packed roster, the U.S. team is not reliant on one or two players for success. Morgan’s speed and technical ability do, however, add another layer of challenges for opponents. If she does not regain form next week, Coach Jill Ellis will not rush her back for the opener.
Ellis has taken a conservative approach with Morgan, 25, who was also sidelined during the World Cup qualifying tournament last fall with a sprained ankle. “We don’t need to push it,” Ellis said.
The U.S. team’s other matches -- in what is considered the most difficult of the six groups -- are June 12 against Sweden in Winnipeg and June 16 against Nigeria in Vancouver. Ranked No. 2 behind Germany, the Americans are heavily favored to advance to at least the semifinals of the 24-team, four-week tournament.
Morgan, a national team regular since 2010 and one of the program’s most popular players with almost 1.7 million followers on Twitter, has recorded 51 goals and 32 assists in 84 international appearances.
The frontline corps also includes Wambach, the sport’s all-time leading scorer who, nearing her 35th birthday, has taken a lesser role in Ellis’s plans. Veterans Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez, as well as Christian Press, a breakout performer last year, are also in the mix.
The only other injury concern in training camp was midfielder Tobin Heath, who planned to sit out two friendlies with a sore hamstring. However, she returned for the Mexico game May 17 and set up Wambach’s second goal with an outrageous display of footwork.
With the start of the tournament near, the group says it has set aside any possible distractions, including the turmoil involving soccer’s international governing body.
“Nothing is going to detract from any of the teams, any of the players,” Ellis said. Soccer is “bigger than organizations. It's passion. This is life. This is our sport.”
Wambach helped lead an unsuccessful battle against the use of artificial turf at the six World Cup venues, and even with FIFA wounded by indictments and investigations, she refrained from further criticism.
The only thing on the players’ minds, she said, is Canada.
“We just want to talk about the Women's World Cup, how we are preparing, what we are all doing.”
The top two nations in each of six groups advance to the round of 16 along with the top four third-place teams
Group A schedule
June 6: Canada vs. China, New Zealand vs. Netherlands. June 11: China vs. Netherlands, Canada vs. New Zealand. June 15: Netherlands vs. Canada, China vs. New Zealand.
Group B schedule
June 7: Norway vs. Thailand, Germany vs. Ivory Coast. June 11: Germany vs. Norway, Ivory Coast vs. Thailand. June 15: Thailand vs. Germany, Ivory Coast vs. Norway.
Group C schedule
June 8: Cameroon vs. Ecuador, Japan vs. Switzerland. June 12: Switzerland vs. Ecuador, Japan vs. Cameroon. June 16: Ecuador vs. Japan, Switzerland vs. Cameroon.
Group D schedule
June 8: Sweden vs. Nigeria, USA vs. Australia. June 12: Australia vs. Nigeria, USA vs. Sweden. June 16: USA vs. Nigeria, Australia vs. Sweden.
Group E schedule
June 9: Spain vs. Costa Rica, Brazil vs. South Korea. June 13: Brazil vs. Spain, South Korea vs. Costa Rica. June 17: Costa Rica vs. Brazil, South Korea vs. Spain.
Group F schedule
June 9: France vs. England, Colombia vs. Mexico. June 13: France vs. Colombia, England vs. Mexico. June 17: Mexico vs. France, England vs. Colombia.
Round of 16: June 20-23
Quarterfinals: June 26-27
Semifinals: June 30-July 1
Third Place: July 4