U.S. women in search of balanced scoring
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The game is a homecoming for Kristine Lilly. Coach Greg Ryan wouldn't mind an additional celebration -- goals from other players.
Ryan says the U.S. needs more threats so defenses can't smother Lilly -- who is from Connecticut and played professionally in Boston -- and Abby Wambach.
"Teams are going to do everything they can to shut those two down," he said before practice at Gillette Stadium on Friday, a day before an exhibition against Mexico. The game precedes the New England Revolution's home opener, against Toronto FC.
There are plenty of candidates on the squad, which is beginning an eight-game domestic schedule leading to the 16-team World Cup in China in September.
Carli Lloyd, a 24-year-old midfielder, was selected Most Valuable Player of last month's Algarve Cup, which the United States won. Lloyd scored four goals in four games in Portugal after entering the tournament with just one international goal in 24 appearances.
"She's very good at creating chances for herself," Ryan said. "She's got a strong powerful shot from outside. We want to keep getting the ball at her feet."
Lilly, who turns 36 in July, said young forwards Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley -- all three are University of North Carolina alumni -- have improved as well.
Lilly, the U.S. captain who scored her 119th international goal in the 2-0 victory over Denmark to capture the Algarve Cup, said the key for balanced scoring was playing closer together.
"The more we can get the midfield closer with us and closer to the goal, the more options open up for more players to make things happen," Lilly said. "If we can get the field smaller and get our (defensive) backs forward and our midfield forward, we'll create more chances for more people."
Wambach, who has 68 goals in 88 international games, likened her on-field chemistry with Lilly to the relationship she had with Mia Hamm, who has retired.
"Kristine and I are doing the same thing. On the field, I can actually just make a noise and she knows I'm there and I'm open," Wambach said. "That's amazing to be able to say that you've been able to develop chemistry like that with one of the best players in the world."
Mexico has never beaten or even tied the United States in 18 games, and recently failed to qualify for the World Cup.
"It's always a big challenge for us, but also it's an opportunity to have that experience and keep improving," Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar said Friday.
Cuellar called the 5-foot-11 Wambach "the most influential striker in the game" because of her footwork and physical presence. Wambach scored both U.S. goals in a 2-0 victory the last time the teams met, in November during a World Cup qualifier.
Mexico's star striker Maribel "Marigol" Dominguez has 53 goals in 69 international games. Ryan, whose record as U.S. team coach is 31-0-7 since taking over two years ago, said it would be important to contain Dominguez. She scored twice in a 15-minute span against the United States in 2004.
"You've got to pick her up tight," he said. "You can't let her run through you."
Lilly, who played for the Boston Breakers in the Women's United Soccer Association, doesn't expect a letdown even though the World Cup is five months away.
"Our goal is to win every game ... to be the best in the world," she said. "We play to win and if we don't we're disappointed."