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Aug 26, 2007

U.S. overwhelms Finland despite Wambach exit

CARSON, Calif. -- Sometimes the best lessons are the unplanned ones, as the U.S. women's national team found out in the 4-0 win over Finland on Saturday at the Home Depot Center.

It wasn't as if anyone on the squad wanted to see Abby Wambach, who possesses the most lethal strike rate of any U.S. women's national player in history, limping to the sidelines in the 27th minute. The match was still scoreless, and Finland was a feisty squad that had created problems for the U.S. in the early going.

Yet the U.S. managed to regroup and produce a multipronged attack. The four goals were spread among Shannon Boxx, Kristine Lilly, Lindsey Tarpley and Heather O'Reilly, all of whom got an extra confidence boost ahead of the World Cup.

"The young guys, without Abby in there to organize, did really well tonight," coach Greg Ryan said after the match.

Wambach is expected to be back for future matches. She collided with another player on a sliding tackle and injured her foot.

Even without Wambach, the U.S. was able to unleash perhaps not 90 minutes of hell, but at least a decent amount of misery on the overmatched Finns.

"You do it through movement and energy -- a lot of quick players," said Ryan. "That's important to carry that kind of spirit in to the World Cup. We're going to go after teams. If they can hang with us, OK. If they can't, we'll just keep swinging until we knock them out."

Wambach may be the heavyweight in the U.S. lineup, but the young fighters of the squad proved their worth on their own terms.

"The team stepped up for Abby today," said Lilly, whose goal was largely created by the hard work of Lori Chalupny.

Lilly also earned the 100th assist of her career in the game, swinging in a corner kick that another veteran, Boxx, knocked in for the opening goal.

"Shannon looked like herself again tonight," said Ryan, noting that Boxx appeared fully recovered from her ACL injury of a year ago.

World Cup
• 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup

With Wambach out, Boxx was taller than any of the three forwards remaining. Though the U.S. was missing a classic target striker, the savvy of Lilly combined well with the slashing runs of O'Reilly and the control and precision of Tarpley.

On her tally, Tarpley held the ball until the keeper committed, leaving space open.

"We're all different, but we play together so well," said Tarpley of the team's striker force. "It keeps us unpredictable." Partly because Wambach was so effective, though, it was becoming clear to anyone who watched games that she was Plan A for the U.S. attack. Now the team has proven that a Plan B not only exists, but that they also know how to implement it.

"Not one single person can replace what Abby does," said O'Reilly. "Everybody collectively has to raise their level."

Everyone kicked it up a notch, even from the positions farthest away.

"It's huge to have our backs with such composure," said O'Reilly. "In a World Cup game, we're going to need that."

The fact that the U.S. managed to defeat Finland so thoroughly, even while missing one of its very best players, speaks to its readiness for China.

The team is not only proving to be a nearly seamless machine that can take losing a player without losing a step, but it's also shaking off the dusty legacy off the past.

"The last era is gone," said O'Reilly. "Mia Hamm's gone, Julie Foudy is gone. We have a high standard for ourselves and what this team can be."

This squad is ready to rumble.

Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at soccercanales@yahoo.com.