VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The U.S. women's national team has underperformed so far in this Women's World Cup. But some of the team's explanations are starting to sound an awful lot like excuses.
At issue is the U.S. attack, which has looked far from cohesive. There are any number of reasons as to why, ranging from underperforming key players to selection of personnel to the team's choice of tactics.
But on Saturday U.S. striker Abby Wambach stated that one reason the United States hadn't scored more goals at the Women's World Cup was because the games were being played on artificial turf and not natural grass.
Specifically, Wambach spoke of the way the ball bounces differently on turf and that the abrasive surface made her reluctant to sacrifice her body when trying to connect on headers. Wambach missed two headers that she normally buries in the Americans' 3-1 win over Australia. Against Sweden, Wambach had another header that bounced off the turf and was tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
"The ball as it comes off my head against Sweden hits a dry turf and bounces higher," she said. "If it hits grass, it's harder for a goalkeeper to react, so if the ball bounces higher the goalkeeper has more time to react off the turf."
Wambach also said she is "way more carefree" when she plays on grass.
"I'm throwing my body, I'm not worried about anything," she said. "There's no second-guessing. ...
"For me, I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we're playing on grass."
It's a statement that borders on the absurd, especially coming from a player whose intensity and competitiveness is legendary. Is artificial turf a less forgiving surface than natural grass? Absolutely, despite the advancements that have been made with regard to artificial turf over the years. The turf burns that the players receive from slide tackles and the like are real, as is the additional fatigue that comes from playing on such surfaces. The tournament could have and should have been played on grass. But it isn't, and no amount of complaining is going to change that.
It shouldn't be used as an explanation for underperforming, either. Yes, the ball bounces differently on turf than it does on grass, but it's not as if playing on turf is new to the players on the U.S. team. Five of the nine clubs in the National Women's Soccer League play on artificial surfaces, as do numerous collegiate programs. And to top it all off, the United States spent time in the run-up to the tournament practicing on a turf field at Santa Ana College as part of its preparation. If anything, the Americans can chalk it up as an advantage in that they have just as much, if not more, experience playing on these surfaces than some of their opponents.
And it's not as if the United States is the only team playing games on turf. The entire tournament from the venues all the way down to the training facilities have artificial turf as well. The playing field might not be exactly the one some players want, but it is level.
It's worth noting that Wambach has been an outspoken critic of the decision to play Women's World Cup games on turf, and was at the center of a gender discrimination suit that she and 60 other players filed against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association stating that the men's World Cup would never be played on turf. That suit was ultimately dropped. Could Wambach be trying to score points on a matter that still sticks in the craw? Possibly. If that's the case, it isn't working.
To be fair, Wambach and other members of the U.S. team have raised their collective hand over the fact that the team has played well under its usual standard in its first two games. The group is difficult, the toughest of the tournament in fact. But her statements on Saturday look like an excuse.
The Americans' focus should be on what it can control, and nothing more.