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Why Saturday’s Olympic soccer win was vital

United States v Canada

KANSAS CITY, KS - SEPTEMBER 17: Head coach Pia Sundhage of the United States looks on before a game against Canada on September 17, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

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The United States women’s soccer team has one match remaining in group play – but the luxury of lineup adjustment and extra rest for anyone in need resides now with coach Pia Sundhage (pictured).

With passage into the quarterfinals safely booked, Sundhage now has a little more control over her lineup choices and a little more ability to tame a demanding tournament pace.

When the Americans meet North Korea on Tuesday inside Manchester’s famed Old Trafford, they’ll be playing a third match in seven days. That’s difficult enough.

But the long Olympic slog gets even more taxing from there. If Sundhage’s women reach the final, they will be playing their sixth match in 16 days, a brutally tough ask.

A World Cup schedule is usually tough enough. So consider that last year in a similar tournament layout – three group games, then quarters, semis and a final – teams reaching the top lined up six times over 20 days. That’s four more than the Olympic schedule allows.

Here’s what the United States’ Olympic schedule looks like:

Group play

  • Wed., July 25 …. D France, 4-2
  • Sat., July 28 …. D Colombia, 3-0
  • Tue., July 31 …. vs. North Korea

Elimination rounds

  • Fri., Aug. 3 …. Quarterfinal
  • Mon., Aug. 6 …. Semifinal
  • Thur, Aug. 9 …. Final

Of course, the schedule is a haul for every team. So the side that handles recovery and bests protects against fatigue can have a big leg up in the semifinals and final. Fitness built before the Summer Games will say a lot about it, obviously, but teams and trainers can still affect outcomes with wise moves now.

And so can Sundhage’s lineup choices. Still, it doesn’t mean that we’ll see change across the starting 11 Tuesday at Old Trafford. Here’s Sundhage, speaking after Satruday’s win in Glasgow:

We have to talk through both games. You need confident players and fresh legs going into the next game. I hesitate to look too much into the quarterfinals and would rather have a good game against North Korea. If we do score goals and find combinations that would take us to the quarterfinals and that would be more fun to play that quarterfinal. First, we will sit down and look at both games and see if there is any player that we need to rest or if there is anybody who needs to play a little bit more.”

The rest of Sundhage’s post-game comments are here, plus some thoughts from Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and others.