USWNT’s success could hinge on health of two veterans

The United States women’s soccer team will open up the round of 16 at noon Monday in Reims, France, against Spain. Here are three keys to victory for the Americans.

1. Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz’s health

Star forward Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz have both found themselves battling injury early in the World Cup. Ertz suffered a hip contusion against Chile, while Morgan was replaced at halftime against Sweden after taking the brunt of a hard foul earlier in the game. USA coach Jill Ellis said both are “fine,” and expects each to make appearances against Spain. But this is a long tournament and Ellis would be smart to be cautious with two important components of the team. On the other hand, if both are 100 percent, their impact on Monday’s matchup should be noticeable.

2. Containing Spain striker Jenni Hermoso

Spain’s star is a game-changing kind of player. During World Cup qualifying, Hermoso netted a team-leading seven goals. With 30 career goals and nine assists in 71 caps, Hermoso is by far Spain’s top offensive contributor. U.S. forward Christen Press knows firsthand what Hermoso can do as the two were roommates while playing under current U.S. assistant coach Tony Gustavsson for Tyresö in Sweden.

3. Back line and goaltending

The American defense was tested for the first time against Sweden on Thursday. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher also saw her first share of competitive shots in that final group-stage match. Naeher and the back line did well and that will be a key as the opponents get better. Midfielder Sam Mewis credits Naeher for her communication and her ability to contribute to the transition game. Spain could be the first team to pour on the offensive opportunities, putting all eyes on the American defense.

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