OTTAWA - Sooner or later, it has to happen. To win the Women's World Cup, the United States has to break out and put together a complete performance.
Despite playing below par in their opening four games, the American women will get another opportunity to play at full throttle in Friday night's quarterfinal against China.
"We know we haven't played our best," center back Becky Sauerbrunn said Thursday. "We're working through that. I think it's getting better with each game, and when it finally does click, we're going to be very fearsome."
Added left back Ali Krieger: "We have a new mindset that the tournament is starting now. Fully prepared. We're confident. This is it. This is what we've been working for our entire lives."
In six previous tournaments, the USA never failed to reach the semifinals. If the Americans beat China, they will meet the winner of Friday's Germany-France game in a semifinal on Tuesday.
"This team performs better when we are under pressure," Sauerbrunn said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the best. Every game we go into, we expect ourselves to win, so we're kind of used to that pressure."
USA coach Jill Ellis must make some key decisions, including how to replace suspended midfielders Megan Rapinoe, the team's best all-around attacking threat, and Lauren Holiday, who controls the team's pace. Both will miss the game because of yellow-card accumulation.
The likely replacements are Morgan Brian, the team's youngest player at 22, in the middle and Christen Press, who scored in the 3-1 win over Australia, replacing Rapinoe on the left flank.
The other decision is whether to start striker Abby Wambach, 35, who has totaled 150 minutes the past two matches. Wambach has failed to play up to expectations as the all-time goal-scoring leader (183) while struggling to find her rhythm. She missed a penalty kick in the 2-0 win over Colombia in the round of 16.
Ellis said that determining whether Wambach starts sometimes depends on the opponent.
"Abby has some unique tools," she said. "The decision against Colombia we felt again on set pieces and ball in the box, we would have a very good chance in the air with her presence. I look at China and what they present and what tools we have to break them down . . . I think she would be ready to go 90 minutes certainly if asked and if it happens."
If the game is tied after regulation and extra time, penalty kicks will decide matters, as it did in the 1999 final between these two sides. The USA prevailed in PKs to win the title, which has been so elusive to the Americans since.
Ellis has had the team practice penalties.
"Of course. I would not be doing my job if I didn't do that," she said. "It's not something that you over-focus on. The players understand their roles in that."
The players certainly understand what is on the line.
"We want to win," striker Alex Morgan said. "That's the bottom line."