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Defense has carried USA to Women's World Cup semifinals

Julie Johnston of the United States controls the

Julie Johnston of the United States controls the ball in the first half against China in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 quarterfinal match at Lansdowne Stadium on June 26, 2015 in Ottawa. Credit: Getty Images / Jana Chytilova

OTTAWA - Who could have predicted that the United States still would be alive and kicking in the Women's World Cup semifinals even though its front line has scored only two goals in five games?

It is a tribute to the Americans' depth, ability to find ways to win and steel-door defense that they still are in the running for the world championship. They will take on top-ranked Germany in the semifinals in Montreal on Tuesday.

Abby Wambach, who has one of those two goals, reminded reporters that there still is much work to do for the United States to secure its third world championship and first since 1999.

"We're on to the semis," the striker said after the USA's 1-0 win over China on Friday. "We play against a real good German team. We're going to go back to the drawing board because now every stage of this tournament that goes on, it's a new tournament. To get to the final, we're going to have to play almost impeccable soccer. We've got to finish some chances. We've got to create some chances."

In contrast to juggernaut American teams of the past, the defense, not the attack, has been the key to success. The USA used to overwhelm its foes with goal after goal. Now the Americans are deflecting enemy advances and chances.

They have allowed only one goal, in the 3-1 opening win over Australia. Since then the back line -- Megan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger -- and goalkeeper Hope Solo have been flawless.

Because of injuries, suspensions and playing form, coach Jill Ellis has been forced to juggle her lineup. That bit of adversity should help the USA in the next two games because just about every field player has seen action. Outside of two backup keepers and defender Whitney Engen, no player will enter a match "cold."

"Almost every single outfield player has played minutes," Wambach said. "I think you will see a positive effect through the next couple of games. We definitely have two more games, and if you have two more games, you might as well play in the final."

With the USA missing midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday against China on Friday because of suspensions, Wambach noticed a different vibe to Thursday's practice.

"You know, there was something about training that was different," she said. "I think that with Pinoe and [Holiday] sitting on their suspensions, it allowed some players time to play, gave them that hope. It gave them spark and it gave some life to this team.

"We need every player to win this tournament. Sometimes you play five minutes, sometimes you play 90, sometimes you play 30. Every person who's put on the field is put on for a specific reason.

"Our coaching staff, they make good decisions. I know sometimes you guys don't trust the decisions they make; they're purposeful. It's really important that they stick to their plan because their plan has been working."

Given that the 35-year-old Wambach played four minutes of regulation and three minutes of stoppage Friday, she will be rested to start against Germany.

Besides, some of Wambach's teammates might not necessarily want her on the bench. Wambach admitted that she can be annoyingly vocal.

"If you know anything about me, I'm very passionate on the field and off the field," she said. "One of my teammates had to move away from me because I'm kind of obnoxious on the bench because I'm screaming and yelling for my teammates."

On Tuesday, it will be Wambach's teammates' turn to scream and shout for her.

New York Sports