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Dull performance sends U.S. soccer off to the World Cup

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Carli Lloyd and the U.S. national team can't solve the South Korea defense in 0-0 draw Saturday.Julio Cortez/AP

Carli Lloyd and the U.S. national team can’t solve the South Korea defense in 0-0 draw Saturday.

The U.S. can only hope its World Cup games are better than the exhibition sendoff. Otherwise, the tournament favorites will be leaving Canada in disappointment.

A sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena showed up — 26,457 strong — and started chanting early. But a dull performance from the Americans sapped a lot of the enthusiasm, until play opened down the stretch and livened the atmosphere. In the end, the Americans couldn’t manage a goal in a scoreless draw Saturday against South Korea, a team they should’ve handled easily on home soil.

At least everybody who played came out healthy.

“Mentally, they’re ready to be out of here (and go to the World Cup),” coach Jill Ellis said. “They were ready to be out of here a week ago.”

That was the postmatch excuse from Ellis — that the team had already checked out, that the media tour of the last week had players yearning for seclusion in Canada. She also blamed New York traffic.

“Well, it won’t be a media circus (in Canada),” Ellis said. “We’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of things here. But once we’re up there, we’re more in our bubble. We haven’t done (two-a-day practices), but just with the traffic, it takes four hours to do an hour of training. Just for us to be able to focus on our training, on our preparation, with very little outside interaction, we’ll be good.”

Perhaps most concerning for the U.S. was the continued absence of Alex Morgan, who missed her third straight game because of a bone bruise in her left knee. The 25-year-old striker hasn’t played a competitive match in about 50 days, and the combination up front of Sydney Leroux and Abby Wambach failed to score Saturday against a Korean squad playing for the draw.

“We’re building (Morgan),” Ellis said. “Realistically, she’s been out for a while. So in terms of minutes, that’s something we’re going to have to build through the early games to be ready. We don’t want to blow her up too early.

“Alex is always going to be important because of what she can bring to the game. But I do have confidence in our forwards. I think we had tons of chances in the last game, I think this is a game where, I don’t want to say they’re in survival mode, but a lot of it is we want to go in healthy and they had a long week here, mentally and physically.

I thought physically we looked a little leggy. But it’s now time to put all the circus behind us and get off to camp and recharge our batteries and be ready to go.”

Predictably the Americans controlled possession, winning the battle of the midfield behind No. 10 Carli Lloyd. But Leroux couldn’t convert the best opportunities on the evening, and the Americans were ultimately shut down by South Korea’s shell and stall tactics down the stretch.

Before she was subbed out in the 75th minute, Leroux missed three shots inside the penalty area. On the other end, Hope Solo was tested only once — a dart from South Korea in the final seconds that required a diving stop, a move that saved the U.S. from real embarrassment.

The distractions of media week apparently got the best of the Americans.

“It’s time to get back to soccer, block all that out,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said.  

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