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Becky Sauerbrunn reflective as US sets sights on World Cup

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To hear Becky Sauerbrunn reference the “twilight” of her career is a bit unsettling. It’s abundantly clear from watching the 32-year-old defender on the field that she’s still at her peak.

But Sauerbrunn is thinking about a legacy as the U.S. national team readies for World Cup qualifying this fall. If the defending champions make the field for women’s soccer’s premier event in France next year, it will be her third World Cup.

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For Sauerbrunn, that legacy means using her voice to effect change. It includes her team’s public push for equitable pay – which culminated with a new contract last April with U.S. Soccer.

And more recently it includes her effort to send a team of underprivileged girls to the Street Child World Cup in Moscow this summer.

“I’ve been given a platform and I want to do good with it. I’ve been playing sort of in the twilight of my career and I’d really like to leave the game better than when I found it,” she said.

Sauerbrunn spent the beginning of the year recovering from a foot injury. She made her first appearances of the season in a two-game series against Mexico, coming in as a sub in the opening game, a 4-1 U.S. victory, then starting the second, a 6-2 win on Sunday.

“The stress reaction I had in my foot is better. I’ve been getting MRIs and it’s healing, which is great,” she said. “I really feel like I’m coming back healthy and now it’s about getting back into soccer form.”

A center back, Sauerbrunn helped anchor the stellar backline that was key to the team’s title run at the 2015 World Cup in Canada. The difference this time around is that the United States won’t have goalkeeper Hope Solo, who set records during her lengthy career but left the team on bad terms following the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The search for the team’s new goalkeeper continues, with Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash getting the latest starting nod in Sunday’s friendly.

“We’re feeling really good,” Sauerbrunn said about the team’s mentality. “It’s unfortunate because we have quite a few injuries, so we’re missing four or five of our core players (including Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz). But what’s good about that is that it provides the opportunity for other players to show what they have and gain some valuable experience.”

Coach Jill Ellis continues to experiment with the backline although the dependable Sauerbrunn is a lock as a starter if she’s healthy. Crystal Dunn started as a fullback in Sunday’s game but moved up to an attacking position and Ellis indicated she liked versatility.

“I think overall what we’re looking for – these players obviously have to do the job defensively, but it’s also looking at what they can bring to our attack,” Ellis said.

For now Sauerbrunn is busy helping the Utah Royals open their first National Women’s Soccer League season. Sauerbrunn, a three-time NWSL Defender of the Year, played for FC Kansas City since the league’s inception in 2013 – but that team folded earlier this year and the players collectively went to the Royals.

The Royals will be looking for their first win of the season Saturday when they host the Chicago Red Stars.

She’s also lending her voice to raising funds for the Street Child World Cup team. The event in Moscow prior to the men’s World Cup this summer seeks to draw attention to the plight of homeless and orphaned children across the globe.

Sauerbrunn caused a stir recently on social media when she posted a photo of a baby soccer jersey and shorts, along with her cat. The tweet sent shockwaves through soccer fandom with speculation that she was pregnant.

“I’m like internally cringing just thinking about that. That was a prank gone awry. Do not use Twitter as a format for pranks,” she said. “I was cleaning out my apartment and saw this little Nike uniform and I thought, `Wow, it would be so funny to pull a prank.’ Such a backfire. Mia Hamm texted me and said, `Congratulations,’ and I thought, `I’m a terrible, terrible person, I just tricked Mia Hamm.’ Never again.”

For the record, she’s not pregnant. She’s got some things she’d like to accomplish on and off the field first.

Rapinoe, Morgan, Ertz lift US past South Korea, 3-1

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Alex Morgan scored in a fourth straight game, Julie Ertz scored for the fourth time in five games, and the United States women beat South Korea 3-1 on Thursday night.

Megan Rapinoe added her 34th international goal and her 42nd assist.

Having assisted on Ertz’s diving header in the first half, Rapinoe scored on a penalty kick she drew in the 49th minute when pounced on a loose ball about 12 yards in front of the goal and was tripped by Ji Sohyun.

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Han Chaerin scored her first international goal in her South Korea debut to make it 2-1 just before the end of the first half.

U.S. forward Mallory Pugh had to leave the game late in the first half with a right hamstring injury. There was no immediate word on the severity of her injury after she was helped off the field by trainers.

Meanwhile, Carli Lloyd returned from a nine-week absence because of ankle injury, entering the game as a substitute in the 77th minute.

Midfielder Andi Sullivan started for the U.S. about 11 months after having reconstructive knee surgery. Her third minute shot narrowly missed the far post from about 18 yards. She was substituted out, as planned, at halftime.

South Korea began the game in a defensive posture and the U.S. maintained a decisive edge in possession, forcing Kang Gaae to make several sprawling saves before breaking though on Ertz goal in the 24th minute

Ertz dove in front of two defenders to redirect Rapinoe’s hard, low corner kick between the legs of Kang as the goal keeper tried to respond at the near post.

Morgan scored in the 40th minute, using her right foot to settle Kelley O’Hara’s bouncing pass from the end line, then pivoting and whipping her left foot through the ball from point-blank range. The goal was the 28-year-old Morgan’s 78th for the national squad.

Han scored against the run of play with a hard shot from about 25 yards that sailed beyond U.S. goal keeper Alyssa Naher’s reach before dipping under the cross bar.

Lloyd’s introduction drew an enthusiastic response from nearly 10,000 spectators in the Superdome. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year missed a pair of U.S. exhibition wins over New Zealand last month because of an Aug. 13 ankle sprain in a National Women’s Soccer League match.

Forward Tobin Heath, who has an ankle injury, and defender Taylor Smith, who has an injured shoulder, were not in the lineup and are not expected to play in a second friendly scheduled between South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina.

Both women were hurt in the NWSL championship match.

Morgan Brian out for European trip with knee injury

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CHICAGO (AP) Midfielder Morgan Brian won’t travel with the U.S. women’s national team on an upcoming European trip because she’s still returning to form after a knee injury in March.

Brian also experienced tightness in her hamstring last weekend during a game with the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League.

She won’t be replaced on the roster for the U.S. team’s match against Sweden in Gothenburg on June 8 or a match against Norway in Sandefjord on June 11.

Brian sustained a right knee injury against France during the SheBelieves Cup in March. She missed a pair of U.S exhibition games against Russia last month.

USWNT cruises past Costa Rica in final pre-Olympic warm up

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The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t really lacking confidence heading into Friday night’s clash with Costa Rica, but the squad’s utter dominance certainly didn’t hurt things as Jill Ellis’ group gets ready to head to Brazil for next month’s Olympic Games.

[ MORE: Pulisic says Klinsmann links to England job made sense ]

The USWNT captured a 4-0 win against Costa Rica in the side’s final send-off match before the Olympics, extending the no. 1 ranked team in the world’s unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

It only took a quarter of an hour the USWNT to find the lead, but it always looked like it was coming for Jill Ellis’ group. Meghan Klingenburg made a great run deep into the Costa Rica area, and played a perfect square pass across the face of goal for Crystal Dunn to give the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute.

Mallory Pugh got her name on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute after making a brilliant darting run forward and beating the Costa Rican goalkeeper at the near post.

The U.S. pushed their advantage to 3-0 on the stroke of halftime when Becky Sauerbrunn’s free kick was headed home by Carli Lloyd in first-half stoppage time.

With a number of chances in the second half that didn’t take the right bounce for the USWNT, Christen Press made no mistake from close range in the 79th minute and gave the home nation a four-goal lead.

Dunn continues to impress on the international stage, and nearly gave the U.S. an advantage after just seven minutes. The 24-year-old gathered the ball inside the penalty box before unleashing a strong effort that struck the crossbar and stayed out.

The U.S. found another dangerous opportunity three minutes later, when Carli Lloyd was brought down from behind on the edge of the penalty area. Costa Rica defender Katherine Alvarado was shown a yellow card for the rash tackle, but the USWNT couldn’t make anything of the ensuing free kick.

While Costa Rica put in a valiant effort against their competition, the Ticas were no match for the Americans, and failed to muster up any shots on target throughout the night. The 29th ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings struggled to move the ball past midfield for most of the outing largely due to the USWNT’s constant press.

Japan rallies to tie US women 3-3 in Colorado

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Kumi Yokoyama scored in stoppage time to give Japan a 3-3 tie with the United States on Thursday night in a rematch of the Americans’ victory last year in the Women’s World Cup final.

[ MORE: Copa America success could help perception of Klinsmann ]

Alex Morgan scored twice, and Lindsey Horan added a goal to help the United States overcome a 2-0 deficit.

[ MORE: PST projects Copa America group stage finishing order ]

Mana Iwabuchi and Yuki Ogimi also scored for Japan. Japan was reduced to 10 players when Ogimi received a second yellow card and was ejected in the 57th minute.

The game featured the finalists from the last two World Cups and the 2012 London Olympics. Japan won the 2011 World Cup on penalty kicks, and the U.S. won in 2012 and `15.

It looked as if the Americans would prevail again when Horan, from nearby Golden, scored in the 89th minute to give the U.S. a 3-2 lead, but Yokoyama got free to beat goalkeeper Hope Solo.

The Americans dropped to 11-0-1 this year.

The teams will play again Monday night in Cleveland.

Japan, which did not qualify for the Rio Olympics, took an early 2-0 lead.

Iwabuchi ended Solo’s shutout streak when she maneuvered around defensemen Emily Sonnett and Becky Sauerbrunn and curled a shot into the top left corner in the 14th minute.

Ogimi scored in the 22nd. It was the first time the U.S. trailed by that score since losing to France on Feb. 8, 2015. It was the first time the U.S. trailed by two goals at home since a 3-1 loss to Denmark in November 2014.

The U.S. rallied to tie it on Morgan goals that pushed her career total to 66.

Colorado native Mallory Pugh fed Morgan for her first goal in the 27th minute.

The U.S. took advantage Ogimi’s ejection to tie it, with Morgan redirecting Tobin Heath’s pass past goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita in the 64th minute.

The Americans played without World Cup hero Carli Lloyd. She strained a knee April 23 playing for the Houston Dash.