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USWNT looks to gain confidence, momentum against Mexico in final match before World Cup

United States women's national soccer team head coach Jill Ellis, center, is seen during a soccer workout at Red Bull Arena, Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Harrison, N.J. The U.S. will play against Mexico in an international soccer friendly on Sunday. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

NEW YORK — There’s one game left for the United States women’s national team to polish its play before heading to France for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

The opponent is neighboring Mexico, and kickoff is schedule for noon ET Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. ESPN and Univision Deportes will broadcast the match.

The USWNT had a busy couple of days in New York City, starting with a Times Square fan event Thursday night. A World Cup media day Friday at Twitter’s offices was then followed by Saturday morning training at Red Bull Arena. But the players said they feel rested and ready for a battle against Mexico.

“It’s just been such a short preparation window, because we just got in here and we had all our media stuff,” midfielder Sam Mewis said before Saturday’s training session. “But we are familiar with Mexico and we kind of know some of their tendencies, so we’ll work on that today.

“Something that’s going to be really important for us is just having this feeling of confidence that we can carry with us and bring to France. Because this is our last game, I think we really just want to make sure that we’re playing well, feeling good about everything and then we can kind of take that energy and bring into our first game of the World Cup.”

The Americans’ first World Cup match is June 11 against Thailand. Mexico did not qualify for the tournament.

United States midfielder Julie Ertz, left, and forward Alex Morgan warm up during a workout at Red Bull Arena, Saturday, May 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

U.S. coach Jill Ellis said the team has been working staying focused and not worrying if a goal doesn’t come in the first 20 minutes of a match should the opponent sit back and bunker on defense, a tactic used by other countries ever since Sweden successfully defended its way to a penalty-kick victory against the U.S. in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

“We obviously don’t know how Mexico is going to come out and play us. If they do sit in, it actually is really going to be a great game for us to work on playing against opponents that don’t allow us to transition into the space behind them,” Crystal Dunn said. “I think whatever they throw at us, we’re just going to have to be able to work on whatever we need to work on. 

“Everyone’s in great spirits. We obviously know the tournament’s around the corner, but we’re not rattled, we’re not really getting too ahead of ourselves, … It’s our last game going into the World Cup, so we obviously want to finish on a high.”

That’s what the U.S. did in its 2011 World Cup send-off match against Mexico at Red Bull Arena, a game defender Ali Krieger remembers well. 

The match nearly ended in a scoreless draw, but second-half substitute Lauren Cheney scored a goal during stoppage-time for a 1-0 USA victory.

In 2011, though, the critical preparation match drew an announced crowd of 5,852. This Sunday, U.S. Soccer expects a near-capacity crowd at the 26,500-seat stadium.

“Obviously they’re a team that’s not in a World Cup, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not good. It’s really always been a battle against Mexico,” Krieger said. “They always kind of give us trouble. We always have to try to find ways to break them down. And, ya know, they’re a tricky team, technical team, and they always bring their A game against us. Every country does, but I think with Mexico it’s a little bit different. I’m sure they’re going to want to really prove themselves just because they’re not in the tournament coming up this summer.”

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