VANCOUVER, British Columbia - As coach Jill Ellis addressed reporters for the last time before the U.S. team's group-stage finale in the Women's World Cup, there were signs that the sting from Friday's scoreless tie with Sweden had not fully subsided.
"We've got to raise our performance, and I would say that whether we're sitting on six points or one point," Ellis said. "You sometimes think about taking the reins off a little bit and just letting them out of the gate, letting them play free."
Ellis' team could do with that kind of outing Tuesday night, when more than 51,000 fans are expected to pack BC Place to watch the United States play Nigeria.
One way to help free up the offense would be to get striker Alex Morgan on the field for more than just a second-half cameo. Her dynamism leading the front line has clearly been missed as she has recovered from a bone bruise in her left knee. Ellis said Morgan is likely to see an increase in playing time against the Super Falcons.
"Yes, that is the plan," Ellis said. "It's been good to get her in, and my intention is to certainly get her more minutes for sure."
No matter who plays up top, the U.S. team would benefit if the midfield can start playing with more fluidity. Ellis acknowledged that the central pairing of Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday has been "on an island" too often because of the team's 4-4-2 formation losing its shape.
"The thing about playing a 4-4-2 is you don't want it to be static, you don't want it to just be straight lines," Ellis said. She added that she wants to see teammates "giving our central midfielders some help in terms of outlets for passes, and then also giving our central midfielders some support defensively in transition."
So far, Group D has lived up to its nickname as the "Group of Death," not just for the United States but for all the other teams involved.
That hasn't surprised Ellis, who recalled Monday that when the draw was made in December, she said her team would be "battle-tested coming out of this group."
If the Americans advance, they certainly will be have been battle-tested. But although Ellis might have been right to presume in December that the United States would advance, the team's ticket to the Round of 16 hasn't been officially punched yet.
"If you were to say, 'Hey, you're in the Group of Death, and going into your last game, you'll have an opportunity to try and win it,' I'd take that," Ellis said. "One of my scouts the other day said there's 13 different scenarios. I'll be honest, I can't spin that."
So for now, the first order of business is the simplest order of business: Get a win against Nigeria, and deal with the rest of the tournament later.