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Chuck Pollock: Women’s National World Cup soccer and crucial camp time for the Bills

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK

Some thoughts on the U.S. Women’s National World Cup Soccer team and the Bills getting into literal crunch time in the second half of training camp:

THIS ISN’T a new complaint for me about the U.S. National squad, it’s been replicated in recent World Cups.

Before each of them, the team has been featured in arrogant commercials touting its greatness and giving a decidedly “unbeatable” vibe. They contain not a shred of humility or modesty.

The message is simple: “We’re the best in the world and if you don’t like it …”

So, in this World Cup, the favored Americans have been decidedly underwhelming.

They edged into the “knockout round” by the grace of the width of a goalpost in hanging on for a scoreless tie against Portugal, playing in its first-ever WC.

The United States, for only the second time in nine World Cups, failed to win its division. Tuesday started with the U.S. leading Group E and merely needed to win and maintain its goal differential over the Netherlands to claim the title. Instead, the runners-up hung a 7-0 defeat on Vietnam, a winless team the Americans had beaten only 3-0 in a lackluster opener, while the U.S. couldn’t score against a seemingly lesser opponent.

The Dutch finished 2-0-1 and totaled nine goals and seven points, the U.S. was 1-0-2 with four goals and five points.

But, get this, though only a  white pipe preventing a goal kept them from being back home today, the mood of the Americans was typically condescending. The coach and key team members declared “mission accomplished” and maintained collectively “we’re not worried.”

Well, maybe they should be.

In a sport where 1-0 scores are the norm, one mistake can spell defeat. That the U.S. scored only four goals in three games is troublesome as that total will be the 11th fewest among the 16 teams to make the knockout round.

Yet the cockiness remains.  The celebration of a scoreless tie against a first-time World Cup participant was an embarrassment.

Or maybe the team was merely prescient, getting in one bit of festivity knowing it’s highly unlikely they will be playing for the title Aug. 20 in Sydney.

FINALLY, midway through training camp at St. John Fisher University, the Bills were able to put on pads and get down to the real business of deciding their roster.

The first week always leaves the media scrounging for stories — puff pieces about likely backups and TV features assessing camp food — after all, there’s not much to report when players are in a helmets-and-shorts version of “touch football.”

It’s a violent game and assessing those best suited to play it involves hitting and contact.

Still, every Bills training camp session was sold out, right through their conclusion, Aug. 10, two days before the preseason opener against the Colts at Highmark Stadium. And those workouts will be worth watching, most importantly, the four-way competition at middle linebacker among two ‘22 draftees, Terrel Bernard (third round) and Baylon Spector (seventh) and veterans Tyrel Dodson and A.J. Klein. The other positions up for grabs are right offensive guard between veteran Ryan Bates and this year’s second-round pick, O’Cyrus Torrenc,e and the  No. 2 cornerback slot among last year’s  draftees Kaiir Elam (first round) and Christian Benford (sixth) and sometimes starter Dane Jackson.

There’s also slot receiver where free agents Trent Sherfield and Andy Isabella plus last year’s fifth rounder, Khalil Shakir, are competing for the job Isiah McKenzie lost after last season.

BY COINCIDENCE, as I was driving home from Maine Tuesday afternoon and listening to Sirius radio’s NFL channel, it just happened to be profiling the Bills from camp in Pittsford.

The first surprise was that coach Sean McDermott was not at practice for personal reasons. I haven’t always been kind to the Bills’ boss in this space, but I know him to be a good family man. And knowing how he invests himself in his job, that he would miss the second day in pads, concerned me. However, supposedly, McDermott returned to camp later that day.

Sirius also did an interview with general manager Brandon Beane. He was asked about the three Bills on the training camp physically-unable-to-perform list: defensive end Von Miller (knee), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (shoulder) and special teams linebacker Tyler Matakevich (thigh).

Beane said the latter would absolutely be back for the regular-season opener, Sept. 11 at the Meadowlands against the Jets.

But while he said he was hopeful for the return of Miller and Phillips for the roster cut to the 53-player limit, he sounded very much like a man who expected both would be on the season PUP list and miss the first six games.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

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