- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) - Alex Morgan was back for the U.S. national team’s first practice in Canada in preparation for the Women’s World Cup.

Morgan had been limited in practice and held out of the team’s last three matches as a precaution because of a bone bruise in her left knee. Morgan appeared agile Wednesday afternoon during the brief part of training open to the media.

The United States will need her proven scoring ability as the team tries to win its third World Cup title, and first since 1999. The tournament opens on Saturday with host Canada’s group stage match against China. The United States opens play on Monday against Australia.

To date, Morgan has 51 goals and 32 assists in 84 international appearances. Earlier this year in a 1-0 victory over England, she scored in her 79th international match to become the third-fastest American woman to reach the 50-goal mark behind Michelle Akers (49 games) and Abby Wambach (64).

Coach Jill Ellis said she was “very pleased with the progress” that Morgan has made.

Also returning was midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who had a sore quadriceps and missed the U.S. team’s 0-0 draw against South Korea last Saturday in New Jersey. It was the first time the Americans were shut out at home since 2008, also by South Korea. But the U.S. extended its home unbeaten streak to 96 since November 2004 (84-0-12).

The United States won World Cups in 1991 and 1999, as well as three straight Olympic gold medals. In the 2011 World Cup, the Americans fell in the final to Japan on penalty kicks.

The team arrived in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, greeted at the airport by about 100 young girls, many wearing their soccer uniforms and clutching soccer balls in hopes of getting autographs. The players obliged.

Ellis said the bulk of the team’s preparation has already been done.

“So now it’s almost the time to exhale, and just mentally get ourselves in a good place. And I think the players, they’re obviously excited,” Ellis said. “We’re just excited to get outside and play and train, and just try and keep it as simple as we can.”

In addition to Australia, the United States’ group for the tournament’s opening stage includes Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage, as well as perennial African champion Nigeria.

Ellis also addressed the FIFA corruption scandal for the first time since Sepp Blatter said he would resign as the president of soccer’s world governing body. Blatter had planned on attending the World Cup final on July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“As succinctly as I can put it, I see FIFA right now as the stadium that houses our game. It’s an organization; they organize it, they put it together. But in terms of what happens inside, with the teams, the players, the passion, that should be the focal point. I just see FIFA as the stadium where we play,” she said.

Midfielder Heather O’Reilly said the controversy going down half a world away has little bearing on the players at this point.

“I don’t think it directly impacts what we’re doing for the next month ahead of us,” she said. “You know, there’s a lot of talk about soccer right now. Perhaps, maybe, that will get people to watch this amazing tournament.”



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