Women’s World Cup Final: Japan Keeps Coming…And The US Capitulates…

TSG’s Maura Gladys on the intersection of fandom and objectivity after yesterday’s US Women’s World Cup Final loss.

The US ladies get close, but are upended by a Japan team that kept coming...

In the end, this whole tournament was about heart. We saw that in yesterday’s championship match, in the semifinals, quarterfinals, and group stage. We saw that in the way teams played with the grace, creativity and fire that can only come from a good heart.

I’d like to say I was heartbroken after yesterday’s match, when the United States fell to Japan in penalty kicks in the World Cup final. But my brand of heartbreak is easy to take when you put it in perspective with the heartbreak that the Japan squad, and its country, is dealing with. And because this tournament was about heart, and heartbreak, there couldn’t have been a more fitting outcome.

Japan had their own perfect match today, almost identical to the one that the USA celebrated a week earlier. Two comebacks, one of them in the dying minutes of the second overtime period, followed by a triumphant penalty kick victory. For anyone other than a United States supporter, this was a classic ending.

But for the U.S., what about Destiny? What about the idea that there was something special about this U.S. team that was going to guide them to a World Cup championship, regardless of on-field factors?

Make no mistake about it, the United States lost this game. They weren’t unjustly carded, weren’t robbed of a win thanks to a bad call. They lost. They dominated much of the game, were ahead, twice, and let Japan back into the game, twice, then failed to convert on three of their four penalty kicks. As sobering as it is, they lost. But it wasn’t without impressive possession play, goals from the present and future of the American attack, and some trade-mark USWNT drama.

“It is pretty clear to most of us that we are not going to see the same Japan team that we saw the last couple of friendlies. They are playing for something bigger and better than the game. When you are playing with so much emotion and so much heart, that’s hard to play against.”- Hope Solo

Whether it was a gut feeling or a calculated move, Pia Sundhage knew that Amy Rodriguez finally had to sit. After five largely ineffective games, Sundhage benched the striker in favor of right winger Megan Rapinoe, allowing Lauren Cheney to start up top. This way, Cheney could drop into the midfield, to morph the team into a 4-5-1, keeping the midfield tight and compact to better deal with Japan’s passing game.

Sundhage’s switch, as always, paid off immediately. Both Cheney and Rapinoe came out strong, serving up balls to teammates and coming close themselves.

No one could blame Wambach if she had a few choice words for the crossbar after the match..

Just 20 seconds into the game, Cheney broke through the Japanese defense and barely missed sliding it over to Abby Wambach in the middle.

For the entire first half, the U.S. dictated the pace, pushed forward and created chances, but in a reversion to old habits, failed to finish. Cheney put one just wide in the eighth minute. Rapinoe missed at 12” and clanged one off the post at 18”. Wambach sent up a beautiful shot in the 27th minute, that was headed straight for the back of the net, but knocked off the far edge of the crossbar. Flashbacks of the United States’ warm up match with Mexico, when the United States could not find the net until Lauren Cheney’s stoppage time screamer, began to creep in as the teams went into halftime tied at zero.

After halftime, Lauren Cheney emerged from the tunnel with her right shoe off and a large bag of ice wrapped around her sock. She had suffered an injury during the first half and wouldn’t be able to continue, making way for striker Alex Morgan. It was a switch that quite possibly would have happened eventually anyway, provided less distribution, but more speed.

With each scoreless minute that ticked, Japan’s confidence grew. Their touches were clean, their passes accurate. It was almost like the United States was in a race with the clock to net a goal before Japan’s momentum and confidence reached an unstoppable level.

“The breakthrough at long last.”  -Ian Darke

At 69 minutes, Morgan, whom the team has taken to calling Baby Horse, due to her status as the team’s youngest player and her speedy gallop, collected a brilliant long ball from Megan Rapinoe and was off to the races against her defender. After getting a step on her marker, she coolly slotted a low ball past goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori to give the United States a 1-0 lead. The goal was the product of absolutely swarming defense by the United States at the other end of the field when no less than three defenders crowded around striker Yuki Nagasata until she coughed it up, allowing Rapinoe to spring Morgan.

"Here, I've got this thing jabbing me in my side. It's kind of heavy to tote around. It's a torch. Here you take it."

The ten minutes that followed Morgan’s goal was probably the best possession soccer that the United States played all tournament. Armed with the confidence of a one-goal lead, the U.S. made Japan chase, and possessed around them, as Japan fought for its World Cup life. But the Nadeshiko got a reprieve in the 80th minute, when a U.S. defensive blunder put the ball on a silver platter for Aya Miyama.

Pressing forward, Nagasato sent a cross in from the right wing to Karina Maruyama,that was snuffed out by Rachel Buehler, who slid in step with Maruyama. But, in an effort to clear the ball, Buehler turned, while still half on the ground, and booted her clearance right at Ali Krieger. The ball deflected off Krieger, who was racing towards the play, and fell right to Miyama who had a point blank shot at Hope Solo from about six yards out, something she wasn’t about to miss. One all. Despite some good attacks by both teams, regulation would end in a tie.

“If the U.S. ends up winning this, they’re gonna have to bronze that beautiful dome of hers”-Julie Foudy, after Abby Wambach’s go-ahead goal.

After 90 minutes, Sundhage had made just one sub, due to an injury, an uncharacteristic move for the coach, who usually makes at least two subs in the second half, sometimes three. But with Rapinoe already on the field, and A-Rod not a good fit for the current U.S. system, there was no logical switch. Sundhage certainly wasn’t going to sub for Lloyd or Boxx, who had their best game as a midfield partnership. The two bossed the midfield completely for almost an entire World Cup Championship game, plus overtime, a feat that seemed impossible a few weeks ago.

The game continued on a knife-edge for the first overtime. But then, at the 104 minute mark, Alex Morgan found an unmarked Wambach at the top of the six-yard box, and Wambach, what else, headed the ball into the net for the go-ahead goal.

Ok. Stop here. Cue the credits. This is how it’s supposed to end, with Abby Wambach netting the World Cup winning-goal in overtime. This was supposed to be it. Because Abby Wambach has proven that she is special. Her play was stuff of legend this tournament, and for the United States, there’s no more fitting way for this journey to end than with her leading the team into the sunset.

No Solo effort this time...

But, unfortunately, Destiny, and Japan, had other plans. Just four minutes from the end of the game, Japan’s iconic leader, Homare Sawa  got a foot on a corner kick and directed  above Hope Solo’s head into the goal. There would be no overtime glory for Abby Wambach. Instead, it would go to penalty kicks.

“You don’t.” –Pia Sundhage, when asked by ESPN’s Bob Holtzman how to explain the U.S.’s three penalty kick misses.

Given the chance to match their ever-present 1999 predecessors, to win a World Cup final on penalty kicks, the 2011 squad came up short. It wasn’t a choke. It was an unsettling feeling of knowing that Japan had seen their PKs against Brazil, and that goalkeeper Kaihori had studied their body language. Boxx went right, just as she had against Brazil. Lloyd went high. Tobin Heath, who came on as a substitute for Megan Rapinoe was thrust into Rapinoe’s shooting spot, and went left, but not far enough. Once Wambach came up, the hole was too big to climb out of. Solo, despite picking up an injury during overtime, did all she could, saving one spot kick.

There was a tiny, tiny part of me, that couldn’t help but think that maybe the U.S. could climb out of it. Solo would save the last two shots, and Krieger could make hers, sending it to extra kicks. I mean, what tops the Brazil game? A miraculous penalty kick comeback, that’s what. But, once Saki Kumagai’s shot hit the back of the net, that dream died.

“There are really no words. We were so close.” –Abby Wambach

So what happens now? First, the media tries to out-sunny each other with rosy rationalizations of the game’s outcome. Not saying that’s a bad thing, and several writers make very good points. My attempt at it: At least we did better than the Brazillian men’s team at penalty kicks.

But, what about legacy? What about the new story that this squad was writing? Well, it doesn’t end in a fairytale the way we all would have liked. But, it’s still a damn good book.

Japan, victorious...

———-

..........

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51 responses to this post.

  1. just like with the men’s gold cup final, so many if and what ifs. especially after the 3rd goal was scored. almost makes it harder to bear. heartbreaking.
    it’s only going to get harder for the women, and alreayd is for the men. so we as fans have signed seemingly up for the sometimes inevitable heartbreak to come. is it worth it. algeria, and the womens brazil game say YES.

    Reply

  2. Posted by JasonPrice on 2011/07/18 at 9:58 AM

    Maura, this is an excellent recap of the match, and adding the quotations is a really effective feature.

    Question. I was so surprised to see on Facebook, for instance, so much praise for the US women by casual fans. Not that they don’t deserve praise, but in the men’s game if you are the top-rated team in the world and face a team you have a 22-0-3 record against and give up a pair of leads in the WC final and then miss the first 3 PKs, you kind of expect some criticism and disappoint, even outrage. Why do you think this is absent in the women’s game, or is this just the American women’s game.

    Also, I probably overreacted yesterday in my criticism of Solo, but I was very surprised to not see her taking on a visible leadership role (at least from the tv coverage), and insuring that the US was careful and conservative after the leads were secured. Her distribution also struck me as particularly perplexing.

    Basically, the final made me realize how important Carla Overbeck was for so many years for the WNT.

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    • Posted by John on 2011/07/18 at 10:16 AM

      ” you kind of expect some criticism and disappoint, even outrage”

      Really?

      I mean the US was the top rated team in FIFA rankings only. They lost to Mexico in qualifying and had to play into a play-off just to make it into the World Cup. Germany was the heavy favorite in the tournament and in a moment of “everyone should have known” was taken out by Japan.

      Japan was ranked (once again not that rankings meant anything) # 4 in the world. If you watched the early pre-WWC game, Japan could have smoked the US but didn’t take their chances at that time. In this game they did.

      The US made it to the Final, scored two goals and gave up two goals in a regrettable fashion. Sometimes the game goes against your team. Granted the USA PK’s weren’t great, but they were a few kicks from winning the World Cup against a really fantastic, talented, and underrated Japan team. Remember that Japan took out the USA, Sweden and Germany. The US played tough and just had some mental mistakes. I hardly think it warrants outrage when your team plays relatively well in the final of the World Cup and just loses to the hotter team.

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      • Posted by Zo on 2011/07/18 at 11:37 AM

        I would have expected more criticism and disappointment conveyed after the prior three games.

        Agree that you have to respect their quality of play in the final given the context but this is a team that should have been pressed harder by the media for a number of years leading to this point. The fact is, US Women’s soccer had a head start – a big one – on the world stage and it kills me that we are already going into tournaments with “given recent performances” as our standard for appreciating their level of play.

        This was our best match of the tournament, but I see that as the problem – not the silver lining. The rest of the world has started to shine a light on the same technical problems we see with our men and that is going to become a bigger problem as they begin to close their own holes.

        Wambach was amazing but eventually we aren’t going to be able to depend on a keeper’s inability to get a hand on a ball crossed inside her six to bail us out. Eventually we won’t get to meet teams in a semi who can’t finish one on one chances inside the box. Eventually we will get scored on when our keeper passes the ball to the other team 20 yards out. Eventually every team will punish our mistakes – not just 1 in 3. This is a lesson our men teach us over and over and one in which I hope our women learn before they’ve lost the head start that was built in the 90′s. These are points that flow out of the media on the men’s side that I rarely see on the women’s and to this extent I agree with John’s point.

        This team needs to be pressed by the media.

        Heartbreaking loss.

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      • Posted by JasonPrice on 2011/07/18 at 11:42 AM

        Hey John,

        Totally understand this logic. My question, however, was more comparative, and I’m just looking for someone who is familiar with women’s soccer to answer that question.

        Regardless of rankings and performance. The US Women’s team are a traditional soccer power and commanded a 22-0-3 record against them, and were heavy favorites and dominated most of the game. I agree with Maura’s assessment that the US lost the match, and that Japan did not win the match – the somehow survived and won a dramatic/emotional victory.

        If this was the men’s game, I think there would be more disappointment and even outrage. I’m pretty sure of it in fact. I also don’t think a team with responsible passing and work rate (without real quality across the board) wins a men’s world cup. And I am just trying to figure out why that is.

        Also, I was hoping for someone to test the Overbeck idea.

        In short, I think you misunderstood what I was getting at.

        JP

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        • Posted by John on 2011/07/18 at 11:57 AM

          My point here is that historical records in the Women’s game are (for some teams) relatively useless. The US went 22 – 0 – 3 against a shadow of the team Japan are now. One could make this argument in regards to most of the team records that the USWNT has, unless we are talking about a more established team like Germany. Japan right NOW is a great team but 12 years ago they lost to the US 9 – 0.

          The Women’s National Team for most countries are light years ahead of where they were back in 1999 when the US won their last World Cup. There is no dishonor in losing to Japan because they are a fantastic team now and do not resemble the team that lost 22 games to the US.

          One more reason for less outrage… the USA made it to the final game, and then made it to the final kick after exhausting the entire match time of the game. They didn’t lose 8 – 0 but rather competed to the very last kick you could have against an extremely good Japan side.

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        • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/18 at 11:57 AM

          fwiw, Marta doesn’t feel Brazil will ever be impressed with anything less than first place. It might just be a matter of what a given country holds their men’s team’s expectation to.
          Although, to counter my own argument, her claim was that the German women’s team were greeted as heroes with their 3rd place 2008 Olympic finish.
          The other possibility is that average American doesn’t understand the game enough to know what criticism is legitimate and what isn’t.

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          • Posted by Maura Gladys on 2011/07/18 at 12:45 PM

            Hey everyone,

            Thanks for all the feedback. A few thoughts. On the praise/criticism issue. If you look at the performance in a vacuum, Team A was ahead by a goal, twice, blew their leads, then missed three straight PKs, then that kind of performance warrants a certain amount of criticism. But, putting it into the context it was in, a lot of other factors dwarfed the need for intense criticism. ESPN/the media really jumped on the “captured the hearts and minds” angle, and a lot of casual fans got caught up in that. So, because it wasn’t your usual group of grizzled U.S. soccer fans, like most of the fans who followed the Gold Cup, you didn’t have that knee-jerk criticism reaction. Instead, you had a more positive reaction from people who tuned in to see the game, were bummed when the U.S. lost, but enjoyed watching them play. So, that’s where I think the casual fan reactions came from.

            I would love to see the team pressed more by the media to succeed, but, unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen. Because the USWNT only pops up everyone once in a while, for World Cups, the Olympics, qualifiers, the media often just swoops in for a check-in, focuses on the positive, key themes, then swoops out. Measures do need to be taken to improve the USWNT,(which gets into an entirely different tangent…strengthening the WPS, changing the way the youth system is run, even changing the entire philosophy of U.S. women’s soccer), but because the players aren’t constantly in the public eye, the way many of their male counterparts are with their MLS and European club teams, it will be very tough for the media to press. It doesn’t help that a lot of people come out of this tournament thinking that the U.S. was carried through by heart and magic, and that there’s nothing to improve upon, when they were, at times, greatly outperformed.

            Overall, I think we do celebrate this team, because they gave us an incredibly entertaining tournament. But, we also realize that the rest of the world has caught up, and that the USWNT needs to be constantly re-examined and re-evaluated in order to keep striving for that elusive World Cup trophy.

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            • Posted by Zo on 2011/07/18 at 12:50 PM

              Well put and a great overall review Maura.

            • Posted by JasonPrice on 2011/07/18 at 11:27 PM

              Thanks so much Maura, very much appreciated.
              What about the idea that the team is missing a real leader in the back like Carla Overbeck?

            • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/19 at 6:01 PM

              What is the evidence that having the USWNT “pressed more by the media to succeed” has any positive effect? Is that the media’s job?

              Now, if Women’s pro soccer were more successful in this country then perhaps there would be more interest from the public and therefore the media.

              I’ve followed the English men’s national team for years and have seen them be pressed beyond all reason by their media and haven’t noticed any improvement of that team that can be directly related to that. In fact, I’d say the opposite was true.

              The reality is, the majority of the people in this country are only aware of the USWNT during the World Cup. The majority of the male fans are interested because the women are babes. I have followed them since 1991 but 1999 was the first time I got to see them play regularly and the biggest thing for me was, they actually got up after being fouled and didn’t roll around on the ground as if someone had shot them.

              Really.

              No one cares about Olympic soccer. The media are sheep; they follow what people are interested in not the other way around.

              So every four years the people and the media get reacquainted with the USWNT. It’s hard to be that critical of something that you are only dimly aware of. It’s also hard to be critical when you realize that even though the rest of the world is catching up, the USWNT has been for many years now, and remain, a consistent contender for the World Cup. That won’t change for the next cycle either.

              They’ll need to shore up that back four though, just like the men do.

    • Posted by daniel on 2011/07/18 at 11:08 AM

      Agreed. Defending on the first Japanese goal was shambolic, and the shootout was a disgrace.

      Still, I find it hard to be angry since the game was so entertaining, and Japan was a worthy winner.

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  3. Posted by Matt C in Tampa on 2011/07/18 at 10:00 AM

    I think I’m in the minority, but i do not think Boxx played that good of a game. The number of useless, unforced give-aways by her and, to be sure, others, made this team one of the most frustrating teams to watch. They needless gave up possession instead of managing the game when leads…both times. I expected more of the veterans on this team.

    I’ll will say this, of all the games i’ve watched this team play (6 or 7), this was perhaps their best performance. But they still needlessly gave the ball away and that is one reason this team was so frustrating to watch.

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  4. Posted by Matt C in Tampa on 2011/07/18 at 10:03 AM

    good guy, speaking of unforced errors, i’ve got wayyyy too many typos

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  5. Posted by Elizabeth on 2011/07/18 at 10:19 AM

    I think the outcome of the game was fantastic. It was a david and goliath match. I keep hearing commentators say that the USA team is the best in the world. What are they talking about. The USA womens team can only be referred to the best if they had one the Championship. Japan is the world champions!! before then was Germany, who unforunately did not make it through. The USA team thinks no one cane beat them, clearly this has been done over and over again. Hope Solo is a joke.. She ran her mouth off during the last women’s world cup and made a comment regarding the gold keeper at the time (Scurry), that the team would have not lost if she was keeper. Her words have surely come back to bite her. Big Baby. Four goals were scored against her. Sawa scored a beautiful goal against her. Smile on my face!!!!!

    While watching the game, the commentators seemed very biase as they only talked about the USA players, I mean, the commentator even went into details about some player having open heart surgery when she was 3 years old. Happy to know that she can play contact sports, but don’t see the relevance between her life story and commentating the game. Japan have gone through a tragic time in their country’s history, no commentator, I listened to made any reference to the trajedy or any of the team players the way they did for the USA. That is why I was happy when USA lost.

    The New York Flash has Marta playing in their league. I see her in so many endorsement ads, more so than any woman soccer player. I dont see the big deal in Wambaugh. She can play decent football, but I laughed when I saw that Marta won the silver boot, which is more than what Wombaugh received.

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    • Posted by John on 2011/07/18 at 10:33 AM

      Annnnd this is why comment sections are sometimes very very awful.

      Lets start…..

      #1 the commentators in the US were pandering to US audiences because it was broadcast in the US. All in all the broadcast did a wonderful job illustrating how difficult Japan has had it in the last year. The devoted a whole segment in the Pre-game to the situation with the tsunami as part of their coverage. They illustrated the inspiration that the Japan team has had with the womens league and covered the fact that it had inspired a team local to the Reactor disaster to get back together after their coach died.

      Ian Darke and Julie Foudy both made references to the difficult time the Japan team had, and both said that the team was playing as an inspiration to the Country.

      So basically you are very wrong in this regard.

      #2 You spelled Wambach wrong

      #3 Wambach and Marta scored the same amount of goals. Marta had one more assist. This is the reason that she received the Silver boot and Wambach received the Bronze boot. In the player awards for the tournament Wambach received the Silver Ball and Hope Solo received the Bronze Ball.

      Please Please Please, think before posting comments.

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      • Posted by Elizabeth on 2011/07/18 at 10:43 AM

        Don’t get too upset with the wrong spelling of Wambach. Cant believe she made a comment on TV that she would be devastated if the team did not win. Come on.. worst things in the word to be upset about. Team did not execute, and outcome is, they lost. Well, four years to get it right (2015), maybe not.

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        • Posted by John on 2011/07/18 at 10:52 AM

          If you are going to start criticizing players about caring about their job and passion than you really have nothing valuable to add.

          I bet that Sawa would have been devastated to lose as well as any player would be to get that close and not finish out the game.

          This quote is from Brazil’s coach, “Naturally, after losing like that at the very end, my players are extremely disappointed and gutted,” Lima reported after seeing his players into their dressing room. “They fought hard, they threw their hearts into it, but now they’re just devastated. We’ve tried to console them, but it’s not something you can do in just a couple of minutes. It’ll need time.”

          If you are happy the US lost, then so be it, but your posts come across as an extreme version of schadenfreude with not logical basis behind them.

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      • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/18 at 11:08 AM

        I watched most of the matches and never heard anything about the US team being the best in the world. Number 1, yes. Go check the FIFA rankings and maybe you’ll understand.
        Devastated is completely justified… it’s what you’ve devoted you’re life to. The last photo in this post says it all, makes me sad looking at it.
        Had I seen a matchup akin to the Germany/Japan quarter final, I wouldn’t feel like we shot ourselves in the foot… frankly, that was the game I was expecting to see yesterday. The Germans were terrible and the Japanese were seldom troubled in defense. Against Sweden, the Japanese completely dominated… this Final match, however, the US women bossed the game. It was a game lost rather than won…. and after 4 years of buildup, it’s pretty devastating. Is it like losing 30k countrymen? Of course not. No one said it was.
        I haven’t really heard much from Hope Solo this year, though she certainly made a meal of her commentary in the 2007 WWC fallout. I don’t see what the big deal is, whether it’s Solo, Marta or Bompastor… these women are competitors and aren’t going to always be super gracious.

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        • Not sure if anyone watched the entire trophy presentation, but the US were gracious losers – forming an honor guard to shake hands and congratulate the Japanese team after they had lifted the trophy. Very Classy by the US, something the men’s game could learn a thing or two from.

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  6. Posted by Paula on 2011/07/18 at 11:13 AM

    The criticism is about level with the praise — both are hyperbolic and come from unrealistic expectations. If you saw the USWNT over the past 6 months, this tourney went a lot better than expected, capped off with a final where they actually played a possession game and tried to be the team everyone wanted them to be.

    I wish the mens’ team could make such a dramatic turnarounds between matches.

    The extreme negativity around Hope Solo is especially galling. She’s the reason the US was in the final to begin with.

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  7. Posted by Nate on 2011/07/18 at 12:00 PM

    Even though it was not the result everyone in my house wanted, there was much to like about that game – and about the women’s team in general. It was exciting to watch! My wife (who only in the last few months has caught the soccer bug) remarked how much more confident the women were, and very much appreciated the aggressive offensive minded play and pressure defense. She wondered aloud more than once why the US Men couldn’t play more like the women! We also both noticed the lack of diving and rolling around, and how that contributed to the overall flow of the game. Unfortunately once I saw Sawa’s heroic goal in the 2nd overtime, I knew it was all over. The ladies didn’t give up, but the destiny had slipped away.

    I really feel for the team as I know they gave everything to win it, but it was just Japan’s night. I am damn proud of how they represented the USA.

    One thing we both wondered about – why was Pinoe subbed out for Tobin Heath? Was she gassed?

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    • I thought the Rapinoe sub came too late…and I say this as an unapologetic Rapinoe fanboy. She was beginning to look fatigued at the end of the match in regulation. I would have liked to have seen her take a pk after the one she took against Brazil.

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    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/18 at 12:46 PM

      And did anyone discuss Heath’s job with her before she took the field? Losing possession by needlessly driving at 2-3 defenders with under 7 mins on the game clock was just either rookie nerves or plain dumb. Strange sub and her performance didn’t help them at all.

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      • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/18 at 3:22 PM

        Heath’s performance horrified me… I didn’t bother mentioning it, but glad someone else did.

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    • Posted by Maura Gladys on 2011/07/18 at 12:47 PM

      Yeah, she was definitely gassed. She was on fire for most of the first half, and that might have taken a lot out of her

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  8. Posted by Jake C. on 2011/07/18 at 12:11 PM

    Can I just say the order of the penalty kick takers made no sense to me? Boxx is a WC vet, sure, but her pk was pedestrian, and she’s not a goalscorer. Lloyd’s shooting was off target all tourney. We don’t have a striker step up to the spot until the 4th kick. Not a good lineup for me. Penalties make for strange results, I understand that, but the order of those penalties did us no favors.

    Second point: I see a pattern of underachieving performances from both the men’s and women’s national teams this summer. On both teams there has been a lack of consistency, especially in the final third, as well as defensive woes. That said, I was more gutted by this loss against Japan than I was for the men’s loss vs. Mexico. Whereas I’m more of the “please God, let them look decent” mentality with the men’s team, I had FAITH in this women’s team. Their performances the past few games proved their quality, and they were truly exciting to watch throughout the tournament. I can’t say the same about the USMNT over the past couple of years. Bottom line, I think the men’s team could take several cues from the women’s, and I don’t mean they should wear neon sports bras. Don’t know if this is the right forum for this last paragraph, but I figured somewhere on TSG would be as good a place as any to share this idea.

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    • You beat me to commenting on the shootout order as I’ve been discussing it with friends all day today. Wambach probably should have gone first to start things off right instead of Boxx who put it in the exact same spot she did against Brazil (twice)…like Japan wasn’t going to do homework. Lloyd looked uncomfortable when Boxx missed and skied it like she had been doing all match. But I guess looking at the lineup, I couldn’t really think of what order I would want after Wambach.

      Speaking of neon, the players had to have known that their jerseys were see-through, right? I mean…

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      • Posted by Alex on 2011/07/18 at 12:40 PM

        Don’t complain about a good thing dude…

        And I thought the PK order was atrocious as well. I’d say Boxx was one of the worse US players out there, and as good of a game as Lloyd had, her shooting had been poor as well. AND, just because we had a like for like sub (Rapinoe for Heath) doesn’t mean that the sub should take a PK, especially in that sort of situation. I would’ve had Wambach first, O’Reilly second, Lloyd and Morgan at third and fourth (order depending on outcome of earlier shots) and Kreiger fifth. Another point is that tying goal by Japan really sucked a whole lot of confidence and faith that the US had which led to poor PKs (much like our last second equaliser killed Brazil’s morale).

        But hell that’s just my opinion. Still proud of the team for the entire tournament. Really made me interested in the Women’s World Cup.

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        • Posted by EFG on 2011/07/18 at 5:11 PM

          I wasn’t complaining, I just thought it was “odd” (not the best word, but the only word I can think of) that it was habitual. That being said, I am a grown up and only giggled occasionally. More power to them.

          Reply

      • Posted by Jake C. on 2011/07/18 at 12:45 PM

        I think if Wambach takes the first penalty and slots it as coolly as she did the fourth kick, then the mentality for Lloyd and Heath is completely different, to say nothing of the Japanese keeper.

        And yes, Alex surely knew what she was doing, but it’s a sportsbra. Chastain already desensitized us to those ;)

        Reply

        • Posted by Maura Gladys on 2011/07/18 at 12:53 PM

          Agree on the PK selection. I think they should have switched it up, if only to try and throw Japan off a little bit. You know Japan had studied their kicks against Brazil, so to see Boxx come up first must have given the Japanese GK tons of confidence. I would have went with Morgan first. She just played a great second half and was full of confidence. Then O’Reilly, Lloyd, Wambach and Krieger. A little surprised with the Tobin Heath selection. I certainly don’t know Sundhage’s rationale for choosing who she did, but I can’t help but think that a little bit of her stubbornness might have snuck in there. An attitude of “it worked last time, it’ll work this time,” instead of maybe trying to be a little more strategic about it.

          Reply

          • Posted by Jake C. on 2011/07/18 at 1:08 PM

            What’s the rationale behind Wambach in the fourth slot? I think her quality could have set the standard for the rest of the PK’s if she’d gone first, but there may be something I’m missing here.

            Reply

            • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/18 at 1:38 PM

              None of us know who actually wanted / volunteered to take one, who actually had the self belief and mental toughness. This was the World Cup Final! Some people say it doesn’t matter how many you put away in training, you cannot recreate that pressure. So what is the manager supposed to do? And typically there is more pressure on the 4th or 5th as they’re the ones that are the “actual deciders”…

            • Posted by Jake C. on 2011/07/18 at 1:57 PM

              Fair enough about the 4th-5th spot, but I also think it’s best to have a goalscorer in the 1st slot in a final. Practice can never recreate a final, to be sure, but a goalscorer would be better trained to handle that situation.

              Of course, this is all in retrospect. We don’t know the dynamics of the pre-PK huddle. Still, Boxx then Lloyd? Killed us.

          • Posted by daniel on 2011/07/18 at 2:35 PM

            The first kicker is the most important. This isn’t a relay race where you want the best for last to make up for anything. Once you’re behind in kicks you’re putting exponential pressure on each kicker behind you. As soon as we missed the second I knew the third wasn’t going in either. Wambach should’ve stepped first. Piss poor. If Bob Bradley made that call we’d be hoarse with rage.

            Reply

            • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/18 at 3:36 PM

              Yes, you’re right. This isn’t a relay race where the last leg can make up the difference. But, as elite, professionals, you’d expect them ALL to score – or at a minimum force the keeper into a great save – there is such a thing caled human error, and many things affect it. Even great players, those with Divine Ponytails occasionally miss…

            • Posted by Alex on 2011/07/18 at 4:36 PM

              I’m just happy we have a coach with enough guts to assign kickers (I think?) than a coach who asked for hand-raising volunteers.

      • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/18 at 4:34 PM

        In the era of Lady Gaga, I’m amused that the hint of color of undergarments beneath a jersey can warrant any attention.
        Slightly in the vein of this comment, I’m not sure why the ESPN commentators (and others) made such a big deal of the French team’s pre-tournament photo shoot. It’s something that’s been done before by other women’s teams and it’s not like male athletes don’t do provocative photo shoots showing off their physiques.

        Reply

  9. Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/18 at 12:30 PM

    I’m still in disbelief. This match, and the USWNT performance in it, was the diametric opposite of the Sweden match. We controlled all but two minutes of this match, and in each of those minutes, Japan scored on a clearance that bounced off of a USA player, and a corner kick that bounced off of a USA player. There’s a 2-hour video of this match in the dictionary next to “unlucky.”

    But I’m with Jake C. about the penalties. And I’d add, I question Lloyd’s inclusion more than anybody else’s. She’s been spraying the stands behind the goal the entire tournament, OF COURSE she’s going to sail a kick over the bar!

    I maybe use LePeilbet instead of Boxx, too. And I wonder who would have been #5. If it wasn’t Alex Morgan, it ought to have been her at #2 for Lloyd and O’Reilly at #5.

    Hope’s going to get stick for being wrong footed twice, the second on a deflection off Wambach, and for not saving at least two of the kicks. I hope not.

    I did expect my country to win this tournament. I wanted them to, badly, which is why I went off after the Sweden match. I hope there’s some redemption.

    Reply

  10. Posted by matthewsf on 2011/07/18 at 2:59 PM

    I’m going to pull up something from Jason Price that he wrote in another column and would love feedback–I don’t have the answer.

    The US gave up two goals on what may be considered isolated miscues. Sure they had challenges at the back and saves needed to be made.

    However, if you look at the two goals yesterday: (1) a miscommunication between a defender on the ground and (2) a beaten header and miscommunication on a corner kick.

    …and you combine them with a few goals from group play:

    The LePeilbet takedown penalty.

    The France cross that scooted in off the post

    ….

    Okay…here’s my question:

    Is the keeper’s job the same in women’s and men’s soccer? Was Rampone the lone quarterback in the back or was Solo….

    Also when you look at it, just a little bit, (and I may be very wrong here), Solo is an excellent, excellent shot stopper. She has good reaction speed and reflexes and she comes out adequantely,….

    But…should we have expected more from her marshaling the backline throughout the tourney. Was that her job?

    The goals that didn’t happen–could she have provided more communication on them or even come off her line.

    I don’t know the answer and I’m asking the question…which begs the follow-up. If I’m considering the fact that Solo had an average tournament (in terms of organization for sure)….are the other nation’s keepers that much worse?

    Help my perspective here….

    Reply

    • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/18 at 3:31 PM

      Good question, Matt. I didn’t respond to the tit for tat where the Marvell Wynne Hope Solo comparison was brought up because 1) I thought it a ridiculous comparison and 2) wasn’t at all sure if Solo was communicating with her back line. GK communication is just never on my radar of things I’m paying attention to in a game but I know it should be. I’d have to go back and watch the game again and it’s not something I’m prepared to do =)

      Reply

      • Posted by JasonPrice on 2011/07/18 at 11:46 PM

        Yes, the Marvell Wynne analogy was a bit harsh. I was incredibly disappointed at the moment of writing it, but it was something that did get the point across to some extent (probably too much).

        Here’s where my thoughts are going on this, and I’d love some feedback. The height of the goal is the same in the mens and womens game, right? But the average height and vertical jump for women is invariably less than men. So you see that well placed high shots are more common in the women’s game. But you also see that this keeps women GKs closer to their line. It was the first time I had realized this. (You actually see this in the men’s game too with smaller GKs like Nick Rimando – when the camera pans into the defending third the GK only comes into view when the ball and the attacking team really has entered the area, because the GK needs to stick to their line and beware of being chipped). I think this influences goalkeeping in the women’s game. Because you are not physically closer to your backline and commanding that area, you tend to become more of a shotstopper of the kind you see in Sunday leagues. Solo was always always slow off her line, in my opinion, and very conservative about when to come. But again that might not be her fault/decision/training.

        Another component here, and I haven’t seen this explored, is coaching. Sundhage was a striker for most of her career, and her assistant, Riise, was also a striker. Ex-striker coaches never have very much to say to/about their goalkeepers. I don’t know who the GK coach for the women’s national team is right now, but I would love to know. Years ago it was Phil Wheddon, who was excellent, and would have emphasized controlling the area and psychological toughness and leadership. Goalkeeping was always front and center during the DiCiccio era because he is one of the great GK pedagogues in the country. So I think this plays into it as well.

        Great shot-stoppers are great when there are a lot of shots. But Japan, and very few teams, were ever going to really break down the US team. They were going to capitalize on mistakes, and mistakes are usually averted when there is cool heads, and leadership in the back.

        (Thanks for spotting that and begin more eloquent than I could have been Matt)

        Reply

        • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/19 at 1:43 PM

          I sensed dth’s reply overly snide, but my first thought after reading your comparison was similar to his: “does this guy even know Solo plays goalie?” I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I still don’t see the analogy beyond they both play the same sport =)
          That said, you ask good questions here I don’t know the answer to. I played defense in AYSO and we relied heavily on our GK to keep us from counter-producing against each other, but maybe this doesn’t work once you play in stadia with lots of noise competition? I have no idea about Overbeck relative to this squad. I do know that goal keeping seems to me to be one of the areas of greatest improvement in the women’s game. Even in 07 I seem to remember a lot of soft shots going in that you didn’t see this time around.

          Reply

    • Posted by Paula on 2011/07/18 at 4:18 PM

      I will say this: Hope Solo was extremely shaken up by the first equalizer. It was a bad defending error, but it honestly looked like she blamed herself. And from the look on her face it looked like she never got her confidence back.

      Also, that injury. Do we know what it was? How bad was it? It seemed like she should have been able to defend Sawa’s equalizer. But she barely made an effort, it seems.

      I feel bad for this girl. It seems like she just had people get over what happened in 2007. Now she has to get over this.

      Reply

      • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/18 at 4:34 PM

        So, just to get a perspective here.

        We’re slagging off a keeper (yes we all know she’s a good shot blocker, but people are throwing under the bus), who made a phenomenal penalty save in the quarters, made some great one on one saves (see France and Brazil) and was incredibly gracious in defeat (as was Wambach). She had to deal with a suspect back line, which makes any keepers job harder as you can’t quite rely on your defense to do the right thing (see Rapinoe almost shooting the ball into her own net, but instead tripping up Boxx). She was actually in place for the second goal, but keep in mind that after it struck Sawa’s heel (and that was an incredible bit of skill, more so that Marta’s wonderful second strike), it ricocheted of Wambach’s head in the opposite direction from where Solo was going.

        Was her back pass distribution a little off? At times, but her booming kicks also created panic for opposing defenders who had to deal with the long ball with Morgan and Wambach lurking. As far as her communication, that all depends (as Matt says) on who is in charge. You need one commanding voice and it seems as if Rampone was dictating the backline. A lot of the goals scored against Solo, the French one for example, were due to the defensive person missing their assignment or missing the ball, and sadly it was made to look like Solo was at fault. No amount of communication is going to make up for lapse’s in judgement or hesitating from your defenders. Blaming the keeper for any of those goals or the outcome of the penalties is pretty petty and ludicrous, especially when she saves one of the penalties.

        Reply

        • Posted by Paula on 2011/07/18 at 6:07 PM

          Hey, man, I ain’t slagging off Hope Solo of all people. My comment was a way of saying that I don’t see either of those goals was a result of a major error on her part — particularly if she was coming off being hurt before that Sawa goal.

          That being said, your question about who gets to marshal the back line is key. None of the gks in the WWC looked like they were commanding anyone in the back line. The GK and the defenders were related but not necessarily implicitly connected by any grand holding strategy (France — eek).

          Reply

          • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/18 at 7:15 PM

            This was not a reply to you…more to the overall negative commentary about her play. You were last in the thread.

            Reply

    • Posted by SamT on 2011/07/19 at 11:59 AM

      To me back line leadership is more of a player-specific issue than a men’s vs women’s issue. Who is wired to fill that role?

      I think about the men’s game and the five MLS Cups that Agoos won — among other trophies. He was the organizer on those teams, and it was a critical component of their success. (Because we know he wasn’t contributing world class speed, technical proficiency with the ball, or goalscoring.)

      My gut says Rampone was probably the right leader rather than Solo on this team, but now we’re getting into the realm of psychology and leadership style that is difficult to judge from the outside.

      Reply

  11. Did Japan win the 2011 Women’s World Cup, or did the U.S. lose it?…

    One of my favorite American soccer publications, The Shin Guardian, ran a very well-written article about the game, and the writer, Maura Gladys, disagrees with me. Quote from Gladys: “Make no mistake about it, the United States lost this game. They w…

    Reply

  12. [...] update: This sums up well, with more details and – what’s that word? – objectivity. The Shin Guardian [...]

    Reply

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