Archive for the ‘USWNT’ Category

USWNT versus New Zealand

I’m no Matt Mathai, but here are a few pics of the recent friendly between the USWNT and New Zealand in beautiful, warm, state of the art Candlestick Park. Much thanks to the US Soccer Federation for allowing me to shoot on the pitch and being helpful at every turn of the way.

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USWNT: Big Shoes and Hair to Fill

Maura Gladys with all you need to know about the USWNT’s new head coach

Not many people were ready for the timing or content announcement. Shortly before 2 p.m. yesterday the Twitter universe was abuzz with the rumor that U.S. Soccer would announce the new coach of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team. That part wasn’t so surprising. (Although, some wondered why it was made in the midst of the worst storm to hit the East Coast in years). What was surprising was that the coach was Australian women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni. Not considered a front-runner, Sermanni was kind of like that “mystery team” that’s always involved in a high-profile MLB or NFL trade rumor, but rarely comes out on top. But this time, the mystery candidate did, and after an initial shock, Sermanni has received overwhelming support and positive reviews.

Unfortunately Tony no longer supports his stache, something that many believe to have knocked him out of the running fro USWNT coach

Several American candidates including former-USWNT-coach Tony DiCicco, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum and U.S. U-20 women’s national team head coach Steve Swanson seemed poised to take the position, especially since USSF president Sunil Gulati intimated several times that he wanted a coach with extensive U.S. experience. Although he doesn’t have much U.S. experience (three years coaching in the now-defunct WUSA), Sermani has 11 years of international experience, all with Australia.

Sermanni guided the Matildas from a floundering program to one of the most respected in the world, with a core of young talent and a bright future. He did that through cultivating a buy-in culture among the team, where players could be called upon to fill any role and would step up and do it (similar to Pia Sundhage’s strategy with the U.S. team.) But how else can Sermanni’s magic down-under translate to success for the U.S.? Here’s how he got the most out of Australia over those 11 years, and how it can directly help the U.S.

Australia’s Enfant Terible?

In the spring of 2011, just months before the Matilda’s would play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Sermanni sent home team star Lisa de Vanna from a training camp. De Vanna, who starred for Australia in the 2007 World Cup, scoring four goals in the tournament and earning a 2007 Women’s World Play of the Year nomination, was said to have “skipped out on media commitments, walked out of the team photograph and failed to fulfill training requirements”. Instead of trying to massage the situation, Sermanni expelled de Vanna from the camp.

The de Vanna issue, what it does, from a team and coaching perspective, it takes up time and it distracts from the plans that you’re trying to put together,” Sermanni said at the time.

”We do expect a certain standard of behaviour and how people represent the Matildas. There were things around that weren’t satisfactory. We tried to get a solution but we didn’t get it.”

Sermanni navigated situation with extreme professionalism, not allowing de Vanna’s antics to overshadow the team, and speaking forcefully about the level of expectations required to play for Australia. His handling of the situation set a standard for the rest of the team and prevented the issue from becoming a larger distraction.

This willingness to lay down the law will be essential with the U.S., a team that tends to run into controversy a bit more frequently than it might like, and it’s one of the reasons that several current U.S. players were lobbying for Sermanni, according to Adrian Healey.

Sermanni is an unabashed supporter of growing a team through youth and challenging them in big situations. At the 2011 Women’s World Cup, 18 of his 21 players were 25 or younger, five of them teenagers. They weren’t just there to observe either. Seventeen-year-old utility player Caitlin Foord was named Best Young Player award at the 2011 World Cup while 20-year-old Kyah Simon scored a brace in Australia’s come-from-behind win against Norway that guaranteed them passaged into the next round.

Under Sermanni, promising youngsters such as Hagen can get expect to see more playing time

For the U.S., this likely means more playing time not only for current young stars Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux (all of whom are over 22 and must seem ancient in Sermanni’s book) but caps for U-23 standout Sarah Hagen or 20-year-old Julie Johnston, among many others.

He alluded to as much in a conference call with reporters earlier this afternoon.

“I think the key thing is to be able to bring players into a National Team camp and give them opportunities and that’s what I want to try and do… I’m certainly not averse to throwing players into the mix and to try and develop players who are outside the established group at the moment.”

-Sermanni did much with little in Australia, employing aggressive, proactive tactical formations that challenged his players, and made it tough for opponents to defend. He now has the most talented team in the world at his fingertips and can take the squad, for which Pia planted the seed of possession soccer, to a level of true technical mastery. It was expected that U.S. Soccer would hire a manager that would put more emphasis on skill rather than athleticism, and Sermanni’s deep knowledge of the game is a perfect fit.

In his conference call, Sermanni stressed a commitment to “positive possession” soccer.

“You do want to keep developing your team to play a better brand of soccer, to play more…not possession for the sake of possession, but a positive style of possession, where the team is comfortable playing in tight areas, comfortable to back themselves in keeping the ball, comfortable to back themselves and be patient when they have to be patient,” he said.

Sermanni will have his work cut out for him when he formally takes over on January 1. But, with his knowledge and experience, and the tantalizing amount of talent on the U.S. squad, his appointment means exciting times ahead for U.S. women’s soccer.

2011 US Soccer Year In Review: A Great American Story, Almost

Homare Sawa's goal in the final three minutes of the Women's World Cup Final was perhaps the largest of a series of "almost" great moments for US Soccer in 2011.

Neil Blackmon on the year that was in US Soccer.

“There is no other sport like football. It is beautiful and it imitates life because it is a game of failure. Americans have baseball, and it is beautiful and there you have failure too—but football is different because it is epistemological. You can have failure and it’s to scale of course, but the degree of failure is always a question of method. And you can always answer the question why if you look hard enough. And there are a lot of almosts.”

– Johan Cruyff

There’s an old joke that sportswriters have a tremendously self-important job, that they don’t read the papers, they just write for them. It’s a funny joke but it misses the point: writing about sport is cloaked in insecurity because the challenge of the blank page is so daunting. A sportswriter is essentially given a blank page, some peripheral information that includes numbers and letters and trends and the writer is then tasked with making a series or a ballgame out of the whole thing. It’s a powerful, ego-driven thing, the task of making an event or series of events or story that others may not have seen come to life on a page. And it’s true that it’s less so in the age of instant media, but in the end it’s still one that leaves the writer completely exposed. One failed paragraph, one misguided suggestion, one failed letter and an entire moment in time falls flat.

Why mention any of this? Because even in the age of instant media, it’s been my great privilege despite my day job to write stories about soccer, about the US National teams and the Barclays Premier League, and despite my own insecurities in doing so, I get to recreate the smell, the feeling, the texture of a game that matters to people. We leave the television and internet to the sight, or the sound, and try to capture the ineffable moment. And sometimes, when we’re lucky, we almost do. And for those of us, who like me, have a platform for our passion, even (especially?) without profit, that’s almost as good as it gets. My path to soccer writer that practices law as his day job isn’t exactly a vintage American tale of accomplishment, but it is almost. And it’s one that I couldn’t help but think about as I reflected back on the year that was in US Soccer. For if US Soccer, in the total sense of the phrase “US Soccer”, could be given a one word summation in 2011- wouldn’t that word have to be “almost.”

We entered 2011 coming off a World Cup that was almost the greatest in modern Men’s National Team history. The Americans achieved their greatest draw since Bunker Hill, scored almost the most important goal in the history of US Soccer in the 91st minute, and won a group at the World Cup, and one that included England no less. On this ground alone, you could argue 2010 was the best World Cup for America in the modern era, but to do so you almost have to forget the almost invincible Tim Howard being just off his line on Kevin Prince-Boateng’s early strike, and Carlos Bocanegra almost having enough skill to recover on Jay DeMerit’s blunder leading to the Asamoah Gyan’s extra time winner in the second round.

A heroic performance from Tim Howard was almost enough to beat Argentina in March.

Fast forward three months, and the Yanks almost got the better of one of the globe’s finest sides, Argentina. Sure, it took a Jim Craig in Lake Placid type performance from Tim Howard in the first forty-five, but Bob Bradley made his typical rope-a-dope adjustments in the second half, where he shored up the US liabilities, addressed the oppositions strengths, and switched his formation. It almost worked, and who knows what a better result than a draw would have delivered—but we do know the game offered two revelations in side back Timothy Chandler, who stopped the Argentinian siege of the right flank (a movie we’d see again in the summer, without the German-American, sadly) and Juan Agudelo, whose work rate coupled with a hard-tackling American midfield created space for the Americans creative engines, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. It was almost a result worth savoring, save the first forty-five minutes, full of reservations.

Across the pond, Clint Dempsey was almost the best CONCACAF field player in the Barclay’s Premier League, except that for every splendid, jersey sullied performance from Fulham’s #23, there was one more attention-grabbing and to the constantly insecure American soccer faithful, more ominous from Mexico’s young Javier Hernandez. And when speaking of Hernandez, it’s almost worth a paragraph to stop.

The rise of Hernandez from Mexican Primera club Chivas– Mexican power but still more or less an outpost on the global map of club importance–was almost antihero role reversal. After all, America is supposed to be the place where a Horatio Alger tale is possible, rise from the one bedroom apartment in some dark corner of Queens or where have you to profit and prominence. Didn’t Herman Cain, one of 2011’s most fascinating figures, suggest that “If you aren’t rich and successful, blame yourself.” There’s still a Calvinist strain connecting prosperity to divine election in the Occupy Wall Street version of America, and isn’t this why we’ve always felt a strong connection to Clint Dempsey of Nacogdoches, Texas? Here’s a guy who came from playing backyard soccer and imitating the ball tricks he saw on public television on Sunday mornings, who was never on the silver spooner American youth developmental radars, who ended up getting a late scholarship to an above-average soccer program, and who has ended up, just this fall, passing the legendary Brian McBride as America’s most successful scorer in the globe’s finest league? Hernandez is antihero precisely for stealing the spotlight in our shadowy little region of the soccer universe from Dempsey, the Horatio Alger tale of American soccer. It would be one thing if Hernandez himself had come from threadbare beginnings, but beyond having a professional soccer player father who thought his son “too small” to make a mark on the game, there’s nothing remarkably compelling about the young man’s life story. Only his game makes for powerful narrative.

A dream start in the Gold Cup Final was almost enough for the US. But Gio Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez have restored Mexico's regional superiority.

This summer brought the Gold Cup, and the story almost had a happy ending. There was a moment in late May at Wembley Stadium where a few of the more optimistic believed Hernandez was mortal. Barcelona’s backline had trapped Hernandez into submission in the Champions League final, and Hernandez wandered around the midfield for the latter portion of the game, pouting and half-chasing the ball. But the cynical knew better. The US backline, with or without the German revelation we met against Argentina in March, is no Barcelona. And despite a second consecutive international tournament where the Pride of Nacogdoches was the States’ finest player, it was Hernandez who was the difference, along with the enigmatic youngster Gio Dos Santos, who plays every bit the role of wimpy Clark Kent at his clubs but climbs into a phone book and dons a green, red, and white cape upon his every return to international play.

After a Gold Cup that saw the Americans almost fail to get out of group play, and The Americans almost had enough that day too—they found a belated Father’s Day goal gift from Michael Bradley, and an under-attack from various media outlets and inconsistent Landon Donovan doubled the lead minutes later, donning his own cape from whatever energy he seems to find when seeing the green, red and white in front of him. It was a 2-0 lead that was almost too good to be true, and when longtime, understated and underappreciated side back Steve Cherundolo’s 32 year old legs could carry him no further after twenty minutes, the slow death of America’s title hopes began. Javier Hernandez’s continual darting runs sliced open a patchwork American back four, and after Clint Dempsey had a rocket shot ricochet off the bar that almost tied the game at 3-3, Gio Dos’ Santos scored the tournament’s most brilliant goal, to put Mexico ahead 4-2 and help El Tri hoist the trophy.

Two years prior to this June’s final in Pasadena, it was almost safe to say that in under the decade since Brian McBride’s header found the back of the net in Korea in 2002, the United States had changed the power structure of CONCACAF for good. In the last World Cup cycle, after all, the Americans had won the qualifying group (again) and a World Cup group. Perhaps Mexico and the rise of Chicarito then were a well-timed reminder that in sport, as in life, things can change very quickly. Mexico won the U-17 World Cup this year and finished second in the U-20 tournament. Top team vs. top team, June’s result made it almost safe to argue El Tri are two goals better on a neutral field. The American players, and their Federation officials, left Pasadena wondering how to narrow the gap.

Late in 2010, a goal from 21 year old Alex Morgan helped the Americans qualify. We learned much more about Baby Horse this past summer.

As fans and journalists alike, there wasn’t much time to stew over Gold Cup defeat. The Women’s World Cup in Germany in late June and early July came as welcome respite, and delivered the proverbial goods. The whole tournament was broadcast in beautiful high-definition by ESPN and as the group stages progressed, the ratings, and the number of American television sets TIVOing matches expanded exponentially. Read that sentence again, and it’s almost beyond the realm. People were locked in and this group of incredible athletes, these women, were more than compelling.

Soccer is a global village these days in the men’s game, this much we know, but this gamble by ESPN was a societal experiment that almost failed before it even started. The Americans almost failed to qualify long after the television deal had been inked. It took a clutch goal from a 21 year old to help the Americans out of the hole, and in the aftermath, ESPN promptly dubbed young Alex Morgan, who had just graduated from Cal-Berkeley “NEXT” in its annual year-end magazine honoring special young athletes who should and will command our attention in the years to come.

With the country tuned in, the World Cup run almost ended like the men’s did—right when it was becoming magical and people were paying attention. After 120 minutes, the Americans trailed Brazil in the quarterfinals and as the fourth official signaled “three minutes” of stoppage time, hearts had left throats, beginning the descent into pit-of-the-stomach despair. In a flick of the foot of Megan Rapinoe, a short-haired pile of spunk and tenacity, everything changed. The “cross”, as I would call it writing that evening, was perhaps the most remarkable goal in the history of US Soccer. That came two minutes into stoppage time after 120 minutes of play was remarkable enough—that it was a precise cross from twenty-five yards to the head of a late running American legend in Abby Wambach, who was likely playing her final Women’s World Cup was drama of Shakespearian measure.

Rapinoe to Wambach was "the moment" in US Soccer in 2011. Almost forgotten is that the US had to make five penalties to win.

For Rapinoe, the women who made the pass, it meant becoming a household name and an indie heartthrob with her own Portlandia-esque love song, who challenged, if only for a moment, the most zealous Zooey Deschanel adulator for affection. For Wambach, it was vindication of a spectacular career in an unappreciated sport, one that ultimately made her the first women’s soccer player ever to be named the Associated Press’ female athlete of the year.

Almost forgotten in the aftermath of Wambach’s perfect header, in the months that have followed, was that the Americans had to convert five penalties and get an otherworldly save from Hope Solo to win the game, and then they had to win a semifinal before they had a chance to really win anything. They did both of those things of course, and almost won the whole tournament too. Alex Morgan, whose teammates call her “Baby Horse”, scored a goal even more enormous than the one she scored to help the team qualify, netting in the World Cup Final. Again a fourth official signaled “three minutes”, but this time, the Yanks were on the wrong side of riveting. Japan, playing in a tournament with heavy hearts in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, found a goal off Homare Sawa’s head. Then it buried all its penalties and the US didn’t. The women almost won the World Cup. In that tournament, we were reminded of how pure and wonderful this game we’re so passionate about can be. But in those three minutes, we were also reminded how gut-wrenching almost can be.

Bob Bradley was let go after the Gold Cup defeat. You could almost argue that he was doomed since he hugged Ricardo Clark after starting him against Ghana last summer.

Speaking of gut-wrenching, how about the way things ended with Bob Bradley, the man who helped an American team win a group at the World Cup and, with a 2-0 win that ultimately denied Spain an international treble, brought the United States within a half of winning a FIFA international tournament? Bob Bradley was always America’s second choice. You don’t get hired on an interim basis amid public longing and contractual breakdown news leaks about Jürgen Klinsmann when that isn’t the case. I’d like to write that Bob Bradley didn’t care about being second-choice in the beginning and second-choice in the end, but the truth is, we just don’t know. What we do know is that he left as the winningest manager in the history of American men’s soccer, with a record of 43-25-12. He worked his rear end off, and he instilled, for a long while, a sense of pride and “can do” into the team that had disappeared in the complacency of the Bruce Arena second World Cup cycle.

Of course, it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Bradley was tactically limited and, like any manager, had his favorites. Some, like Jon Bornstein, made it hard to forget that he capped more players than any US manager ever. Bradley was fine at in-game adjustments, but his team sheets often left us scratching our heads. And for every decision to start Conor Casey resulting in a brace and road qualifying points there was a Ricardo Clark against Ghana after Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley had bossed the midfield in two games type decision. The Gold Cup might have been the last straw, but the truth is the Bradley era ended when the Americans lost to Ghana, and too many folks forgot that they won the World Cup group. The focus was on what almost happened. A reasonable quarterfinal draw, a path to the final. What almost was in 2010, and another almost in the 2011 Gold Cup Final meant Bob had to go. He was replaced by Jürgen Klinsmann, the man Sunil Gulati almost hired in 2006.

The choice to hire Klinsmann was remarkably consistent with the American fear of regretting choices we never make. Gulati had to know, much like the killer in Dirty Harry had to know if Callahan had a bullet left in the gun. It was also a question of method, as the Cruyff quote that precedes the piece notes. The US had tried things Bruce’s way, and done things Bob’s. Perhaps it was time for a different method. And yes, if in the larger context, Bob Bradley’s fate reads like a down-on-his-luck figure in a Fitzgerald novel, that’s because he is. And maybe letting Bradley go early in his second-term is a good thing. As Fitzgerald wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives.”

Klinsmann’s term almost got off to a storybook start, but the Americans couldn’t muster a winner against a Chicharito-less Mexico side. Since then, there’s been the usual pendulum, just one reoriented towards a new manager: cynics who feel Klinsmann is the classic great player, inept-manager—a void who will be exposed as such without Joachim Low playing the role of wizard behind the curtain, and those who think his infusion of German-American and Latin-American talent will help the Yanks forge a desperately needed offensive spark and identity—one that is essential if they are to maintain any semblance of regional primacy. In my view, the jury’s still out. But the great news is that World Cup qualifying starts in 2012, and by next holiday season, we’ll almost know.

Happy New Year’s to all The Shin Guardian readers. All the best in 2012. And remember, it’s almost time for another Olympics, and another chance to see US Soccer do something quite special.

Ali Krieger: On Rising Again In Germany

Ali Krieger - USWNT right back present and future.

Ali Krieger made the leap into the main stream after coolly slotting home the 5th and decisive penalty  in the infamous quarterfinal against Brazil. Having played most of her professional career in Germany (she is back with FFC Frankfurt), she might have gone under the casual fans radar, but as a rock at right back, Krieger has been a mainstay on the USWNT for the past year.

A super sharp, confident, intelligent woman on and off the field, Ali Krieger was gracious enough to take time from her well deserved break to talk to us at TSG.

Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

TSG: You were one of 4 players to play every single minute this past World Cup and you’ve been played 25 or so games with the USWNT, do you feel that you have cemented a place on the team for the upcoming Olympics?

Ali Krieger: Yeah lets hope so. I think if I can stay fit and healthy, I don’t see a reason to keep me of the roster, but playing wise you never know what could happen, so I don’t want to say that my spot is “cemented”, even though some of the players tell me that. I don’t want to get complacent, so I need to continue working hard and playing at my best and hopefully that will continue to allow me to play in the right back position.

TSG: I imagine the World Cup was a different experience for you then the other girls. How was coming back to Germany? Was it like coming home?

AK: It was amazing and so comfortable. I was so happy once we landed that I had a big smile on my face and I felt like I was back home. I was made to feel so welcomed by the fans. I was excited to be back in football country and it was all an amazing feeling.

Krieger with some of her FFC Frankfurt teammates

TSG: Your last name in German means “Warrior “and you appropriately plied your tough swashbuckling style in Europe and are one of the only USWNT players to do so. Can you tell us about your experience with FFC Frankfurt?

AK: It was a stepping stone that helped get to where I am today and I will always be grateful and loyal to the club. In 3 and a half years, they have prepared me to be able to play in the past World Cup by making me a better person and player.

My perspective on life has changed since living there as I had to learn a new language and culture. It was such a cool experience that I will never forget and hopefully one day, maybe in the near future continue to be a part off.

TSG: Would you recommend playing in Europe to any of the younger or even veteran USWNT players?

AK: I tell them everyday that it’s amazing and every time they ask me how it is or if I recommend it I say “of course”. Look at how much I’ve changed as a player and how much more comfortable I’ve gotten on the ball. My technical and tactical abilities have grown from being in Germany, which to me is the “football country”. In Europe in general, it’s the number one sport and I think everyone should  have that experience and to be a part of it. It’s been unreal for me and I know everyone would enjoy it as well.

TSG: For the most part, it’s the desire for most male players to play on a Champions league team. Is the women’s Champions League held in a similar high regard?

AK: Of course. The Champions League is right under World Cup in terms of a tournament that everyone wants to play in and be part off, and is the highest level of club football. I think the most important part about playing with a club team is that you get to train day in and day out. You can’t treat the national team like a club team cause that’s not why it’s there and what it’s about. I think everyone should have the experience playing with a club and playing in important games every weekend. This year there is the Champions League, the DFB cup (German domestic cup), and Bundesliga all together.  That is a lot of highly competitive games that one has to compete in week in and week out, and that experience can only make one a better player.

Krieger's farewell game with FFC Frankfurt. Will she go back?

TSG: Where would you say is the prominent or prestigious league that most women want to play in? Is it the WPS or is it in Europe?

AK: Well I’m going to be a little biased, but the German league could be the top league as off right now. Unfortunately the German national team lost in the quarters so it might be hard for them to lay claim as the best league.  I think Sweden, England and Germany all have very good leagues, and then you have Lyon who just won the Champions League this past year. I’m not all together familiar with the rest of the French club teams, but I know that Lyon is a very good team with a great training atmosphere that seems indicative of the rest of the league.

TSG: One hears stories that a lot of the South American Soccer federations are not very supportive of their women’s teams. Do you feel that there is an increase in support in the US and in Europe?

AK: It’s getting better as you can see in the increased number of teams in the World Cup qualifiers as well as teams like Columbia at the World Cup. I think it’s growing, but it will take time. Countries aren’t immediately going to all of a sudden put money toward their women’s football teams. Look at Brazil who barely get any support and they are one of the best teams in the world, though they will be hosting the Olympics in 2016 so they will probably put in some money toward the women’s national team, but unfortunately I don’t think they will ever get the same support as the men’s teams.

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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.

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Not To Be Outdone? Ode To O’Reilly

The actual email exchange below.

———-

1:06AM:

i saw the rapinoe song friday and knew i had to make one for heather o’reilly, so i did:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsEz9cFNP5U
i had already been thinking of making a team song…i was gonna rhyme rapinoe with “neato”.  casino is a much better choice.

anyway, when i heard someone had made one for rapinoe i had to hurry up!  made in less than 1.5 days. (i’m kinda proud how quick it came together) hope you like it.

Jeff

———-

Fantastic.
American Idoly-type stuff.
This will go up now.
Thanks,
Matthew

———-

(Now if someone does one in 45 minutes for Hope Solo to Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” I might literally die.)

Women’s World Cup Final Primer: US vs. Japan

Update: USA vs. Japan: Live Commentary…right here

TSG’s Maura Gladys almost home with her primer for the Women’s World Cup Final.

Rodriguez will start of course...

There’s really not much to talk about at this point. We can talk about tactics, strategy and lineups for hours, but it won’t do any good.

The U.S. is big and physical.  The Japanese are short and speedy.

Rapinoe's version of the Haka...

Amy Rodriguez will start. Megan Rapinoe will not.

The United States will probably looked frazzled at some points.

But for all intents and purposes, what’d done is done. After 90 minutes (hopefully) tomorrow in Frankfurt, a new Women’s World Cup Champion will be crowned, and either team competing for the title will be deserving.

What we do know is that the two friendlies that the teams played in May, which the U.S. won by identical scores of 2-0, are inaccurate reflections of both teams.

Japan still plays the same disciplined, possession style that they did in May, but on top of that, they’ve added a creative, dynamic attack and a willingness to mix it up and take outside shots instead of always trying to play into the box.

The United States, for as much as they talked about switching to a possession-based style at the time, has been making it’s living off of aggressive play and set pieces.

As different as the two squad’s seem, they have some striking similarities, that could factor into tomorrow’s match.

Sawa on Wambach

Homare Sawa, the team’s unquestioned veteran leader, has, as her counterpart for this situation, Abby Wambach, put it, “literally [put] her team on her back and [carried] them to the final. “ She’s done this with four goals in five matches, three of which were scored with her head.

Sound familiar? Wambach only has three goals, two with her head, one with her shoulder, but the sentiment is still there, and it’s clear that Wambach, one of the team’s veteran leaders, has done as much as Sawa to inspire her own team.

The two teams also share an adeptness for set pieces. Japan has the brilliant Aya Miyama who has three assists, and can bend or float a ball to a certain spot at will.  The U.S. counters with Lauren Cheney and Megan Rapinoe behind the ball and, of course, the head of Abby Wambach towering over defenders.

One other potential factor is who scores first. Against both Brazil and France, the United States jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, then sat back while their opponents continuously gunned for a leveler. If the U.S. is going to score first, it would almost be better if it came a little later in the game. This way, the squad would already be settled into a rhythm and wouldn’t just be pleased with its great start.

In the end, and we know this going into it, this game is about heart, and hope, and all that good stuff that we talk about when we know that it’s about more than a game. Both teams have already displayed a remarkable amount of intangibles to get to this point, and you almost don’t want to see either side lose, if only for the compelling storylines that come out of a victory. Either Japan brings glory and happiness to a wounded nation, or the U.S. writes a happy ending to its fairytale. Either way, hearts will be broken tomorrow.

But don’t worry about that for now. Be excited. Let the Megan Rapinoe song get stuck in your head, pump up some “Never Solo” and tonight, let the sweet sweet melodies of Pia Sundhage’s version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy” lull you to sleep.

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