Archive for the ‘USWNT’ Category

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.

USWNT: Amy LePeilbet Infographic, plus Lloyd-Cheney Review…

Got a little curmudgeony this morning–apologies.

Lloyd always does the dirty work in the US midfield...

The disposition was due in part to the suggestion that Carli Lloyd hasn’t upheld her part of the bargain in central midfield for the US given Lauren Cheney’s move their in yesterday’s game against France. Some quick observations:

» Lloyd played nearly double the amount of time that Cheney did against Brazil. Lloyd of course plays the more, say, tedious and responsibility-driven role of CM for the USWNT.

» The USWNT soon introduced the soup-du-jour Megan Rapinoe after Cheney’s move inward. Rapinoe’s energy, runs, possession and overall gnat-like impact on the other team can not be understated against France

» France–as Maura Gladys aptly pointed out in the review–gambled with 3-deep and adding an extra attacker against the States. The States in turn: a) pushed up and b) controlled the run-of-play up the field as the move backfired for France manager Bruno Bini.

Cheney's been lending Amy a hand, leg, foot, what have you as the WC has progressed...

Anywho…all this got me thinking that the crickets around Amy LePeilbet’s play at left back have sought pasture with the ones exterminated by Abby Wambach coming on like gangbusters.

Found this interesting infographic below floating around the World Wide Web that compares criticism level around LePeilbet to the amount of cover that’s been provided over top of her against various opponents. Interesting, huh? Big difference for LePeilbet has been Cheney taking a little less venture-forward-and-hopefully-get-back-role at left mid as the tournament has progressed as well later match cover (against Brazil & France) by both Megan Rapinoe–predominantly–and Heather O’Reilly (early against France). Early on Cheney did a lot of in-cutting and left LePeilbet basically to fend for herself–not the same on the Krieger-O’Reilly flank.

(Okay, I didn’t find the graphic it happened upon my Google spreedsheets this morning.)

Interesting....

USA 3, France 1: Once More Into The Breach For The USWNT Results In Triumph

EXTERMINATED! (Psst...you hear those Wambach critic crickets? We don't...now.)

It’s gone beyond tactics. It’s turned into a force of will thing now. This collective journey that we’re all taking. It’s out of our hands now.

Today the U.S. proved that you don’t have to play the best soccer for the most minutes to win. You can completely lose the midfield battle, get out-shot, look both confused and exhausted at times, and not only win, but win by two goals.

That’s why you can’t help but think that it’s beyond discussion. This story will be written no matter the tactics or strategy.

Bit of a different game today. Just like Sunday, the U.S. struck first, then gave up a goal to tie it up, and eventually prevailed, just with not as much controversy or drama. But it’s been a little hard to put a label on this game (in an effort to try and avoid chalking it up to the Team of Destiny stuff). So, instead of trying to put together one long narrative, here are three tiny ones, that, hopefully, will add up to a pretty clear picture of the game. All the stuff I missed, hit me up in the comments.

Abby Wambach: American Folk Hero

Twenty years from now, we’ll remember her as a giant, with a forehead that doubled as a missile launcher, a frame that opponents bounced off of and a will that raised the play of her entire team.

In today’s world, it’s really not that far off.

Abby Wambach has become an American folk hero.

But, with the way she scores those goals, it’s hard not to paint her that way. Case in point, today’s goal. France had been dominating for the entire second half, and seemed poised to net a game-winner before the end of regulation. But with one flick of her head, Wambach quashed all of the momentum that France had cultivated for the past 35 minutes. And it wasn’t just a simple nod. Wambach took two giant steps, elevated above everyone around her, right to the exact spot where only she could reach with her head, and sent a statement into the back of the net. Her momentum caused her to smack into the post, but the Wambach wasn’t fazed.

There’s a difference between playing well and being successful, and doing what Wambach does. Lauren Cheney has been playing well. Abby Wambach has been seizing games by the throat.

It’s not just the goals (although there’s something inherently beautiful about those headers). She had two near-misses today (one of which she full-out ran over a defender and the French goalkeeper, leaving them sprawled in her wake) that demonstrated both how skilled she is, and how her talents allow her teammates to play in a way that no other team can. Even when she was slumping during the group stage, she still had the ability to pull defenders away from other teammates, and set them up to score.  Throw whatever superlative you want at her: winner, game-changer, folk hero. It all sticks.

The French Perspective

Turns out Bini's gamble pointed the wrong way....home.

At 77:38 Bruno Bini took a gamble. Despite trailing the United States for most of the first half, France had equalized at 55’ and dominated for most of the second half. But Bini wasn’t content to try his hand against the Americans in overtime or penalty kicks. If France was going to win, it needed to score during regulation. So, he subbed out veteran defender Sandrine Soubeyrand in favor of lightning-fast forward Elodie Thomis. Yes, it would leave France a little more vulnerable in the back, but it was worth it to have the speedy Thomis charging at goal, especially with the confusion that France’s offense was already causing for the American defense. Approximately one minute later, Bini’s risk burned him.  As soon as Abby Wambach’s scorching header hit the back of the net, France’s mission changed from trying to put the game away to needing a goal just to force overtime. But almost immediately after that, Alex Morgan ensured that Bini and France’s luck had run out for good.

It almost wasn’t like that though. Louisa Necib had mystified the U.S. defense all day, opening it up, stretching it, bending it to her will. France was throwing waves and waves of assaults on the U.S. goal for most of the game, and the defense was beginning to crack. Bossing the central midfield wasn’t a problem, thanks to a fifth midfielder, and the less-than-stellar play of U.S. central midfielders Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd. They almost equalized in the 32nd minute when Sonia Bompastor sent a rifle off the cross bar from long-range. The long-range shot approach worked well enough, so they kept launching them, mostly into keeper Hope Solo’s arms. The strategy did pay off in the 55th minute though, when Bompastor sent another floater in to Solo. But the keeper had to hold her line in case a streaking Gaetane Thiney attempted to redirect it. That indecision left just enough room for Bompastor’s shot to bounce into the opposite side of the net for the equalizer.

Continue reading

USA vs. France: Live Commentary…The USWNT Looking For Finals Access.

After 120 mins, Hopo had a huge Solo on Sunday...

One knockout down–in dramatic fashion–two to go.

Today the USA takes on France for the right to face the winner of Sweden vs. Japan for the Women’s World Stein.

Becky Sauerbrunn comes in for the red-card carrying Rachel Buehler.

The United States with one less day of rest than Bruno Bini’s ladies for France.

Kickoff at 9am P.T. Coverage on ESPN at the same time; stream available at ESPN360.com. (We’ll try to find others.)

Starting line-ups shortly as the United States faces a much more zonal-responsible team than Brazil.

Your comments below.

Women’s World Cup Preview Lite: USA vs. France

TSG’s Maura Gladys with a peek into the US ladies’ match-up with France

It’d be nice to just stay suspended in the few days after the United States’ monumental win over Brazil, relishing the glory and beauty of the performance. But alas, it’s on to Mönchengladbach and a semifinal date with France.

Look up "Frenchman" in the dictionary and it's nearly a fait accompli that you'll get the mug of France coach Bruno Bini...

Les Bleus is definitely not the opponent that the U.S. expected to see in the semifinals, but the team has been playing attractive, smooth soccer and have a style that could potentially cause the U.S. some headaches.

France is both technically sound and tactically aware, thanks to its coach, Bruno Bini. Bini encourages creativity and inspiration from the squad as long as they have the discipline to recover seamlessly. The general rule of thumb is, “Be creative, go with the ball, but when you lose possession, cover the zone you’re in.”

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On the Women’s World Cup: TSG’s Shaun Webb says, “the team that dances together, wins together.”

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Nowhere is that creativity fostered more than with Louisa Necib. Necib is the lynchpin of France’s offense and almost all attacks go through her.  The key battle of the game could boil down to Necib against Shannon Boxx. If Boxx can continue her excellent form she’ll cut off Necib’s supply to Camille Abily, Gaetane Thiney and Marie-Laure Delie. However, if her 33-year-old year old legs haven’t recovered and her form from the group games sneaks back in, it will be a long day for U.S. defenders.

The two key issues for the United States are recovery and mental approach. The game against Brazil was both physically and emotionally draining, but the squad needs to be at its best for France, who, despite also playing 120 minutes and going to penalty kicks, had an extra day to rest, and will be gunning to exploit the United States’ fatigue. With the trap-game moniker floating around as well, the United States needs to enter the match re-focused and re-energized

Sauerbrunn... already called on by Sundhage

Sundhage announced that Becky Sauerbrunn will start in place of the red-carded Rachel Buehler. No one expected Sauerbrunn to see any minutes this tournament, but Sundhage is again sticking to her “21-player deep” mantra. She does have an escape valve if Sauerbrunn struggles though. Amy LePeilbet, whose natural position is central defender, could slide into the middle, making room for Stephanie Cox on the left.

Megan Rapinoe’s recent play merits her re-insertion back into the starting lineup, but that doesn’t mean that she’ll get the start. A logical move would be to start Rapinoe at left wing, bump Lauren Cheney up to her natural position of forward and sit Amy Rodriguez. But Sundhage has been reluctant to sit A-Rod all tournament despite her poor finishing and blown chances.

Bini is sharp and knows how to key on his opponents weaknesses. Against England, France attacked primarily through the right side, in order to exploit the lack of pace of England’s left winger and fullback. Expect France to similarly target Sauerbrunn, by attempting to lure her out of an organized defense and play through that space.

But as we’ve learned, no amount of tactics or maneuvering can keep down a passionate, inspired American team.

Editorial: The Women Could Teach The Men A Thing Or Two

In this author's humble opinion, the last truly great Brazil team. The flair and sexiness of their play was orgasmic. Their haircuts and facial hair, not so much.

I’ve watched football (soccer) for almost 30 years. My first real exposure to world football was the 1982 World Cup, the one everyone thought Brazil would win, and I watched with the eyes of an awestruck 6 year old. The beauty and skill on display was magical and I was hooked.

In 86’ in Mexico, I was wowed by Maradona’s incredible and wonderous skill and mortified by his hand of god. As the World Cups came and went and leagues went through their yearly drama, I observed each match I saw with less and less wonderment and with increasing scrutiny and cynicism.

Over the years I’ve witnessed the dominance of Serie A and it’s subsequent impotence, the rise of French international football, and the impacts of Heysel and Hillsborough. I’ve seen the rise and fall of Maradona, the brilliance and madness of Zidane, Man United’s domination of the Premiership, increased theatrics, outrageous transfer fee’s and soccer in the USA… and I’ve seen 3 Women’s World Cups.

Who didn't love the USWNT from '99?

Admittedly, I was fully gripped in 99 and like a lot of people fell in love with the USWNT, but my interest (like a lot of people) waned and I was only a casual observer for the next two cups. Leading up to this cup and writing for TSG, I became more involved with the USWNT as well as the English team’s path to Germany.

The first thing that struck me is that the world has caught up in many ways to the traditional powerhouses of Women’s soccer. England beat and mostly outplayed a strong US team in a friendly. Mexico beat the US and forced the number 1 ranked team in the world to play a 2 game playoff in order to book their ticket to the land of bratwurst and beer. China, quarter-finalists in the past 2 cups and finalists in 99, didn’t even qualify, finishing behind Australian, North Korea (Dear Leader must have been proud and I do wonder how he took credit for it) and Japan.

Making babies cry and milk curdle, Franck Ribery and Carlos Tevez.

Watching most of the games (going to school and working for oneself does have it’s privileges), I’ve noticed that amazing athleticism is not just reserved for the best teams, but is prominent on every team, especially the keepers (Hope Solo is just out of this world). The supreme skill level, the deft touches, the sophisticated tactics and tip top fitness (Brazil aside) is pronounced on every team.

So this is a long winded path to get to my main point (if you know me personally this shouldn’t surprise you) – but I think that we’ve come to the point, where the women and the women’s game can teach the men how to make football beautiful again, and this goes beyond making Carlos Tevez and Franck Ribery wear bags over their heads.

Less handbags, more play.
The most noticeable difference is the general flow of the game. There is end to end action and the ref’s whistle is often silent for prolonged periods of time.

True Grit!

Why is this you ask? Well aside from the Brazil V. USA quarter final, there is no blatant bitching or disrespecting of every call or Oscar worthy theatrics to deceive the referee. Women footballers, don’t get in skirmishes or “throw handbags” like some of their male counterparts.

They respect each other, their opponents, the referee and the game. If a hard challenge is administered, the attacking player gets up, dusts herself off, “sacks up” and gets on with the game, versus squirming around in agony desperately trying to remember which body part to clutch onto, so that their injury is more believable.

The ref’s on their part let the game flow, as they aren’t concerned if every tumble is real or a dive, because no self respecting woman’s player (not named Erika) would feign injury, as they posses more pride in their skill and toughness and believe that’s “not part of the spirit of the game”.

The referee’s also let many tough tackles and fouls go, as they know that the players are not going to bitch and moan, but instead will continue to play.

There is no “me” in team

The team that dances together, wins together.

The overall team camaraderie and pride is also more prominent in the women’s game. Everyone celebrates the goals, the teams huddle and offer support during tough moments, and there is very little petulance directed at teammates and coaches. Are there instances of this? Of course – please step up Birgit Prinz and Marta, but those are rare exceptions.

Yes, men’s teams huddle and celebrate goals (and sometimes very homo-erotically), but you don’t always get the feeling that it’s genuine. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the men’s game is often less about team and more about the individual – hell, Ronaldo has more product in his hair then the entire USWNT.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
There also seems to be a greater respect for one’s opponents in the women’s game. Maybe it has to do with the fact that each player recognizes that they share a common struggle to gain respect and earn a living playing a sport they love in a male dominated game.

5 times in row women's player of the year, is only just getting the recognition she deserves in her home nation.

Brazil offers very little support to their national team and women’s soccer was still banned in Brazil in the 80’s. This from arguably the greatest footballing nation in the world, when every time their men’s team play, it’s declared a holiday.

In the States, the WSP is struggling, though they have just added two teams to the league. Hopefully, the World Cup will increase support, but don’t count on it.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are doing something they truly love, and so do their opponents and after all it’s just a game. That their opponents are people too, who deserve respect and for 90 minutes and in some cases 120, they will battle, but they will do it within the laws and spirit of the game and competition.

Whatever the reason, it’s a pleasure to see the women treat each other, their team mates, opponents and referee’s alike with dignity and respect. It makes the game better, makes it flow smoothly and offers us a chance to see some real skill and athleticism.

US soccer

Rampone - could you please teach the USMNT to defend

Specifically, I believe US soccer can learn from the women.

First, the USMNT should take some ball control lessons from their women counterparts. I’m not talking about dribbling and trying to beat 3 players on the run (but talk to Cristiane from Brazil who could show Jozy a thing or too), but more about trapping the ball (entire US womens team), precise passes (Chaney and Lloyd), smart and gutsy defending (Rampone and Krieger) and not relying on your superhuman keeper to bail you out of every situation (even though Solo could should she want).

Yes, I get there are differences between the men’s and women’s game, namely speed and power, but the gap in skill has very much narrowed, if it is still even existent. Did you seem some of those long range howitzers? Those precise delicate chips over the keepers and the penalties!

Everyone of the 9 penalties shot in the quarterfinal shootout between the US and Brazil were very well taken, accurate, and sometimes thunderous shots (Daiane’s penalty was actually quite good, but was just amazingly saved by Solo). How I would love it if the English mens team (the English women could use a tutorial as well) would sit down with Wambach and Lloyd and ask “Oy…how’d you do that love?”

Ali Krieger..."Will you marry me? No seriously!"

Also, how much would I love to just sit down with Ali Krieger…sigh!

Finally, I think US soccer commentary could learn a thing or two from Julie Foudy. She’s not perfect, but she is streets better then Harkes, Lalas and Dellacamera put together (the thought of a morphed version of those three made me shudder uncontrollably).

Time-keeping aside, she offers very astute and insightful thoughts about the match, the tactics and the overall play. She doesn’t feel the need to overwhelm the viewer with stupid facts or personal stories (though the occasional one she does tell are appropriate to what’s going on) and she’s fair and mostly unbiased. She’s enthusiastic, yet sophisticated and incredibly well spoken.

She’s developed an excellent report with Ian Darke and has clearly learned from him, something Harkes failed at.

In 6 days the women’s World Cup will be over. 6 months ago, after winning the WPS championship, the FC Gold Pride folded due to financial struggles. The Premiership and the rest of the European leagues will commence in just over a month. The Champions League, Euros and 2014 world cup qualifying, as well as the European Championships will all commence within two months to a year. The chances to see women’s soccer will be few and far between.

I hope every mens player is watching the Women’s World Cup and taking notes. I hope they are realizing that the women “have more stones”  then the majority of them, that they have more pride,  love and respect for the beautiful aspects of the game. I hope they understand that football is best played when it flows, without the constant tweeting from the referee. I hope they understand that they can learn a thing or two…

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