With all of the talk about the United States and Canada – for good reason, obviously – the Japan-France semifinal, a pretty darn good game of its own, got a little lost in these parts. But from the better late than never department, for consistency and posterity, and in leading into both the gold and bronze medal games on Thursday, I figured I’d give you a quick recap. It was honestly a fairly dreadful first half, but it certainly sprung to life in the second. In the end, Japan – as it seems like they’ve done 421 times in the last year or so, did just enough, which they’ll hope to do one more time Thursday:
If you truly believe in France, your glass is half full heading into the quarterfinals. Sure, they had a meltdown against the United States, but they hadn’t faced an attack like that in forever and it was the first game of the tournament. They struggled against North Korea, but eventually buried them and would have done the same against Colombia if they could have finished one of their 612 (estimated) chances in the game.
However, if your glass is half empty, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and crew exposed a relatively slow and quite average international defense. Their inability to really put away North Korea and Colombia also shows that while they’re obviously one of the most improved teams in the world in the last few years, they’re not ready to win a gold medal here at the Olympics, especially with a bracket that includes Sweden, Brazil, and Japan. Maybe in three years.
Where do I stand? Safe to say somewhere in the middle. How’s that for a cop-out?
Just as I talked about the “small margins” being the difference between winning and losing at a tournament like this, there are also “small moments” that decide games and allow teams to gain momentum. France looked slow, lethargic, plodding, just about any other synonym you could use in the first half, but just before they were about to go to the locker room to try to figure out what the hell was wrong, they get a corner kick, Laura Georges finds herself unmarked two yards from goal, France is relieved, and go on to destroy North Korea. But even with a big scoreline, I still have some questions.
(For those that were here during last year’s World Cup, first of all, thank you. Second, we’re going to tweak the format slightly because there were so many games in just one day. So instead of one post, you’ll get six. The longest will be the United States games, we’re going to assume you watched that one, so it won’t have a recap, just Things We Learned. The other games will give a quick recap and just a couple of Things We Learned. As with the World Cup, hopefully this will be a little bit of an interactive discussion. Within reason, of course. So without further ado:)
After the United States got all the momentum against France today, Brandi Chastain talked for a good minute about the mental side of the game and how the Americans had such an edge because they had been there before and that’s the way they played. To be honest, it was more than a little pretentious, especially if you weren’t American (alas, I’m sure most of her audience was). After all, the Japanese had made the U.S. look pretty ordinary at times in the World Cup final, and the French had plenty of the play in their Cup semifinal defeat.
But when you looked at the body language of the two teams today in the second half, it was really hard to argue with her. France – winners of 17 straight games and apparently ready to take over the women’s soccer world – looked physically and mentally spent. The U.S. looked neither. And when the States finally went ahead, there didn’t seem to be any way the French were coming back.
It’s always hard to pinpoint how much the “mental game” means. Obviously, if I show up with a team like Colombia and my mental game is perfect, I’m still going to need a lot of luck to even stay in the game, let alone get a result. But when a team like the U.S., which has won all but one gold medal that’s been offered at the Olympics in women’s soccer, dispatches of what still might be the best team technically in the world with relative ease after going down two goals in the first 20 minutes, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and France in Day 1:
1) Alex Morgan is legit
I mean we knew that already, but with all the talk of how she looks and what kind of bikinis she wears in photoshoots, she’s at least one of the best strikers in the world right now. The way she times her runs, her speed, and her ability to finish give the U.S. somewhat of an added dimension they didn’t have last year (when Morgan was mostly a super sub). Combined with Abby Wambach, it’s hard to argue Pia Sundhage’s move back to a 4-4-2.
2) It’s hard to see the U.S. not scoring goals
Lauren Cheney didn’t do a heck of a lot today, but you saw glimpses, and then you throw in Megan Rapinoe, Wambach, and Morgan, is anyone really going to be able to keep them quiet for 90 minutes? Even if you sit back, it seems like it’s only going to be a matter of time before a Rapinoe cross finds Wambach’s head (and what a header today for the first goal). If you try to press, Morgan will get behind you at some point. The only thing that may slow them down is the lack of outside backs getting forward (especially Amy LePeilbet), but they may not need it.
FC Gold Pride midfielder Camille Abily has confirmed her move back to Olympique Lyonnais in an interview on the team’s website. The 24 year-old cites that “things have changed since [OL President Jean-Michel Aulas] called me personally to tell me he wanted me back”. Abily has had one of the most successful stints in WPS of any international player in the mix.
Her eight goals helped propel the Los Angeles Sol to the 2009 regular season title. The team was eventually vanquished by Sky Blue FC in the WPS Championship game but Abily could avoid the same fate this year. She has the opportunity to depart from WPS as a champion as FC Gold Pride clinched the 2010 regular season title with considerable panache and potency.
To be fair, Abily has only recently hit her stride this season. She was traded to FC Gold Pride from the ill-fated Sol on January 7 of this year. But an ankle injury early in the regular season campaign hampered her effectiveness early on. She then struggled to cement her place in FC Gold Pride’s stacked midfield, particularly after former teammate Shannon Boxx was acquired from the Saint Louis Athletica fire sale. But Abily’s newly-discovered form has helped FC Gold Pride overcome an insipid slump that saw three goalless draws. She’s tallied three assists in the past three matches which puts her second in the team with most assists behind Christine Sinclair’s nine. WPS has benefitted immensely from Abily’s talents. Her presence bolsters the league’s case for being the best women’s soccer league in the world. Her loss should be lamented but one cannot begrudge her decision.
Olympique Lyonnais might just be the best women’s club team not located in either the Bay Area or in Germany. Forget Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, or Bayern Munich – Olympique Lyon is the most successful men’s club team in the world that has pledged the most amount of support towards its equally-successful women’s team. That should be applauded. (Sorry Gooners, Arsenal’s lack of trophies in the past five years leaves Arsene Wenger’s team out of the conversation).
The women’s team has won four straight Division 1 Feminine titles and was finalists in last season’s premier UEFA Women’s Champions League, losing 6-7 in penalties to Germany’s Turbine Potsdam. The club also reached the semi-finals of the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 UEFA Women’s Cup (the erstwhile edition of the UEFA Women’s Champions League). And the team did it with a much more limited squad.
The French midfielder discusses why she loves playing with FC Gold Pride, the difference between living in the Bay Area to Los Angeles and why France’s WNT’s World Cup will be different from the men’s.
AWK: You sustained an ankle injury during the season. How’s it come along and are you match fit now?
CA: Now I feel good. I don’t feel my ankle at all so this is very good. I’ve played some games with Gold Pride but need to play more to feel even better.
AWK: FC Gold Pride has the most attacking, most fluid formation in WPS. How do you fit into that formation?
CA: I’m used to playing in center midfield and it’s so nice playing at Gold Pride because we are very good going forward and every time we have the ball it’s so easy to find a person. I’m so excited to play here.
AWK: How does Shannon Boxx fit in as well? Does she play more defensively?
CA: It depends. Sometimes we play with just one holding midfielder and other times we play with two attacking midfielders. But she can play at either place. She’s so good so she can play anywhere.
AWK: How do your styles compare?
CA: We are a different style of player because I’m from Europe. She’s so much more physical than me. She runs more than me. But technically we are the same.
AWK: What’s it like to playing with Marta?
CA: We know we just have to give her a little support and she can score goals anytime, at any moment. She’s just amazing.
AWK: How have you adjusted to the Bay Area from Los Angeles? Is it home now to you?
CA: It’s a little different. Los Angeles is a little bigger but it’s very nice. It’s very quiet and very natural. And we are very close to San Francisco and that’s a beautiful city that I love to go to. So I love to live there, it’s very nice.
AWK: For someone who’s never seen you play before how would you explain your style?
CA: I’m more of a playmaker. I try to give a great ball to my teammates so that they can score.
AWK: What have your impressions been of the French National Team in the World Cup?
CA: I’m very sad and a little disappointed. I don’t know what happened exactly but it’s very sad because the World Cup only happens every four years so it’s a very important moment. Every player wants to play and I don’t think they played well. But I hope with a new coach there will be a new team with a new challenge and new goals.
AWK: And how’s your [the French Women’s National Team] World Cup campaign going?
CA: We have two more games in our group. We’re still first so I hope we can finish there. If we do we go to a UEFA play-off and I hope we do because it will be important for women’s soccer in France.