Category Archives: Kelley O'Hara

Olympics – What We Learned: Quarterfinals – United States 2:0 New Zealand

“In one physical model of the universe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line in the opposite direction.” – Ty Webb

The United States Soccer Federation has recently advised all of its men’s Academy teams to try to switch to some variation of a 4-3-3 recently (actually, much stronger than advised in many cases) in an attempt to get more possession-oriented soccer at youth levels, and presumably to try to take that to the national team level at some point in the future.

In theory, I’m all for it: most of my young teams play in a 4-3-3 to try to teach them positioning and to create more possession and movement by giving another option out of the midfield and encouring the wingers to pinch in and allow the outside backs to overlap and get forward. Of course, despite what we may hear from some parents and others, winning isn’t our top priority.

Pia Sundhage, probably taking some advice from somewhere because Scandinavians play it about as often as a winter heat wave takes over Stockholm, experimented with a 4-3-3 after the World Cup, to mixed reviews and results. It was pretty obvious by then that the best lineup for the U.S. women’s national team was something that put Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan together, and quite simply that was a 4-4-2.

As the play of the United States has gotten more and more direct over the last few months, its status has been climbing. Do you remember before the World Cup last year? Germany was heavy favorites, the United States? Not so much. Obviously some personnel changes and more experience help the cause, but the U.S. has reclaimed its spot as the favorite to win a major tournament – in this case the Olympics – by doing what works best for them, playing it as quickly as possible at two of the best strikers in the world.

While against France and Japan (and maybe even Canada), things won’t be as easy, against New Zealand, all it took was one look at the terrified look on poor central defender Abby Erceg’s face every time the ball was played long and Morgan was on her outside shoulder, inside shoulder, or seemingly both at once. If Erceg did get there, she probably wasn’t going to be able to do what she wanted with it, and that kind of pressure just builds up over 90 minutes. New Zealand makes more mistakes, the U.S. gets more of the ball in their end, and gets more chances.

New Zealand – to their credit and as we expected – battled until the end. But the result and the number of scoring chances was inevitable. It won’t be as easy in the final two rounds, but I don’t see any reason why it won’t work.

Here’s what else we learned in the United States’ 2-0 win over New Zealand:

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Olympics – Quarterfinals Preview: Six Degrees Of Ali Riley

“Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.”  – Grateful Dead

There might be someone on this planet that doesn’t like Ali Riley. Maybe she cut someone off in traffic somewhere once, and that person swears revenge. Maybe when she was playing at Stanford, she smiled a little too much and it rubbed someone the wrong way. But I’ve never talked to anyone who has a bad thing to say about Ali Riley. In fact, I’ve never talked with anyone who’s talked with anyone who’s been negative toward her.

Call it Six Degrees of lack of Ali Riley Negativity, I guess.

Riley grew up like any talented young soccer player in southern California, dreaming of playing on the biggest stage, which was within a stone’s throw of Riley’s home when Ali was just 11 and the United States beat China to win the World Cup in front of 90,000 people at the Rose Bowl in 1999. She continued up the youth ranks, good enough to get her a scholarship to Stanford, where she would eventually lead them to the national championship game in 2009.

Along the way, she got the attention of the national team, playing in the 2006 U-20 World Cup, and making her full international debut at a major tournament in Beijing two years later. Now a fixture with the national team, she might be its biggest star and with that comes all the publicity.

Of course, I’m not really fooling anyone reading this, am I? I mean, she has 60 caps for New Zealand by now, right?

Funny how life works.

When she was about to enter college, Ali’s dad John, a UCLA economics professor who grew up in New Zealand, decided to make a speculative phone call to people he knew in New Zealand to say his daughter might be able to help them if they wished. Riley had never been called into a youth national team here in the States, and by most accounts, had never really expected to. Making the U.S. national team is not as easy as it looks. Do the math of Division I college programs and quality clubs in the country and narrow it down to even a pool of a few dozen. Good luck.

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Olympic Preview And Predictions: Has It Been That Long Since Japan’s Win Already?

Was it already more than a year ago that we watched in delight as the United States women’s soccer team pulled off a comeback for the ages against Brazil, and then in horror as Japan did the same just a week later to capture an unexpected (and its first) World Cup.

Of course, it’s a little hard to be horrified when speaking of Japan, what a great story and a class act in a country that was not far removed from a devastating tsunami.

For whatever reason, the United States has continued to just about own the Olympic tournament, even if they haven’t won a World Cup since 1999, the U.S. has won every gold medal but one (2000) the Olympics have had to offer, posting a dominant 18-2-3 all-time mark.

Both losses at the Olympics came to Norway, including the opener of the 2008 Games in Beijing, but the Norwegians are nowhere to be found in Britain, and they’re not alone. The entertaining cast of 16 characters we had last summer in Germany has been cut to 12 for London (of course, most soccer matches won’t be in London, but I digress), and sadly we’ll be missing the Germans themselves, the aforementioned Norwegians, up-and-coming Australia, and African sides Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, neither of whom embarrassed themselves in Germany (Nigeria, especially, they beat Canada, and gave France fits).

But even without those teams, when it comes to the medal rounds, there are plenty of nominees to dethrone the Americans, starting with World Champion Japan. If you’re like me, you forgot (at least a little), but the Japanese were beginning to knock on the door way back in China four years ago. A new coach named Norio Sasaki had them playing decent soccer, but they were derailed twice by those darn Americans, 1-0 in the group stage and 4-2 in the semifinals after grabbing an early lead (Japan also played the U.S. tough in the 2004 quarterfinals, losing 2-1 on an Abby Wambach goal).

Then, of course, there are the French, who on paper, might be the favorites, running roughshod over just about everyone (including Japan) in friendlies, and seemingly just getting better since last summer, where they were pretty darn good. They haven’t knocked off the United States yet, but that didn’t stop Japan last year, did it?

Those seem to be the three heavy favorites. Great Britain, as the hosts, could be a factor, but I find it somewhat amazing that countries scour the world for players that will be eligible to play for them, and then Scotland and England can barely get along to combine to make a team for the Olympics, for crying out loud. But I don’t live there, so who am I to talk?

Sweden can’t be counted out, Brazil has Marta, and Canada has Christine Sinclair. So, really, if all goes according to plan, the entire knockout stage will be to eliminate one of: New Zealand, Cameroon, Colombia, South Africa, or North Korea.

So much for drama there, huh?

But I’ve been invited (as far as you know) back to the AWK Summer Timeshare, so here I am. The place looks a little different, but I’m happy to be here. Coverage will be a little tougher at the Olympics than it was at the World Cup. As Hope Solo has told us (and some others), there is plenty of other action going on around England, which means that all 12 teams will play on the same day in all three group match days. But we’ll do our best.

And have fun doing it.

A few times after the completion of games of the recent men’s Euros, Michael Cox of the fantastic Zonal Marking website simply said, “Small margins.” Like Spain beating Portugal in penalty kicks, for instance. With the real start of the tournament not until the quarterfinals, a team getting some breaks for three straight games may be able to beat the odds and take home an unlikely gold medal. But, as the Spain men have proven repeatedly, maybe not.

Here are my quick predictions:

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USWNT vs. CanWNT: Wambach & Morgan were Left Unmarked and Made Canada Pay

The United States concluded their post-2011 Women’s World Cup Celebration Series tour against Canada with a 3-0 victory. Both friendlies were played in front of incredible crowds; Megan Rapinoe joked earlier in the week that the fanfare has been like if the WWC runner-ups had actually won the title.  18,570 strong serenaded the team with chants of “U-S-A” at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon, as did 16,191 at the first friendly in Kansas City, Kansas last Saturday (1-1 draw).

Similar to the previous game, the USWNT lined up in a new 4-2-3-1. As promised, Pia Sundhage featured all 21 players over the two friendlies, a full strength roster from the WWC. Notably in the starting XI, the experiment with Amy Rodriguez as a left winger continued, while Shannon Boxx and Lori Lindsey replaced Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney as holding midfielders. Stephanie Cox stepped in for Amy LePeilbet and Becky Sauerbrunn slide over from her usual role in central defence to the outside right.

John Herdman, who is playing without two of Canada’s regular starters Christine Sinclair and Candace Chapman, switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 and made two changes to his starting lineup from the first friendly, with Lexi Marton in place of Emily Zurrer and Karina LeBlanc in goal for Erin McLeod. Herdman’s fourth ‘keeper, 22 year-old Justine Bernier, was the only one of the 22 player roster not to see playing time. New talent was introduced as three players received their first senior caps during the two friendlies.

The US peppered the Canadian 18-yard box with dangerous crosses and well paced shots throughout the match, but were upstaged by great Canadian goalkeeping from Karina LeBlanc in the first half and Stephanie Labbé in the second.

Canada was kept deep on defensive duties for much of the game, but Melissa Tancredi got an early opportunity when she fended off a couple defenders before sending the ball over the net.

LeBlanc made her first of several great saves in the 17th minute. Abby Wambach started the play when she blocked Sophie Schmidt’s cross, which fell to Rapinoe. She was able to advance the ball up field before laying it off to Wambach, whose ensuing cross was met by an unmarked Rodriguez.  Her side-footed shot from point blank range was denied by a one-handed save.

About 10 minutes later, Heather O’Reilly led the charge forward when she beat Diana Matheson to send in a cross. Lauren Sesselmann was in a great position to block Christie Rampone’s initial shot. Her far post rebound was grabbed in the air by LeBlanc, who then sparked the Canadian attack with her goal kick. The bouncing ball eluded Rachel Buehler and fell favourably for Tancredi. Her header into space allowed her to turn and shoot, but the low bouncing ball went just wide to the right of Hope Solo.

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Kelley O'Hara & Rachel Buehler, How Well Do They Know Each Other?

They have a lot in common. They both get a regular call from Pia, asking them to step up and represent their country on the USWNT. They are trophy-toting 2010 Champions with their WPS team, FC Gold Pride. And they both graced the Palo Alto area with their freckles and feet for four years at Stanford.

But how well do they REALLY know each other?

Previewing the 2010 FC Gold Pride

FC Gold Pride (Bay Area) has undoubtedly experienced the biggest transformation of the returning WPS clubs. The club is looking to move on from their last-place finish and in doing so, have cut under-achievers (Eriko Arakawa, Erika and Formiga) and parted way with other big names (Leslie Osborne, Leigh Ann Robinson and Tiffany Weimer). With only 8 players returning this may as well be an expansion team. Coach Albertin Montoya has struck gold in acquiring last year’s surprise package Camille Abily, drafting blue-chip prospect Kelley O’Hara , and signing internationals with needed experience. Right, and then there’s Marta.

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Well, that wasn't so bad

Perhaps the biggest blunder of the match didn’t even occur on the pitch at all. Sidestepping FSC’s blunder at the beginning (presumably it was technical) where in which the starting line-ups and first four and half minutes of the game were lost, Coach Sundhage has reason to be pleased with her team’s performance.

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