Category Archives: Lauren Cheney

Olympics – Gold Medal Match: U.S. Worthy Champions, But Japanese Teach Us In Defeat

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – The Olympic Creed

Growing up, I used to listen to WFAN out of New York in pretty much all my spare time. It was one of the first sports talk radio stations in an era where ESPN offered little in the way of commentary (just highlights). Looking back, I don’t know what drew me to it, or what draws so many people to it today.

What doesn’t the manager play so-and-so? That guy stinks, we should trade him. The referees are clearly against our teams.

Just soooo much negativity.

As I got older, and not so coincidentally became a reporter and coach myself, I nearly completely stopped tuning in to sports radio. I try to stay clear of commentary shows with people spouting opinion that are clearly designed more for ratings and to get a rise out of people than actual analysis.

Before I come off as Mr. High and Mighty, as hard as I tried, the negativity never really left me. It’s easy to make fun of athletes when they fail or when they make mistakes, both on and off the field. Sometimes criticism is needed to be a proper journalist and not just a fan. The proliferation of Twitter has made it even easier to do that, complete with amateur humor.

I’m not here to cry, “Oh, those poor athletes.” They are in the public eye, they should be able to handle it to some extent. Of course, there is fair criticism, and then there Is what I think is overkill.

After Carli Lloyd yanked a penalty kick high after missing the target several other times at the World Cup, the next day at my camp anytime someone shot high it became known as “pulling a Carli Lloyd”. I remarked that the fact that everyone knew who Lloyd was and was watching the World Cup final was a victory onto itself, which was true, but I’m sure it didn’t make Carli feel any better.

There’s a more important lesson about negativity here, though, and it is has to do with the team who didn’t win the gold medal. While they weren’t quite as bizarre as they were against Canada, the U.S. was the beneficiary of a couple of breaks, most notably a pretty blatant Tobin Heath first-half handball in the penalty area.

Japan can also say they probably had the better chances in the second half, they could have won with a break or two, they were that close.

You know what, though, folks, you can say that about almost every big game in almost every sport. A break here, a break there, a call here, a call there. Small margins, as I’ve said (with credit to Zonal Marking) many times are the difference.

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Olympics: Semifinal Preview – U.S.-Canada: One Small Switch, One Giant Leap for Canada

Perhaps one of my best coaching moves ever was a complete fluke, really. The summer months are technically a time for a break, but youth soccer takes few breaks these days, so of course a summer league was hastily organized. The games were glorified pickup, with a ref in the middle.

The parent organizers usually coach the teams so I went to watch one of my players to see how she was doing. Of course, parents always know what’s best in soccer coaching, so this dad thought his daughter (not the same player) was the best attacking midfielder and stuck her there accordingly, which was a little frustrating because I was hoping to see my player in her natural midfield position, the one she would play for my team.

The parent stuck my player at striker. Striker? Whatever. But then – keeping in mind my team had only managed 26 goals in 18 games the season before – a funny thing happened. She scored. Then she scored again. She finished with four goals the first game, a hat trick in another I watched.

Huh.

Six months later, she had the school single-season scoring record and the team erased just about every mark in the books on the way to its first league championship ever.

I’m sure John Herdman’s thought processes behind his tactical decisions are a little more complicated for Canada these days, but you never know. The Canadians were a team that I quite frankly thought was decent, but going to come up a little bit short at these Olympics after a somewhat disastrous 2011 World Cup. I went to Gillette Stadium to see Canada take on Brazil in March, and although Canada got a 2-1 win on two Christine Sinclair goals, my assessment on the Canadians was the same as I had since the World Cup (the Brazil stuff is a little telling, too), and probably all the way back to the 2007 World Cup, to be honest (although you may remember that the Canadians took the U.S. to extra time in the 2008 Olympics):

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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 – Matchday 3: What We Learned – United States 1:0 North Korea

For those that don’t know – and I suspect most of you here may not – I spend most of the winter with my alter-ego writing about men’s college basketball for the Mid-majority. When creator and all-around fantastic writer Kyle Whelliston had two “mid majors” reach the Final Four (Butler and VCU) in 2011, he had to deal with all the hype surrounding the Final Four: stories about stories, angles upon angles upon subangles, and just minutia that has nothing to do with basketball, “sportz” as he would call it.

Finally, when semifinal Saturday was actually upon us, Kyle wrote his preview headline as follows: “There’s a Basketball Game Today at 6:09 PM ET”.

Well, with Hope Solo wittingly or unwittingly (or a little of both) dominating the headlines once again in the Olympic soccer world, there really was a soccer game today at 12:15 PM ET.

Alas, it wasn’t much of a soccer game. As expected, the United States dominated  from start to finish against outclassed North Korea. It may have been somewhat surprising that the U.S. didn’t put up a bigger total than 1-0, but they missed some good chances and didn’t quite have the intensity they did against France. Why would they, really? They did the job they had to do, no one got hurt, got the full nine points, and have a fantastic draw all the way to the finals.

Solo barely had to do anything, therefore Brandi Chastain didn’t have to talk about her (although it seemed as though Arlo White was trying a bit too hard to be complimentary of Hope). There were no punches, no hideous refereeing calls, really a yawnfest, to be honest.

But if there was ever a good time for a snoozer, the last group game of a tournament in which you’ve already progressed is certainly it.

And it doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things. Like these:

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The USWNT & CanWNT Battled in a Scrappy 1-1 Draw

The first of the two-game friendly series between the United States and Canada resulted in a 1-1 draw in front of a near capacity crowd of 16,191 packed into Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Boisterous fans created a lively atmosphere to welcome home their Women’s World Cup heroes, whose performance in this summer’s tournament ignited interest all over the US. Of the three friendlies played at home in 2011 prior to the WWC, two took place in comparatively large stadiums, like Red Bull Arena (25,000 capacity) and Columbus Crew Stadium (20,000 capacity), but had only managed to draw attendance merely in the 5,000s.

The situation for both teams couldn’t be more different: the USWNT was playing with the exact same group who recently propelled themselves to newfound celebrity status, and a coach whose unwavering loyalty to a particular formation and players have drawn cries for change and ingenuity from fans and commentators alike; in contrast, the CanWNT was playing under a new coaching staff following a sorrowful WWC with new players and new tactics.

September 17 was to be a battle of old and new. Yet, surprisingly, both teams stepped onto the pitch to test new strategies.

Pia Sundhage implemented a 4-2-3-1 for the match, a departure from her favoured 4-4-2.  The USWNT coach expressed her hopes of adding another dimension of unpredictability to the attack. Sundhage experimented by moving Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd, both of whom normally occupy more offensive roles, back to act as deep-lying midfielders. She was quick to point out that the pair would be “possession midfielders” as opposed to holding midfielders. Still in search for the team’s true No. 10, the Swede had Megan Rapinoe assume that role in the starting XI. The new formation was to emphasize play in the centre of midfield, but the US still found the most success attacking from the wings, especially in the first half.

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Breakers-Sky Blue postgame sound-notes

Some postgame quotes after Sunday’s 2-0 victory for Boston over Sky Blue FC, that sees the Breakers, despite a 5-9-4 regular season record, qualify for the postseason.

Boston will travel to Boca Raton, Fla. for the game against magicJack Wednesday night.

It was confirmed after the game that Lauren Cheney’s goal 14 seconds into the game was the fastest in WPS history, breaking Christine Sinclair’s record that stood for a year.

And as you’ll hear, it wasn’t a complete accident.

Cheney’s goals were her second and third of the season, but she had only played in eight matches before Sunday’s game.

Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra was pretty honest and direct about his team’s performance and the decision not to start Casey Nogueira and put Petra Hogewoning in her place. Obviously, it didn’t work, but hindsight can be 20-20.

Jim Gabarra

Tony DiCicco was finally happy to have a (almost, still no Kelly Smith) full team to put on the field and explained Lauren Cheney’s opening goal.

Tony DiCicco

Lauren Cheney says her ankle is now fine and it was an inspired performance by someone who probably could have taken the rest of the season off after the World Cup injury and no one could have complained.

Lauren Cheney

Meghan Klingenberg, who waited patiently for the media a month ago when I was here, only to get pre-empted by Alex Morgan and others, is just happy to be playing somewhere. I also teased “Kling” (that’s what Cheney calls her, so good enough) about “Winning Isn’t Everything”, a documentary on North Carolina women’s soccer that I show to my high school team every year that prominently features Klingenberg, then a freshman. She had a great match tonight.

Meghan Klingenberg

Finally, Leslie Osborne, who played her holding midfield spot as well as anyone can today, at least in the first half. Strange that she slipped in something about this being possibly “the end”. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean the league is in more trouble than we think (and most of us think it’s in some degree of trouble, obviously).

Leslie Osborne

Thanks for joining us. And we might see you in Philadelphia at some point.

 

 

Thoughts on the United States' 2-1 Victory Over China

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe Was Sensational for the U.S. in Saturday's Win

The Good

-The Real Megan Rapinoe was on the pitch in Atlanta on Saturday night. Chicago Red Stars fans are probably cursing their fate as the jaded and inconsistent player of WPS form was nowhere in sight on Saturday. This Rapinoe was a constant terror down the left (or right when she switched flanks with HAO), making surging runs down the flank or cutting inside while also defending well from the front, forcing some of the Chinese defenders into mistakes. Rapinoe took her goal well to give the U.S the early lead and had an opportunity to add a second in the second half that was kicked away by Chinese keeper Huang Luna.
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An Interview With Lauren Cheney

The rookie striker scored a powerful header for Abby’s XI on Wednesday night. Here she talks about what the goal meant and why the All-Star game was so special. She also touches on the Boston Breakers’ recent struggles and what it will take to turn it around.

 

AWK: That was the first goal you scored in a little while. Can you walk us through the goal?

LC: HAO got the ball out wide, took a good touch inside and I made a diagonal run across my defender because I knew she was going to get a good cross in and I got a head on it. It always feel good to score, especially in this environment. We’re all having so much fun.

 

AWK: What have your impressions been of the [Atlanta Beat] facilities and the fans?

LC: The facilities are unreal. This is an awesome stadium and we’re all in awe of even the locker rooms. The fans were awesome. To have this many people come out and support us is just a great experience.

 

AWK: What will you most remember from this event?

LC: It’s just fun playing with players that you never play with. We wish we could play with each other all the time. It was really fun to have all the best players on the same team.

 

AWK: You played in central midfield tonight. What was like that and have you played there before?

LC: I played there quite a bit in college, particularly in my senior year. I just like to face the game and I like to get the ball at my feet and turn. So I love that. We had Abby and Eni up top and both of them are world class forwards so if we all had all three of us as forwards then we may not have been a good combination. So I was able to find Eni a couple times.

 

AWK: What’s the spirit like in Boston right now?

LC: I think right now it’s a grind. Every team goes through it. If you ask a Chicago last year, if you ask a FC Gold Pride last year. We just have to come together right now and that’s what we have to do. This little break for Kelly, Lil, Alex and I just to come fun and have fun today. Any now maybe we can bring that energy back. I think now it’s just a grind and we have to stay as a team.

I think we’re emotionally drained but we’re ok mentally. It takes one game to turn it around and I also think we also have that belief.

 

AWK: What do you think it’s going to take to turn it around?

LC: I think we’re playing well. That’s the first goal I’ve scored since the first game of the season. Kelly hasn’t scored in awhile and Lil hasn’t scored. For big players we haven’t scored goals. I think if we score one goal then the flood gates open.

 

AWK: What is it that’s preventing Boston from performing well?

LC: I think that it’s part of soccer but I also think that we need to get some more numbers in the attack. The more we do that then the more we can keep coming together as a team and keep reading each other then we’re gonna do well. We get chances but we just need to finish them.

2010 Boston Breakers Season Preview

(Breakers fans, you’re obliged to skip these first few paragraphs).

             Let’s take it back to August 9, 2009. The location: Harvard Stadium. The scenario: the Breakers are coming off a three-match streak during which they earned just one point and scored zero goals. This is the final match of the season and it’s against the Los Angeles Sol, who have already booked their place in the Final by dint of finishing top of the table. But due to some mathematic possibility that surely only a person holding a Masters in Trigonometry can fully understand, the Breakers can still qualify for the playoffs. Their destiny is not in their hands (they qualify if the Freedom loses or Sky Blue wins or if the Freedom wins and the Breakers tie and if 13 other things go right) but their fate is simple: lose and it’s over.

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