Monthly Archives: November 2010

Western New York Unveiled as True Contenders Already

The Western New York Flash was formally unveiled today at Sahlen Sports Park in Elma, New York. It may have taken the expansion franchise more than two months to officially reveal its identity, but the team has clearly been hard at work assembling a quality squad, one that could possibly rival more established WPS teams.

The Flash has made four player signings thus far (that we know of at least) and the team’s ambitions are plain to see. Beverly Goebel and Kaley Fountain were acquired from the Expansion Draft two weeks ago. Perhaps the 22 year-olds can offer as much value to the expansion team as Lori Lindsey and Joanna Lohman provided to the Philadelphia Independence in 2010. Both Lindsey and Lohman were acquired from the Expansion Draft and played sizeable parts in Philadelphia’s run to the 2010 WPS Championship game.

 The Flash also announced the signing of former Washington Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Harris proved to be a #1-in-waiting last season as assumed the position of starting goalkeeper after Erin McLeod tore her ACL on July 24th. Harris went on to concede just four goals over the Freedom’s final seven games. The sterling defensive record helped the Freedom make a return trip to the playoffs, a feat that had seemed impossible just three weeks prior. The ex-Tar Heel really made her mark in the WPS First Round match against the Philadelphia Independence. Her extraordinary performance in goal was blighted slightly by Amy Rodriguez’s 120th minute goal but it clearly caught the attention of the right folks, including USWNT coach Pia Sundhage. Harris was invited as an additional player to the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament. She figures to be a key player in the USWNT goalkeeping set-up going forward. With the starting position in Western New York, she’ll now have the chance to impress every week.  

Harris won’t be the only person with Washington Freedom connections headed up to Rochester (or Buffalo). Former Freedom Technical Director Emma Hayes was quietly revealed to be assuming the same role with the Flash. The ex-Chicago Red Stars coach was appointed to the position with the Freedom on August 10th. Thereafter, the team finished the 2010 season with three wins, one loss and two draws. Hayes’ experience and knowledge of the league could pay dividends for the expansion club.

The Flash’s most recent move is not very expansion club-like at all. The inspired ambition behind possibly attaining former FC Gold Pride star striker Christine Sinclair should be noted. Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle Jeff Di Veronica tonight broke the news that the team had come to terms with the Canadian international. (This is also notable because in Di Veronica, Western New York could have something else WPS clubs have lacked thus far: a faithful beat reporter with columns to fill or blogs to post for a local newspaper). The 27 year-old had an absolutely banner 2010, leading the league in assists with 9 while en route to a WPS Championship. If that isn’t enough to seal her status as one of the world’s best female players, her FIFA World Player of the Year nomination and 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament winner’s medal should. Signing Sinclair signals two things: the team wants on-the-field success now and it may want to capitalize on its close proximity to Canada, both in terms of luring in Canadian fans and perhaps players.

In addition to Sinclair, the Flash also has the #1 overall pick in the 2011 WPS Draft. Cal Bear Alex Morgan is expected to go first, what with her goal-every-other-USWNT-game ratio and all. A front line composed of Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan? That’s promising.

Team owner Joe Sahlen, team President Alex Sahlen and head coach Aaran Lines are clearly trying to repeat the instant success they experienced in the W-League. After just two seasons of being in existence, the only professional club in the league went on to lift the 2010 W-League Championship trophy. As the Bleacher Report suggests, the team is expected to fill out its roster with a handful of players from that Championship winning side as well as with blue chip free agents who are still on the market, including the lion’s share of players who were involved with a team some dubbed The Best Women’s Club Team Ever.  

While the team’s locale is still being situated (the club might play the bulk of its home games in Rochester), its identity is less mysterious. Suddenly the Western New York Flash is the real deal.

Frauenbundesliga Game Day 15

While everyone was excited about today’s World Cup Draw and predictions and questions about the seedings were talking points, as well Germany’s impressive 8-0 “demolition” of Nigeria, another Game Day came at the Frauenbundesliga and brough the next post-pooned match. Due to bad weather conditions and unplayable field conditions the Game between Saarbrücken and Essen-Schönbeck had to be cancelled. The new schedule is not yet available.

All eyes are now focussed on the new league leaders FFC Frankfurt and after the impressive win over Potsdam last week and a tremendous appearance from the FFC Players at the National team friendly, everyone was quite curious to see if the game against SC Bad Neuenahr would be a challenge for Frankfurt. Well… at a very early game minute it was clear that Frankfurt has found back its dominance. The story of the game is a short one… after about half an hour of slow playing from both sides Frankfurt opened the goal fest with a Smisek Goal at 25 Min. Two more goals for Kerstin Garefrekes at the 29 and 35min made the HT result of 3-0 for Frankfurt. Second half was the half of Birgit Prinz with a hat trick. She raised the result already to 6-0 and two more goals from Behringer and Thunebro made it final 8-0 for Frankfurt.
Next weekend Frankfurt has to face FCR Duisburg what actually should be a real challenge ( or not?).

FCR Duisburg is still chasing the top two. The team had to face Bayern München. Unfortunately Duisburg had to add another person on the injury list and this time a leading personality. Inka Grings, who scored 2 goals on Tuesday against Nigeria in the first 20 min and was subbed out because of a collision with a Nigeria player had to miss the game. On a positive note Linda Bresonik, who had her comeback at the National Team this Tuesday, did play again for Duisburg.
The game started well-balanced with chances on both side and the bad luck for Duisburg continued when Luisa Wensing had a collision with the Bayern keeper Kathrin Längert at the 26min and had to be subbed out injured. Popp scored the leading goal at 39 minute and Laudehr already made it clear just seconds before the Halftime whistle. Duisburg were leading 2-0 had HT. Although Duisburg was the dominating team at Halftime, Japan International Ando missed the chance to a 3-0 lead, München fought back and after an error of the Duisburg defence suddenly München got the 1-2 . The last 15 Minutes were exciting and München tried to get the equalizer but Duisburg saved the lead for a 2-1 victory to remain in 3th place. See the Highlights here

Turbine Potsdam had to face the League’s biggest losers Herforder SV. Anything than an easy win for Potsdam would have been a big upset, but it was like a deja-vu from the this season’s first game against the bottom team Herford. Turbine started well and Lira Bajramaj scored the game opener at the 11th minute already. That was also the for Potsdam disappointing final result, because Herford was once more the nearly nemesis. Neither team got another goal and Herford missed the chance for a big upset and much needed points in the league. Potsdam stays at second place after the 1-0 win.

USV Jena were hosting the “northern lights” from Hamburger SV, who had secured a place in the upper midtable. The game was very important for Jena to avoid the relegation places and until the extra time it seems as if it would be a goalless draw. But in the 92min young Swiss International Ana-Maria Crnorgorcevic scored the very lucky winning goal. Hamburg got a 1-0 win and Jena missed important points for the league standings.

The loss was even more disappointing for Jena because Bayer 04 Leverkusen was once more the not-to-beat team for the struggling Wolves from VFL Wolfburg. Just as in the first Game this season, Wolfsburg were leading at Halftime with  2-0 and Leverkusen managed to change the game in second half.  Henseler, Kasperczyk and former WPS Player Shelley Thompson got a 3-2 Lead for Leverkusen. Wolfsburgs player and Norwegian International Melissa Wiik, just subbed in at 74 min., scored the 3-3 equalizer and secured the Wolves at least 1 point.

 

RESULTS:

FCR 2001 Duisburg – FC Bayern München    2-1
FF USV Jena – Hamburger SV      0-1
VfL Wolfsburg – Bayer 04 Leverkusen   3-3
1. FFC Turbine Potsdam – Herforder SV   1-0
SC 07 Bad Neuenahr – 1. FFC Frankfurt   0-8
1. FC Saarbrücken – Essen-Schönebeck (-) cancelled

Standings:

Place      Team                  Games  w /d /L     Goals    Points
1 1. FFC Frankfurt                  15     13 0 2   69 : 13       39
2 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam       15    12 1 2   37 : 12        37
3 FCR 2001 Duisburg              15    11 2 2    45 : 15       35
4 VfL Wolfsburg                      15     8  2 5    44 : 32       26
5 SC 07 Bad Neuenahr            15     8 0 7     39 : 31       24
6 Hamburger SV                      15    7 2 6     27 : 29       23
7 FC Bayern München              15    6 2 7     22 : 22       20
8 Bayer 04 Leverkusen            15      4 2 9    22 : 43       14
9 SG Essen-Schönebeck         14     3 4 7    18 : 33       13
10 1. FC Saarbrücken              14     4 1 9    14 : 35       13
11 FF USV Jena                      15     3 3 9    13 : 38       12
12 Herforder SV                       15     0 1 14   11 : 58        1

Top Scorer

P   Name        Team                   Goals
1  Grings  FCR 2001 Duisburg        19
2  Prinz    1. FFC Frankfurt             17
3  Garefrekes 1. FFC Frankfurt        16
3  M. Müller    VfL Wolfsburg           16
5   Pohlers     1. FFC Frankfurt        13
6  da Mbabi SC 07 Bad Neuenahr    11
7  Mittag   1. FFC Turbine Potsdam 10
8  Ni. Rolser SC 07 Bad Neuenahr    9
9  Keßler 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam    8
10 Thompson  Bayer 04 Leverkusen   7
10 Anonma     FF USV Jena              7
10 Goeßling     SC 07 Bad Neuenahr  7

NCAA Elite 8 Review – And Then There Were Four

Lindsay Taylor

Stanford's Lindsay Taylor Joined Teammates Christen Press and Teresa Noyola in Double Figures for 2010 as Stanford Romped Past FSU and Into the College Cup

(3) Ohio State 2 (Beachy PK 21′, Cameron 53′) – 0 Georgetown [Attendance: 969] – Ohio State used a strong defensive display and two timely goals to advance to their first ever College Cup with a clutch win over Georgetown on Friday evening. Some of OSU’s previous finishing woes crept up on them early when Lauren Granberg’s shot from short range impossibly sailed over the bar when it looked easier to score. Granberg would make up for her miss some ten minutes later as she won a penalty after being clipped by Michaela Buonomo in the box. Lauren Beachy would step up and score her first of the season from the spot slipping her shot past Jackie DesJardin, who guessed right, but couldn’t keep the ball out to give OSU the lead. Granberg would play a big role in the goal that all but iced the game in the second half, playing Tiffany Cameron into space down the left wing. Cameron would cut inside before flicking a beautiful chip over the head of the stranded DesJardin and into the back of the net to double the home side’s advantage. DesJardin would make a big stop ten minutes later, pushing a Cameron shot onto the woodwork to keep her side in with a ghost of a chance. But Georgetown found most of their shots slicing wide of the frame of goal, letting Katie Baumgardner make a comfortable four saves to preserve another clean sheet in the postseason for the Cary bound Buckeyes. OSU will be outsiders to bring the trophy home from the College Cup but certainly haven’t shied away from defying the odds thus far in 2010.
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Canada Gets Shafted, War Games and Other Random WWC Observations

This isn’t so much a post as it is a series of semi-formed ideas that will likely be explored over the next seven months or so.

That’s the most frustrating part about all of this: all the anxious hand-wringing and armchair scouting and group stage prognosticating will have to last for more than 210 days. That’s forever.

 

  • Lady luck is not on Canada’s side. The team was drawn into Group A with the likes of Germany, France and Nigeria. Carolina Morace’s team had seemingly finally arrived on the international stage with its surprising title run in 2010 CONCACAF WWCQ. The spine of the team (notably ace striker Christine Sinclair, dependable midfielder Diana Matheson, and rock solid central defender Candace Chapman) is in its peak years. Promising talents like Jonelle Filigno, Sophie Schmidt, Josée Bélanger, and Kara Lang (who seemingly never ages) are all on the lean side of 25. Morace employed an effective and efficient 4-3-3 in World Cup qualifying. Canada’s defense was absolutely watertight in Cancun and went without conceding a single goal in four games. The back four will need to be just as tidy in the World Cup’s most dangerous group. The opening match against Germany will be crucial.

 

 

  • Will Colombia’s Yoreli Rincon be the 2007 Marta of 2011? The attacking talent won’t turn 18 until two weeks after the World Cup ends so saying she’s still a raw talent is an understatement. Rincon helped lead Colombia into the semifinals of the 2010 U-20 FIFA Women’s World over the likes of France and Sweden. It was a terrific accomplishment for a team that had never previously appeared in a FIFA World Cup. Prior to that, she played a part in Colombia’s Final finish in the 2010 U-20 Sudamericano Femenino. The team were ultimately undone 2-0 by Brazil. Her transition to the senior level has not been any less fruitful. Rincon scored in  four of Colombia’s seven games in the 2010 Sudamericano Femenino, including the only goal in the critical 1-1 draw with Chile that essentially put Colombia in the World Cup. And now word is that the talented teen will be joining U-20 teammate Orianica Velasquez at Indiana University next season. She’ll be the state of Indiana’s best sporting entity since Larry Bird.

 

  • Why can’t three teams advance out of the group stage? As was expected, the configuration of each group means that a couple former quarterfinalists (or perhaps semifinalists) will be sent home early. Group B is the only group that is not composed of three teams that have previously made it to the quarterfinals or beyond. Forget the gloomy terms, every group is a group of life.

 

That’s all for now. In the meantime some Women’s World Cup history in video form.

 

 

So Now We Know

Months of suspense can be put to rest as the draw for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was conducted today. More reaction later today and tomorrow but here’s the nitty-gritty:

 

Group A:

Germany

Canada

Nigeria

France

 

Group B:

Japan

New Zealand

Mexico

England

 

Group C:

United States

North Korea

Colombia

Sweden

 

Group D:

Brazil

Australia

Norway

Equatorial Guinea

 

Quick thoughts on each group:

Group A: Toughest group. Shame, it could have been France and Canada’s year. Germany and Canada will open the tournament. At least we know there won’t be an 11-0 thrashing in the opening game like last time. Nigeria is a question mark, as always. Unlike last week’s friendly, when Nigeria meet Germany they’ll actually have to care.

Group B: If you’re a conservative gambler, this is the group to put your money on. New Zealand are perennial ’one and done-ers’ (sorry, Ali Riley). Maribel Dominguez will need to be her legendary herself or it’s Japan and England’s for the taking. However, with what we know from watching 2010 CONCACAF WWCQ,  we shan’t discount legendary performances from Marigol. The last Women’s World Cup Mexico appeared in was in 1999. Dominguez was 20. If she can inspire a gutsy young team again Mexico will make things interesting.

Group C: Not awful. North Korea and the USWNT have met in the group stage like a bajillion times in every World Cup since 1999. This is also the third consecutive World Cup the USWNT has shared a group with Sweden. Will Colombia, namely Yoreli Rincon, play spoilers?

Group D: Another “can’t really predict…this is why they play the game” groups. Who knows about Equatorial Guinea. Australia has steadily improved while Norway may be steadily regressing. Brazil looked thoroughly imperious in South American qualifying while Australia took the 2010 Asian Women’s Cup without a second thought. Something’s gotta give. 

 

Feel free to sound off with your thoughts.

2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Locations Determined for Seeded Teams

If you’re among the lucky individuals planning to take in some world-class women’s footie action next summer, here are a few notes for your itinerary. With the release of the four seeded teams today, we now know which stadia each of those teams will be situated in for the group stage.

The United States will begin its World Cup campaign in the former East German city of Dresden on June 28th. The team will travel southwest to play in Sinsheim on July 2nd before finishing off the group stage in the northern city of Wolfsburg on July 6th.

Dresden’s Rudolf-Harbig Stadium seats 32,085 people and is home to the third division side Dynamo Dresden. Sinsheim’s Rhein-Neckar Arena plays home to the Bundesliga side TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and has a capacity of 25,641. Wolfsburg’s Volkgswagen Arena seats a total of 25,361 people and belongs to Bundesliga team Wolfsburg. All three of these stadiums are in pretty mint condition. The Rudolf-Harbig Stadium has roots back to the 1870s but was touched up as recently as 2007. The Rhein-Necker Stadium opened in 2009 while the Volkswagen Arena was constructed in 2002.

Unsurprisingly, hosts Germany are set to play in the three largest stadiums. The team will open the World Cup with its game in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. The stadium has a 72,244 capacity and will only be used for the opening game on June 30th. The 49,240 Commerz-bank Arena in Frankfurt will play host to the team’s second group stage. The venue will also be used for the Final on July 17th. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Borussia Park will be the site of Germany’s third group game. It has a capacity of 46,297. Germany will also be the only World Cup nation that will play all of its game in stadia that are home to current Bundesliga clubs.

Group B’s Japan will open its World Cup campaign in the smallest World Cup venue of the Ruhrstadion in Bochum on June 27th. The Bay Arena in Leverkusen will be the second stop on July 1st while the final group stage venue will be the Impuls Arena in Augsburg on July 5th. All of these cities are located in the west part of Germany.

Finally, Group D’s Brazil will play in Mönchengladbach on June 29th, Wolfsburg on July 3rd and Frankfurt on July 6th.

We will know who these four countries will meet in each group match when the draw is made tomorrow.

Is This the Best Women’s World Cup Field Ever?

The draw for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup  will be conducted tomorrow in Frankfurt, Germany. It will be broadcast live on FIFA.com from 19.25 GMT and on ESPN3.com from 1:40 ET.

This is the final time the FIFA Women’s World Cup will feature 16 teams before the field expands to 24 teams in the 2015 World Cup cycle. With the rapid rise of development of women’s soccer around the world in the past four years, most notably in Asia, this could be the most competitive mix of teams yet.

How so? Below is a list of the 16 qualified teams and their best ever World Cup finishes.

 

Australia (Quarterfinals 2007)

Brazil (Runners-Up 2007)

Canada (Semifinals 2003)

Colombia (Debutants)

England (Quarters 1995, 2007)

Equatorial Guinea (Debutants)

France (Group Stage 2003)

Germany (Champions 2003, 2007)

Japan (Quarters 1995)

Mexico (Group Stage 1999)

New Zealand (Group Stage 1991, 2007)

Nigeria (Quarterfinals 1999)

Norway (Champions 1995)

North Korea (Quarterfinals 2007)

Sweden (Runners-Up 2003)

United States (Champions 1991, 1999)

 

A total of just five teams (or 30%) has failed to ever make it to the quarterfinals. That includes the two debutants Colombia and Equatorial Guinea and group stage departees New Zealand, France and Mexico. France is a bona fide dark horse, Mexico has a solid mix of youth and experience and Colombia is a true wild card. In other words, none of those teams are guaranteed to flame out in the group stage. That means that former World Cup staples will be threatened like never before. 

Eight teams included in the above list will be eliminated in the group stage. That will inevitably include former quarterfinalists and perhaps even semifinalists. The question is which eight? 

The pots have been divied up here. Germany, Japan, the United States and Brazil have been seeded in Pot 1. Australia, North Korea, Canada and Mexico are in Pot 2. Pot 3 contains the “weakest” group with Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, New Zealand and Colombia. Pot  4 has the European powers with England, France, Sweden, and Norway.  

It’s almost guaranteed that every group will have at least three teams who have advanced to the knockout stage at one point in time. Only two can advance, however. Every group will be a group of death.

Better Late Than Never: USWNT Scraps for 1-0 Win Over Italy, Claims Final Spot in 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Amy Rodriguez’s scrappy goal five minutes before halftime was enough to clinch a 1-0 victory over Italy in the second leg of the UEFA/CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying Playoff. It also sees the United States through to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Rodriguez’s cascading effort stemmed from a goalkeeping fumble by Italian goalkeeper Anna Picarelli. It was one of Picarelli’s few errors in the two-legged series and it turned the momentum of the match for good. It wasn’t a textbook finish and it meant that the solid 40 minute shift the Italians had put in prior was ultimately meaningless. The USWNT somehow, some way came up with the goal and never looked back.

The strike took the wind out of Italy’s sails thereafter. It also injected a heavy dose of confidence into a USWNT team that had been taken for a ride by an adventurous Italian attack in the first half. Nicole Barnhart was looking more like an inexperienced liability and less like a dependable #2. The lack of communication between the back four was also worrying, as Italy could have taken an early lead if it its strikers had been more clinical.

There was a total role reversal by the second interval, however. The United States’ flank players Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapinoe began sending in sweet crosses into Abby Wambach who had apparently broken free of the shackles that stymied her in the first leg. The team’s defenders were taking liberties and bombing forward more, creating a more fluid and dangerous attack. The addition of Lauren Cheney at the hour mark added another edge to the USWNT’s attack as the formation transitioned from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3- depending on where the Boston Breakers striker popped up.

Italy’s fatigue began to show. After a particularly tidy outing in the first leg in Padova, Italy’s back four faded quickly at the end. Holding midfielder Alessia Tuttino was pushed to center defense, thereby creating a five-woman back line. Italy’s front four did not share the defense’s exhaustion, however, as they put forth one last attempt to save face towards the end of the match. Patrizia Panico and Giulia Domenichetti desperately tried to find an open look or a half-chance but with little luck. Christie Rampone was exceptional, and did not allow the USWNT back four to be stretched apart like it had been against Mexico in the CONCACAF WWCQ semifinal. (Her probing runs down the right flank may be a weapon in the USWNT’s arsenal that’s best kept secret ahead of Germany.)

Italy could offer little and the USWNT played with swagger not seen for months. It’s a swagger a team gets when it knows it has qualified for the World Cup. It also means the team’s humiliation in Cancun has been partially absolved and the scrutiny that came with it was perhaps for naught.

The team got it done today before a healthy crowd (9,508 is one estimate which makes it the second -best attended USWNT domestic game of the year). The conditions in Bridgeview, Illinois were frigid. Match-goers apparently had to avoid chunks of ice whilst finding their seats.

Make no mistake, there’s still work to be done ahead of Germany. The center midfield still looked thoroughly uncreative and this unbalance caused the USWNT outside backs to be hesitant in coming forward. It was somewhat sorted out in the second half (Boxx looked to be playing a deeper role) and thus invited more overlapping runs from the fullbacks.

This being said, the United States will be represented in Monday’s 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup draw. Much of the credit for that has to be paid to Alex Morgan whose stoppage time goal in the first leg gave the USWNT some much-needed breathing room today. Morgan has proven to be an invaluable spark off the bench. Her meteoric rise to heroine status has been matched by her prolific goal-scoring ability. She’s recorded four goals in eight games. Of the players in the USWNT’s player pool currently, that ratio is only bettered by Abby Wambach.

Perhaps finally earning a berth in the World Cup will inspire a few USWNT players to play with the same confidence and fearlessness that Morgan has exhibited in recent months. Like Morgan, this USWNT still has to prove itself, despite the #1 FIFA world ranking. After all, of the 16 qualified nations in next summer’s World Cup, the United States arrived last.

 

Addendums: Thanks to everyone who participated in the live blog today. You can revisit it in the post below. Also, Kate Markgraf was terrific in the booth today. Someone sign her up please!

USWNT 90 Minutes Away From the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Italy Is Too.

Hold off on the celebrating, we’re not there just yet.

If there’s one thing you can say about the USWNT these days, it’s that they certainly know how to win ugly. Whether it’s last gasp goals or helpful refereeing decisions, the team has been known to turn results at vital moments, artfulness be damned. They also know how to draw and lose ugly, as has been made abundantly clear in recent matches against Sweden, China and Mexico.

This time around, a draw or a loss could be fatal. Alex Morgan’s stoppage time goal may have been a touch offside, and perhaps only occurred because the referee swallowed her whistle but it injected needed hope into the USWNT’s World Cup aspirations.

The 1-0 lead still puts the home team in a precarious situation as they try to stave off Italy’s attempts at a critical away goal in Bridgeview, Illinois tomorrow. A goal produced from a defensive mix-up or an infrequent goalkeeping gaffe from Nicole Barnhart would level the aggregate score, thus requiring a penalty shootout to break the deadlock. An unanswered USWNT goal would afford the team some much-needed breathing room.

The USWNT’s squad and formation will not likely reveal any surprises. It’s clear that Coach Pia Sundhage has her preferred XI in mind and she isn’t going to be swayed by any of the clamors for change from fans and bloggers alike. While this is problematic for the long-term, it’s hard to blame her playing it safe for this match. The stakes are too high to take any risky gambles.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Italy shed its defensive shell for a more attacking formation. Pietro Ghedin may not opt for the 4-5-1 formation that nearly succeeded in frustrating the United States in Padova. Ghedin may have a trick up his sleeve with attacking force Melania Gabbiadini who missed the first leg due to injury. If this is the case, a role reversal might be required. The CONCACAF WWCQ semifinal against Mexico showed how frail the USWNT can be when it concedes an early goal. Italy may try to go for the throat early and rattle the USWNT’s back line with a quick salvo in the opening moments. After all, Italy has nothing to lose. 

The first leg in Padova served as an icebreaker for the two World Cup hopefuls (which may be ironic as it looks like temperatures in Chicago will be nothing short of frigid). Both teams got a sense of one another’s game plan. Italy was content to sit back, absorb pressure at the back and spring a breakneck counterattack using Italy’s all-time goal leader Patrizia Panico as the target. If it wasn’t for some stingy work from defenders Amy LePeilbet, Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler, Panico would have terrorized Barnhart.

The USWNT’s mode of attack was more difficult to discern, as it so usually is. The team found that the passing channels in center midfield were clogged and instead tried to test out the flanks. This proved to be just as ineffective as Megan Rapinoe failed to control many of her long-range efforts and Heather O’Reilly’s crosses were left unmet in the box. Center back Elisabetta Tona was tethered to Abby Wambach, thus marking her out of the match.

Italy’s exhaustion from having previously played six grueling World Cup qualifying matches in the past two months likely caught up with the home team by stoppage time. Wambach was able to flick on a Carli Lloyd long ball into the path of Morgan who beat American goalkeeper Ana Picarelli with a low, coolly-taken shot.

Hopefully the USWNT won’t need the 21 year-old to bail the team out of any more calamities. Perhaps the comforts of playing at home and having a 1-0 lead will force the USWNT to buck the trend of grinding out toilsome results. Regardless, with a ticket to Germany up for grabs, a win is a win nonetheless.

 

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