Monthly Archives: January 2012

First Impressions Of A Post-WPS World: History Lessons

You see a glimpse of it far off in the distance; something barreling towards you. You think the coast has begun to clear, but you still brace for impact. And then it hits. The initial foresight hasn’t diminished the force of the blow.

 

Women’s Professional Soccer has been suspended in 2012 with hopes of returning in 2013. (One for the optimists, that). League officials (might) return to a South Florida court on Wednesday to address the latest issues in its ongoing court case with Dan Borislow.

The Women’s United Soccer Association – WPS’s predecessor – held its inaugural draft on December  9 and 10, 2000 in Boca Raton. An excerpt from Jere Longman’s quintessential book, The Girls of Summer:

 

Once, it had seemed…implausible that a women’s professional soccer league would have a chance to succeed in the United States. Even now, with the Women’s World Cup used as a sort of champagne bottle to christen the launch of the WUSA, many wondered whether the league would be seaworthy. There would be little room for error. Even the most fervid supporters of the women’s game agreed that there would be no second chance.

 

So now what?

Official: 2012 Women’s Professional Soccer Season Put On Ice

By now you’ve likely heard the news. The official statement from WPS:

 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 30, 2012) – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) announced today that its Board of Governors has voted to suspend the 2012 season to permit the League to focus on the resolution  of certain pending legal issues and  the challenges that now face the League as a result of its ongoing dispute with a former owner.

“We are proud of what the League has accomplished in the first three seasons, but we do recognize the necessity to resolve our existing legal and operational issues so that we can continue to support and grow WPS the right way,” said Sky Blue FC Owner Thomas Hofstetter. “This was a very difficult decision, but one we as owners feel is the best business decision for the League at this time.”

The Board voted on Monday morning to suspend the 2012 season.  Over the last year the league has faced significant challenges, including a lengthy and expensive legal battle with a former owner.  The litigation has diverted resources from investment in the league and has forced the Board to take action, suspending the 2012 season in order to address the legal issues head-on before moving forward with competition.

“We firmly believe there is a place in the global sports landscape for Women’s Professional Soccer,” said WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan.  “Making the decision to suspend the 2012 season was a difficult and painful one, but it is necessary to take the time to address current issues and solidify our business in order to provide appropriate support needed to achieve the League’s long-term goals. Those that take part in our League – players, partners and fans – deserve the best, and that is what we are taking the time to ensure we deliver when we resume play in 2013 and beyond.”

WPS has established its plans to return to play in 2013, and all five owners of the League’s existing teams – Atlanta Beat, Boston Breakers, Philadelphia Independence, Sky Blue FC and Western New York Flash – will remain active with the CEO, Jennifer O’Sullivan, in the governance of WPS throughout the current year.

“We are deeply grateful to our fans and partners for the tremendous support they have shown for WPS, our players and the sport,” added O’Sullivan.  “With our supporters and athletes in mind, we are committed to complete the hard work necessary to resume play in 2013 and reestablish WPS as the premiere women’s professional soccer league in the world.”

 

The e-mail Atlanta Beat owner Fitz Johnson sent to players this morning:

Ladies,

It deeply saddens me to inform you today,  the Women’s Professional Soccer League has suspended the 2012 season and league operations.

We were very excited about the opportunity to work with each of you and know that we had put together an amazing team.  It is unfortunate we are unable to work together in pursuit of a championship.  We wish you all the success in your future endeavors.  Over the last year the league has faced significant challenges, including a lengthy and expensive legal battle with a former owner. The litigation has diverted resources from investment in the league and has forced the Board to take action, suspending the 2012 season in order to address the legal issues head-on before moving forward with competition.

A formal Press release will be sent out from the League office around 1pm today.

I am certainly available to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.  Do not hesitate to contact me.

Best,

T. Fitz Johnson, Esq.

 

 Sincerest condolences to those personally affected by the news. Will post thoughts once they form. That’s all, folks.

Harder, Better, Hungrier: USWNT Flatten Canada in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Final

Commanding in every respect, the United States lived up to its no. 1 world ranking tonight, and then some.  The 4-0 score line provided an apt bookend to a tournament in which the United States outscored its five opponents by a margin of 38-0.

The team not only won like champions on the night, it played like champions, too. There were no signs of the stodgy midfield play or creaky defending present against Costa Rica on Friday (or versus Sweden in Glendale or Canada in Kansas City or Sweden in Wolfsburg, etc.). No, the USWNT overwhelmed Canada from the opening whistle and never relented. The U.S. attacked from all avenues, making the most of its interchangeable attacking parts and stingy defense. The side’s up-tempo pace and acute finishing proved too much for John Herdman’s new-look Canada side to handle.

It was technically a meaningless game as both sides clinched Olympic qualification on Friday, but the United States’ squad clearly took it for what it was: a tournament final. As for the slightly tweaked formation and new personnel, well, here we go again. There’s something about big events that brings the best out of this team. It’s almost like we must view the other substandard matches and performances in a vaccuum: this is the USWNT eager to present itself to the world. When it really matters. Pia makes us (me) look like hypercritical worrywarts once more.

The game proved useful in other ways too. It granted young players a rare opportunity to take center stage in the finale of an international competition – before tens of thousands semi-hostile screaming fans. Familiar names (Buehler, LePeilbet, O’Reilly, Boxx) made way for fresh faces with relatively new assignments. None disappointed, proving the side’s depth is as first-class as advertised.

Becky Sauerbrunn rightfully re-claimed her spot next to Christine Rampone. Lori Lindsey got the surprise start alongside Carli Lloyd in midfield. Kelley O’Hara reprised her role at full-back; only this time on the left. Amy Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe manned each flank and swapped sides throughout the match. All did a job.

The marquee players also validated their top billings. Hope Solo preserved the U.S.’s perfect defensive record once more, ably snuffing out Canada’s sparse looks on goal in the first half. Abby Wambach flaunted her uncanny goal poaching abilities, tying, then surpassing Kristine Lilly in the process for second-most all-time. With the evening’s other two goals, Alex Morgan was nothing short of effervescent. It was only the 22-year-old’s third international start, but the way in which she burst – okay, cantered – past Canada’s line of defense before slyly guiding in her first goal was vintage Morgan.

Like in Bochum against France, an outmatched Canada was again on the receiving end of a 4-0 shellacking. Nose now perfectly intact, the U.S. confined Christine Sinclair – inarguably one of the three most complete strikers in the women’s game – to only a few meager touches; this after looking like a world-beater two days prior.

To its credit, Big Red will seemingly persist with a few of the tenets hammered home by erstwhile manager Carolina Morace. The team continued to play from the back, opting to pass its way out of trouble. Neither tactic proved effective against a U.S. side endowed with such athleticism and well-honed skill.

To its benefit, the home team didn’t lose in seclusion. The capacity crowd at BC Place – the second largest in team history – sounded as vociferous at the final whistle as it did at kick-off. Despite the sour result, the red-outfitted throng provided a sweet send-off to its national team for accomplishing what it ultimately set out to do: secure a place in the Summer Olympics.

The night belonged to Canada’s southern neighbors, however. Tonight’s result reflects Pia Sundhage’s USWNT at its rip-roaring best. Ruthlessly effective whilst being pleasing on the eye; a difficult and rarely achieved trick, no doubt. The victory also saw the maximization of the wealth of talent on offer. The same can be said for the team’s play throughout the entire competition.

Save for the flat performance against Costa Rica and the loss of one of the premier right-backs in the world, the U.S. had an emphatically impressive tournament, with the goal return to back it up. Sundhage’s squad emerged sharper, bolder, more lethal, and hungrier than before.

Well, since July 17, at least. It was the United States’ most vibrant performance since the World Cup final in Frankfurt. Neither fatal defensive woes nor penalty kick jitters would spoil the proceedings this time though.

The U.S. came to within a few penalty kicks of a world title in July after mostly outplaying the eventual victors. The side should set out to relive the same drama again this summer, albeit with an alternative ending. The USWNT will hope the final scene at Wembley looks a lot like the one witnessed at BC Place.

Olympic Return: United States, Canada Secure Qualification

It wasn’t quite a master class, but the USWNT did more than enough to secure a berth in the 2012 Summer Olympics. The 2008 Gold Medalists’ 3-0 win over Costa Rica extends its tournament goal return to a staggering 34 scored, none conceded.

Tobin Heath converted a header in the 16th minute after the Costa Rican defense failed to fortify its area. A sequence of nervy moments followed as the Costa Rican attack exploded into life. Hope Solo was called into action twice – a rare sight in this tournament – and ably dealt with the attempts put forth by Raquel Rodriguez and Carolina Sanchez. Costa Rica clearly paid no mind to the U.S.’s superb performances in its three previous matches. Heading into halftime, the Ticas appeared to have the psychological edge.

True to form, the U.S. re-grouped and closed out the match thanks in part to an improved second half. Carli Lloyd alleviated much of the pressure as she hammered a shot home on the other side of the half. The strike brings her level with Amy Rodriguez for most goals on the team with six. True to form, Alex Morgan closed out the proceedings with an 89th minute goal. The second half sub showcased a bit of flair as she dinked in a shot with the outside of her boot past goalkeeper Erika Miranda.

The U.S. began the match in a 4-2-3-1 with Abby Wambach leading the line up top. Kelley O’Hara got the nod at right-back . Costa Rica began to tear at the USWNT’s central defense midway through the first half before it was nearly ripped asunder. Solo’s proactive instincts prevented an equalizer.

The U.S.’s backline solidified in the second half and the team regained control of the match. Pia Sundhage’s side ultimately wore down Costa Rica, who appeared too taxed to continue its resistance.

Despite a few disconcerting moments, the U.S. did what it needed to do and punched its ticket to London. The team will return to the States with its mission very much accomplished, regardless of what happens in Sunday’s final against Canada.

Video from the USWNT’s presser:

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Speaking of the hosts, Big Red will join the USWNT in London after a spirited 3-1 victory over a cagey Mexico side. Anyone who witnessed the team’s exuberant celebration (complete with a victory lap) will be convinced Canada has truly put its annus horriblis behind it.

Christine Sinclair displayed her brilliance once more as she collected a pair of goals on the night. It was her second – a devilishly clever chip over goalkeeper CiCi Santiago – that practically guaranteed Canada’s consecutive appearance in the Summer Olympics.  The deft finish also ties her with Abby Wambach for third most all-time with 129 goals. Sinclair and Wambach are now just one strike shy of equaling Kristine Lilly’s record. Sunday might well see another revision to the history books.

The raucous crowd at BC Place may also provided a glimpse of what’s to come should the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup  final be staged there. Sinclair’s historic goal scoring prowess might also be familiar sight come 2015.

Sinclair has averaged above ten goals a year for Canada since making her national team in 2000. She is now just 29 goals away from reaching Mia Hamm’s tally of 158 international goals; a record thought to be untouchable. If the 28-year-old continues to bang in goals at this rate, she could realistically best Hamm’s record.

One hopes it takes her another three and a half years so she can make history at home. And you thought last night’s atmosphere was something…

In Brief: CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Semifinals Pre-Game Video

Christie Rampone and Hope Solo share their thoughts ahead of tonight’s semifinal clash between the United States and Costa Rica.

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The match kicks off at 8 P.M. EST. Hosts Canada then face Mexico at 11:00 P.M. EST. Tonight’s winners will clinch berths in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

USWNT 4, Mexico 0: Vigor, Vengeance, Victory

By Gavin Day

 

The United States Women’s National Team was at its overwhelming best as it pummelled rivals Mexico 4-0. As a result, the team is just one win away from the 2012 London Olympics.

Midfielder Carli Lloyd recorded her first career hat-trick for the U.S. and Heather O’Reilly added another to bring the American goal total to an astonishing 31 scored and none conceded. With the emphatic victory, the United States face a much easier semi-finals match-up against Costa Rica. Group A winners Canada will face Mexico.

“It was redemption for us,” said Lloyd referring to Mexico’s 2-1 upset win over the U.S. in their last competitive match in qualifying for last summer’s World Cup. “We came out strong and knew we had to get it done. There’s no second chances for Olympic qualifying so we made sure that we got into the semi-finals and the semi-final is going to be the big one.”

Lloyd dedicated the win and her hat-trick to teammate Ali Krieger who was knocked out of the tournament and possibly the Olympics with a torn ACL and MCL in her right knee.

Playing in front of a largely pro-Mexican crowd, the U.S. pressed early and came close a few times within the first opening minutes. Their pressure paid off in the seventh minute when Lloyd headed a ball to Rachel Buehler, who was starting at right back. Buehler’s close range effort came back off the post but floated back to Lloyd who headed into a largely unprotected goal.

The game was all but over just a minute later. Mexico’s 17-year old goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago made a mess of Amy Rodriguez’ cross from the left side. After Santiago mishandled the ball, O’Reilly followed the play in well to bang the ball home from close range and the U.S. was cruising.

“They are just the best, simple as that. They’re the best team in the world,” said Mexico head coach Leonardo Cuellar after the game.

Though their team was down by two goals, the largely partisan Mexican crowd continued to make noise to try to will their team back into the game but on this night, the Americans just couldn’t be stopped by their neighbors to the south.

Lloyd got her second in the 57th minute. Lauren Cheney floated in an inch perfect cross and Lloyd timed her jump perfectly to head home from in close at the far post.

She rounded off her hat-trick with four minutes left to play off another set piece. Substitute Megan Rapinoe’s corner kick was redirected by Buehler and into Lloyd’s path and she couldn’t miss from close range.

“Well I’m very happy about our four goals and especially Carli Lloyd– the way she was the end product of set pieces.” said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. “So we did well with set pieces.”

The victory sets up a winner take all semi-final against Group A runners-up Costa Rica on Friday. Should the Americans win as expected, they will book their tickets to the 2012 London Olympics.

 

Post-match comments:

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USWNT 13, Guatemala 0: Records Will Fall (Updated with Video)

Post-match interviews below:

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The USWNT obviously didn’t get all the goals out of its system on Friday against the Dominican Republic. The team put thirteen past Guatemala last night in its second CONCACAF Olympic qualifying group stage match.

With respect to Kelley O’Hara’s hugely serviceable performance and Sydney Leroux’s charmed homecoming, this post will be devoted to two things: numbers and statistics. Might as well hold off printing the 2012 edition of the stats-stacked USWNT Media Guide given how many records have been broken in the past three days.

 

  • The number of players to score five goals in a single game has been increased to six: Chastain (1991), Akers (1991), Milbrett (2002), Wambach (2004), Rodriguez (2012), and Leroux (2012). No player has scored six in a single match.

 

  • Like Leroux and Rodriguez, Brandi Chastain helped herself to five goals after coming on as a second half substitute. And similar to Leroux, who last night collected five goals and a second USWNT cap, Chastain’s glut of goals came in just her third international appearance. And which match was it? The 12-0 win against Mexico on April 18, 1991, no less, which was the USWNT’s largest margin of victory up until Friday night.

 

  • Amy Rodriguez’s five goals and one assist against the Dominican Republic puts her level with Michelle Akers for most points in a single match (11).

 

  • The United States set a new shots record with 49 attempts against the Dominican Republic. The previous record stood at 42 in a 3-0 win against Mexico on March 27, 1999.

 

  • The USWNT has recorded double-digit score lines in ten total matches. Nine of those matches featured opponents from the CONCACAF region.

 

  • Sydney Leroux has become the first foreign-born player to score five goals for the USWNT.

 

  • With her brace on Sunday, Abby Wambach surpasses Birgit Prinz to become the third-highest goal-scorer in women’s soccer history. Sinclair is also within striking distance of Prinz’s total. The top five:

1.) Hamm 158

2.) Lilly 130

3.) Wambach 129

4.) Prinz 128

5.) Sinclair 125

 

  • Wambach and Sinclair have nearly identical games per goal ratios with 1.3 and 1.36 respectively. That’s a hugely impressive feat considering Birgit Prinz finished her career on a 1.6 ratio. Mia Hamm’s was slightly lower at 1.75 while Kristine Lilly’s stands at 2.7. Furthermore, Wambach and Sinclair have each reached their respective milestones before earning 200 caps (168 for Wambach; 170 for Sinclair). Not the case with the other three (214 for Prinz; 275 for Hamm; 352 for Lilly).

 

  • Many subjective adjectives can be used to describe this tournament thus far: weird, spectacular, amusing, unnecessary, sad. But one apt adjective is inarguable, and that’s lopsided. All eight group matches so far have ended in shutouts. That might change tonight with Canada and Costa Rica or tomorrow with the U.S. and Mexico, but when this is all said and done, CONCACAF might be tempted to tweak its Olympic qualification process. The 2008 tournament featured four seeded teams (the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica) who received automatic byes to the group stage. Two other berths were won in qualifying to make two groups of three.

 

And if anyone’s interested, here’s the USWNT’s all-time leaders in appearances, goals, and assists. The tallies were updated following last night’s game. You’ll notice Wambach is now tied with Carla Overbeck in 11th place with 168 caps. If you notice any omissions, suspicious looking numbers, or errors, just holler. Go ahead, find your favorite player.

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Ali Krieger Tears MCL and ACL; Will Be Out 6-8 Months

Some folks’ worst fears have been realized. U.S. Soccer announced Ali Krieger tore both her MCL and ACL in a challenge that occurred in last night’s match versus the Dominican Republic. According to the release, “[Krieger] will likely miss the London Olympic Games should the USA qualify.”

Krieger was one of the standout players from this summer’s World Cup, and was arguably the tournament’s finest right-back. The 27-year-old’s accurate passing and defensive prowess made her an indispensable asset to the USWNT in Germany. The FFC Frankfurt defender had made marked progress since returning to the USWNT set-up in 2010 following a two-year absence.

The loss of Krieger could have major impact on the USWNT, especially when considering possible replacements. Heather Mitts is the only natural right-back in the squad. The USWNT veteran will turn 34 on June 9. Should Pia Sundhage elect to convert other defenders to right-back, Whitney Engen, Becky Sauerbrunn, Stephanie Cox, and Brittany Taylor spring to mind as possible options.

Regardless of the player picked to fill the void, Krieger’s absence will likely not be forgotten.

Memorable Result: USWNT/Dominican Republic Report, Quotes and Video

By Gavin Day

 

The onslaught started just 38 seconds in and didn’t let up for the rest of the 90 minutes as the United States came out flying and flattened their ill-fated opponents. Abby Wambach got that first goal and one other as the U.S. began its qualification campaign for the 2012 Olympics with a 14-0 drubbing over the Dominican Republic.

Carli Lloyd netted the team’s second just moments before the four minute mark. A U.S. cross missed everyone and came back off the post and Lloyd was there to tuck in from close range before Rachel Buehler converted off a Lauren Cheney corner kick.

After the third, the Americans were forced to wait for their fourth, but not for long. Heather O’Reilly was played through on the right side and she scored to make it four in the 17th minute and Wambach added another just two minutes later.

“Soccer is an amazing sport and there’s all different levels of competition all around the world. Obviously the score makes people feel like it wasn’t even a competition,” explained Wambach. “We, as a team, feel like we have so many things we need to work on. This was a game that gave us the opportunity to work on some things.”

Tobin Heath got the U.S. back on the score sheet on the half hour mark. Heath nicely controlled a chip pass from O’Reilly and had acres of space to put the ball away.

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USWNT 14, Dominican Republic 0: Lots of Goals, Lots to Talk About

So, the USWNT/Dominican Republic game. Where to begin? Any soccer match that ends with a two-touchdown score line is sure to ignite debate.

 

The U.S. ran up the score against hopelessly inferior opposition. But the team showed respect by not ‘playing down’ to its competition.

The USWNT took the ‘padding the goal differential’ thing way too seriously. But what happens if Mexico dismantles the Dominican Republic 11-0 and then Guatemala beats the U.S. 4-0?

Sundhage should have instructed the team to lay off after goal 10 or 11. It’s just needlessly excessive after that. So she was supposed to tell her strikers not to score goals? And saying ’14 goals is too much’ is totally arbitrary. If 14 goals is excessive, then what about 11 or 12? When does it cross the line into ‘classless’ territory? And plus, the Dominican Republic goalkeeper didn’t exactly inspire much sympathy. She punched her own teammate in the chest for goodness sake!

Ali Krieger might be out of commission for awhile thanks to a terribly clumsy, reckless, ill-advised tackle. But that’s soccer and it could have happened in any game or training session.

The CONCACAF commentators were spot on in their criticism of Pia Sundhage’s gratuitous goal celebrations. But she was proud of her team for doing what it’s supposed to do. Plus she’s just a super jolly person. And they’re excessively polite, manners-minded Canadians.

The U.S. has no business playing such lowly sides. But as the great Tim Vickery says, national teams will never improve by exclusion.

The team should have focused less on scoring goals and more on maintaining possession and executing cleaner passes. This is the same old USWNT we’re talking about, right?

The oft-maligned Amy ‘five goals in one half’ Rodriguez looked like a world-beater while Alex ‘WHY DOESN’T SHE START?’ Morgan was, well, goalless. I dunno, it was a weird game. But in all seriousness, it should do wonders for A-Rod’s confidence. And that last goal? What a strike!

It was a thoroughly joyless match. The team showed no mercy in demoralizing its opponent and there was even a serious injury to a beloved player. But look at this damn pictures. Do the players look joyless to you?


With all that said, it was hard to derive much enjoyment from Friday’s game. There was no sense of schaudenfraude in watching a hapless Dominican Republic side get trounced so mercilessly. And to the objective viewer, fourteen goals does seem to be a bit much, particularly when the dominant team is so well-endowed. That’s what the CONCACAF commentators were hinting at when referring to the USWNT’s inherent edge. Superior resources, better funding, and an undeniable cultural advantage. The contest just wasn’t on a level playing field, and some would say that a 14-0 victory screams of arrogance.

Still, Pia’s viewpoint is at least partly understandable, even if she failed to express it in her post-match comments. The team put forth quite an effort, which Pia praised. Some commentators (not I) felt the USWNT’s loss in the World Cup final was an epic choke job. If the USWNT now adheres to a kind of siege mentality, the team has the right to showcase quality deserving of its no.1 world ranking, regardless of the competition. The team has the right to score goals, and Pia – as head coach – has the right to celebrate. It wasn’t an exhibition match intended to spread goodwill.

Germany came under similar fire last October after its 17-0 tanking of Kazakhstan in Euro 2013 Qualifying. It was a ruthless and haughty performance, critics cried, but Silvia Neid obviously begged to differ. “There is no reason for any criticism today,” she said. When the final whistle blew, the team celebrated as if it had won a medal.

To put Friday’s victory in context, it’s the largest margin of victory for the USWNT in team history. The Dominican Republic is ranked 88th in the world, sandwiched between Malaysia and Guyana. And as Jeff Kassouf points out, it also suggests that the gap between the established powers and the fledgling programs isn’t actually closing. Like, at all. Indeed, the gulf between the top 30 ranked teams and the rest of the world remains canyon-like.

In historical terms, double-digit routs are truly a thing of the past. The last time the USWNT reached that margin in a single match was 2006 when the team defeated Chinese Taipei 10-0. Christie Rampone, Abby Wambach, Heather Mitts, and Carli Lloyd all played in that match too. But prior to 2006, the most recent shellacking’s occurred back in 1994 against Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica respectively. In 1991 there were four consecutive matches that saw double-digit shut-outs, all versus CONCACAF competition once again.

For me, Saturday morning’s most pressing question is not whether the team ran up or the score line or if it showed a lack of class in its goal celebrations. It’s…sadder. Will the best right-back from the World Cup miss the Olympics? If so, what will that mean for the USWNT and who will replace her?

 

Twitter was in fine form last night. Here’s a collection of some of the most memorable Tweets:

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