Monthly Archives: February 2012

Algarve Cup, Day 1

Getting There

This first day of the Algarve Cup did not begin auspiciously for me: after driving for about ten kilometers and finally starting to develop some confidence that I wasn’t going to die at the hands of crazy Portuguese drivers, I suddenly look at the fuel gauge and realize they’ve given me a rental car with absolutely no gas in it. (Next time, I don’t go with the cheapest company.) So with the GPS sighing “recalculating” at me over and over again in a sniffy British accent, I drive all over looking for a gas station. The first one I find has no gas, but I’m sent back into town to a BP station where I have to put 36 liters in (at a cost of 57 euros – and Americans complain about what they pay for gas.)

Fortunately, it was uneventful after that. I even managed to use a traffic circle to make a u-turn and get headed back in the right direction. I arrived at the stadium with plenty of time to spare, parked the car, walked into the lovely town of Lagos, had some lunch and wandered a bit, then returned in time for the Germany-Iceland match, though, alas, not in time for the player introductions.

Lagos Stadium from the stands during the Germany-Iceland match

Germany 1, Iceland 0

This was one of those games where every individual matchup seemed to be in one team’s favor (Germany’s in this case, of course), but despite that the superior team can make nothing of it. Germany didn’t seem to have much ability to string attacking passes together and play as a team. Their one goal came in the 25th minute as Anja Mittag managed to redirect a cross in from the left just past the Iceland goalkeeper.

Late in the game, Germany seemed to finally get its act together and produce some genuine attacks. I began expecting another goal or two, but Iceland withstood the assault and didn’t allow any further scoring. Despite the loss, you’ve got to think Iceland is a lot happier with the result than Germany is.

United States 5, Denmark 0

The US starters were no great surprise: Solo in goal; O’Hara, Rampone, Buehler, and LePeilbet across the back; Cheney, Boxx, Lloyd, and O’Reilly in midfield; and Morgan and Wambach up top.

This match looked to be going the same way as the Germany match, another superior team unable to get its act together enough to score much. In the 21st minute, Alex Morgan received a nice feed at the top right corner of the box, beat her defender, and sent a ball in that bounced off the left post and then slid to the right just barely enough to go over the end line for a goal. That looked to be it for the first half until in stoppage time another nice feed came in to Morgan, who settled the ball about forty yards out from goal, charged in toward the right post to draw defenders and the goalkeeper, then sent the ball over to Abby Wambach, who knocked it in.

To start the second half, the US made three substitutions: Stephanie Cox for Kelley O’Hara, Amy Rodriguez for Abby Wambach, and Tobin Heath in for Heather O’Reilly. A-Rod actually took over the left flank position that Lauren Cheney started in while Cheney moved up top where Abby had been for the first half. This seemed to bring a lot more energy to the team, and the second half ended up being much more exciting than the first. Heath and Rodriguez almost teamed up for a goal a few minutes in, Heath bringing the ball toward goal from the center then sending it wide to A-Rod, who put it back in, but the shot went off the goalkeeper and wide. Heath again a few minutes later just skipped past a defender on the end line with the ball, but the shot was cleared for a corner kick. Defender Stephanie Cox got a rare shot off a short corner that she hammered in, but right to the goalkeeper.

The match finally broke open in the 77th minute thanks mostly to Lauren Cheney. She got a good long feed and took it down the left flank, drew the goalkeeper out, sent a shot off the left post, collected the rebound, then centered it for Lloyd, who put it away with the goalkeeper still scrambling to get back in position.

Five minutes later it was Alex Morgan again. At the top of the box, she and Heath scrapped with a couple of defenders. Tobin managed to draw enough attention to give Alex some space, then slid the ball over to her, which she fired into the net in a real bang-bang play.

Immediately after that, Sydney Leroux came on for Cheney and managed to score herself off a close-range shot with seconds left in stoppage time to make the final score a solid 5-0 – a bit improvement after a shaky start.

Player of the Match: Alex Morgan, obviously, with two goals and an assist. She’s really starting to become one of those players like Mia Hamm and Marta, who make you sit up whenever they get the ball because you know something amazing is liable to happen. My only criticism is that she needs to tone down her enthusiasm a little. My favorite mixed “Baby Horse” moment was early in the game, when she made a heroic rescue of a ball that was going out the end line, then crossed it with such enthusiasm that it went over everyone and had to be picked up by Amy LePeilbet, the US defender on the far side of the field.

At the End of the Day

I survived the drive back as well, despite it being after dark. Tomorrow I’ll probably play tourist, but on Friday I’ll be back in harness again. In fact, if I feel sufficiently ambitious I’ll be taking in three games in three different stadiums: Denmark-Japan in Parchal, US-Norway back in Lagos again, and Wales-Ireland in Ferreiras. Wish me luck! (It’s not as bad as it sounds because Parchal and Ferreiras are between here and Lagos.)

Adventure In the Algarve: An Introduction

A familiar name from the WoSo blogosphere is currently on the ground in Portugal. He has graciously offered to send us his impressions of the 2012 Algarve Cup. So who is he exactly, and what kind of cosmic forces converged enabling this marvelous adventure? We’ll let him do the explaining.

 

Dateline: Faro, Algarve, Portugal

Okay, I can’t quite write that legitimately yet, but just give me another few hours. Meanwhile, let me introduce myself.

 

Hi, my name is StarCityFan, and I watch women’s soccer

My real name is Kevin W. Parker, but my nom de Internet is “StarCityFan,” which you may have seen in the comments here and elsewhere, and especially over at BigSoccer. My interest in women’s soccer, like that of a lot of people’s, was sparked by the 1999 Women’s World Cup. I didn’t really get into it though until I received an offer for season tickets from the WUSA-era Washington Freedom. Figuring that this was the one time in my life I could buy top-level season tickets for a team without taking out a second mortgage, I sprung for the club-level tickets and found myself (and my wife) in the front row at RFK Stadium for the WUSA inaugural match. (You can actually see me on the WUSA’s official 2001 season video.) I enjoyed the first season, dismal as it was for the Freedom, and my interest increased as I found that Freedom defender Carrie Moore was from my hometown – and increased even more as she went from benchwarmer in 2001 to WUSA All-Star in 2002. Anyhow, to make a long story short, my enthusiasm has held up even through the lean years, when the Freedom were amateur at best and is still there even though they aren’t any more.

I’d always been intrigued by the Algarve Cup and thought, “Someday, I really have to get to one of those.” In case you don’t know, the Algarve Cup is considered the most prestigious women’s international soccer tournament after the World Cup and the Olympics. It was created in the early 1990’s by the Scandinavian women’s teams as a tournament to challenge them during the chillier months and is held every year around this time in southern Portugal’s Algarve region – hence the name. The US team has been a participant since the beginning and has won seven of the last nine.

Anyhow, I was recently offered a new job and decided I wanted to take a few weeks off between finishing my old job and starting that one in order to have a break and take some sort of vacation. Unfortunately, my wife’s circumstances weren’t going to allow her to do anything significant with me in that timeframe. So I needed to come up with something I wanted to do that she wouldn’t want to do as well, which took places like San Francisco and the Caribbean off the list. Then I realized that the timing of the Algarve Cup fit in perfectly with my little sabbatical. So last weekend I frantically made my flight arrangements, just barely getting my reservations in before I could no longer qualify for the cheapest fares. And if all goes well, I’ll be leaving for Lisbon Sunday evening and arriving in the Algarve Tuesday afternoon, well in time for the opening matches on Wednesday.

 

The Participants

Twelve teams are participating in this year’s Algarve Cup, divided into three groups. Group A consists of China, Germany, Iceland, and Sweden. Group B is Denmark, Japan Norway, and the US; and Group C is Hungary, Ireland, host Portugal, and Wales. There’s a bit of a catch, though: the teams in Group C are not eligible for the championship. In fact, the playoffs are highly simplified: the Group A winner plays the Group B winner for first place, while the runners-up play for third, and the third place teams play for fifth. The best the winner of Group C can do is place seventh, and they’ll play the better fourth place team from Group A or B for that slot. The second-place team from Group C plays the one remaining team from A or B for ninth, and the last two teams in C play for eleventh place.

 

Continue reading

Cyprus Cup Preview: France’s Charm Offensive Returns

By Sylvain Jamet

 

The France Women’s National Team finished fourth in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Throughout the tournament, Les Bleues won acknowledgement for its vibrant, attractive, attacking football. As we have done with England, we will have a look on how things have changed or evolved since France’s eye-opening performances in Germany.

 

In Group 4 of Euro 2013 Qualifying, France has started well with three away wins. The team has defeated Israel 5-0, Ireland 3-1 and Wales 4-1 and earned a home win against Israel. Thanks to Wales’ draw with Scotland, France simply needs to win the next three home games against Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to qualify.  That would make the last game – a potentially tricky match against the Scots – irrelevant.

France’s recent friendlies campaign went well, too. Bruno Bini’s side won 2-0 against Poland in a match that drew 18,305 supporters. The team also found success in a tour in the West Indies that saw an 8-0 win against Uruguay and a 5-0 against Mexico. The latest friendly against the Netherlands ended 2-1 and attracted 8,147 supporters despite the freezing temperature.

Since the World Cup, Bruno Bini has been blooding in new talent comprised of U-19 European champions. Marina Makanza of Freiburg has just been called up for the Cyprus Cup. She leads a pack of fresh faces that includes Kelly Gadea (Montpellier), Lea Rubio (PSG), and Camille Catala (St-Etienne), each of whom has come to the fore post-World Cup.

 

In terms of a game plan, the aim is to continue playing beautiful attacking football, but the old problems of poor finishing must not hamper the team. Often with France, chances are created left, middle, and center but the conversion rate is not at the highest standard. It needs to be improved if France wants to win the Olympics or other major tournaments in which chances come at a premium.

 

France employs a 4-2-3-1 system. The starting XI is more or less settled except in perhaps two positions in which Bruno Bini has many choices:

Goalkeeper: Sarah Bouhaddi has just come back into the side after being sidelined for about a year due to disciplinary reasons. Celine Deville is competing for the jersey alongside 20 year-old Laetitia Phillipe. Berangere Sapowicz was the no. 1 choice at the World Cup but got injured against Sweden. She returned to PSG but has not been called back since.

Right-back: Corrine Franco has won back her place after being kept on the bench throughout the World Cup due to fitness and Laure Lepailleur’s form. She has slightly struggled to get game for Olympique Lyon due to choices by head coach Patrice Lair.

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Cyprus Cup Preview: England’s Twilight Year

The 2012 Cyprus Cup kicks off today. Sylvain Jamet is a Frenchman living in England and has keen insight into both teams. Here he previews the two group rivals.

 

Few will forget England’s ill-fated penalty-kick shootout against France in the World Cup quarterfinals. Seven months have gone by since the Three Lions’ nail-biting exit from the tournament. Here’s a recap of what’s happened since.

 

In Euro 2013 qualifiers, England trails the Netherlands by five points with a game in hand. England dropped two points in Serbia with a 2-2 draw away despite being 2-0 up at one point. In the head-to-head away game, England came away with a creditable and fair draw despite missing a penalty in the process. That means winning all the remaining games will ensure direct qualification to the tournament, therefore avoiding the dreaded play-offs. In case the teams are tied, head-to-head results will be used as the decider. A win against Holland will probably be enough if England don’t let points slip away against the weaker teams.

Something that has not changed is the personnel. It is clear for everyone that the old generation is going for one last challenge at home: the 2012 Summer Olympics. That could explain why no one has retired since the World Cup.

 

There isn’t a defined starting XI due to injuries, but the system is the same as before: 4-3-3.

Goalkeeper: Karen Bardsley is the current choice after overtaking Rachel Brown prior to the World Cup. Siobhan Chamberlain has seemingly become the the number two, as Brown has missed a fair bit of the 2011 campaign through injury.

Right-back: Alex Scott is the number one and unchallenged choice.

Center-backs: Casey Stoney is the current captain and therefore first on the team sheet. Sophie Bradley has cemented her place in Faye White’s absence. The Arsenal captain made her comeback last Tuesday against Nottingham Forest and there is no doubt the time-tested duo will soon be reunited.

Continue reading

So We Meet Again

Hello, again. It’s been too long.

At least nothing too exciting has happened while AWK has been off-air. I mean, there was Marta’s blockbuster signing with Tyresö, the continued growth of the WPSL Elite Division, WPS’s latest courthouse escape attempt, Turbine Potsdam’s sudden crisis, Sarah Hagen’s first professional goal in her first professional game, and the U-23’s victory against Sweden in their first match in La Manga. Oh, and Alex Morgan joined pals Hope Solo and Sydney Leroux on the Seattle Sounders Women.

So no, nothing out of the ordinary.

 

There’s plenty of stuff on the horizon as the next generation of the USWNT readies for the limelight. The U.S. U-17’s will also be in action in La Manga, Spain. Albertin Montoya’s side will take part in an international U-19 tournament beginning March 4 as they take on France. And Steve Swanson’s U-20’s will attempt to qualify for the 2012 U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Panama. They face Guatemala on Friday (lots of info here).

 

And of course, there are the annual senior tournaments. Eighteen of the world’s top-ranked 25 teams will be in action over the next two weeks. The Algarve Cup returns on Wednesday while the 2012 Cyprus Cup commences Tuesday.

With a little help from our friends, AWK will be providing exclusive coverage directly from both tournaments.

Indeed, back in the saddle.

USWNT 2, New Zealand 1: It’s Alex Morgan Time In America

When the US faced China in a friendly on October 6, 2010 at PPL Park just outside of Philadelphia, the match was notable for a few reasons; Abby Wambach de-hotdogged some dude, roughly 12 people showed up to watch, and, oh yeah, Alex Morgan: Clutch Goal Scorer became a thing. Staring down the possibility of its first loss in six years, the U.S. trailed China 1-0 heading into the game’s final quarter of an hour. Morgan earned her third cap when she replaced Amy Rodriguez in the 71st minute, and tallied her first goal for the senior side less than ten minutes later, netting the equalizer in the 83rd to preserve the U.S.’s home unbeaten streak.

A year and a half later, and even after Abby Wambach’s very very very late equalizer against Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, those final 15 minutes still very much belong to Alex Morgan. Down 1-0 to New Zealand in front of a sellout crowd of 20,677 at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Morgan grabbed a pair of late goals to give the U.S. the 2-1 win. Hannah Wilkinson put New Zealand ahead in the 48th minute before the Americans stormed back, with Morgan scoring in the 88th minute and again in stoppage time to keep that streak alive.

Earning her second consecutive start, Morgan’s speed caused trouble for New Zealand’s back line from the opening whistle. In the 9th minute a blurry person wearing black that was decided by a Twitter-consensus vote of 4-2 to be Ali Riley (but possibly Rebecca Smith) fouled Morgan in the box. Referee Moo “It Would Be So Much Better If Her Name Was ‘Baaaaah,’ Because, Sheep, New Zealand, Get It?” Hackett pointed to the spot. Abby Wambach promptly rang the PK attempt off the post. New Zealand countered, with Wilkinson finding space behind the still-a-work-in-progress U.S. back four, but the Ferns striker sent her shot over the bar.

Morgan’s speed continued to be a problem for New Zealand, but the U.S. couldn’t muster much in the way of shots that didn’t go directly into an opposing player or New Zealand keeper Jenny Bindon’s hands. The Americans finished the half with a few shots that would have counted if this was the other kind of football, but alas… Continue reading

Hi Again, Alex


Remember this? It happened well before this. Alex Morgan came through again, and in Frisco, Texas this time. Girl’s a star.

Lauren Barker will be here shortly with post-match reaction to the USWNT’s heart-stopping 2-1 victory against New Zealand.

Notables for February 9, 2012

Today’s developments (yay, more good news than bad!):

WPS may not be around this summer, but the Boston Breakers and Western New York Flash are sticking around. The two former WPS clubs will take part in the WPSL (Women’s Premier Soccer League) Elite Division along with FC Indiana, the Chicago Red Stars, the ASA Chesapeake Charge, and an eighth team still to be announced. Jeff Kassouf just caught up with Jerry Zanelli and unearthed a few more details so go on, check that out.

Sky Blue FC’s summer plans are still unknown, but the club will take part in a 10-day training camp in Japan. According to the release, the trip “will continue the growth of Women’s Professional Soccer” and “define the commitment of Sky Blue FC and the league to spreading its brand, all while continuing preparations to return to a full season in 2013.” The L-League side has considerable prestige as it is home to seven World Cup winners including Homare Sawa, Ayumi Kaihori, Yukari Kinga, and Nahomi Kawasumi.

And some of us may have disengaged from WPS’s endless toils with Dan Borislow, but the drama lives on. Beau Dure brings us up to speed with the deal that supposedly spelled out magicJack’s semi-return to WPS.

 

Things you probably already know

Frisco is set to give the USWNT a Texas-sized welcome on Saturday. As of tonight, more than 19,000 tickets have been sold for the team’s friendly against New Zealand. In fact, only standing and limited reserved seats remain.

A local television station was with the team during training this week and aired this video segment on Tuesday.

The USWNT is playing friendlies before sellout crowds, attracting coverage from local media, and streaming said friendlies thanks in part to demand from fans. It really is a new day. (And not that you’re asking, but it looks like I’ll be staying in Houston on Saturday. Don’t ask; been grumpy about it all day.)

 

As an aside, that international tournament between the U.S., Brazil, and Japan that’s set to take place in Japan this April? Confirmed.

 

Happening/happened in other corners of the WoSo world:

The story’s headline says it all. After barely a week with the club, U.S. goalkeeper Brett Maron’s contract with Turbine Potsdam has been dissolved by mutual consent. Alyssa Naeher’s sudden (re-)availability looks to be the prime culprit, as the former Boston Breakers goalkeeper is now set to assume the starting job. According to Maron, “I want to and must play. The risk of getting little playing time at Turbine was too great.”

Birgit Prinz’s career will come full circle on March 27. Prinz’s testimonial match will be staged at FSV Frankfurt’s stadium, where her career began 20 years earlier. Additional former German national team players Maren Meinert, Bettina Wiegmann, Louise Hansen and Renate Lingor will also be on hand.

Marta’s time in the U.S. looks to be over and done with. As Andy Crossley’s recent retrospective of the L.A. Sol confirms, it was nothing if not eventful. According to this FIFA.com article, Marta is mulling over offers from Russian and Swedish suitors. Hints at the two Swedish clubs here.

A sizeable amount of new sides qualified for the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations tournament currently in progress (nice one, Zambia!). The trend has been observed in women’s soccer as well, as the traditional continental powers made way for the upstarts in CAF Olympic Qualifying last fall. Cameroon knocked out perennial participants Nigeria. South Africa also qualified for this summer’s tournament after narrowly missing out on World Cup qualification in 2010. The South African Football Association has pledged full support for Banyana Banyana. The team will take part in a three-week training camp in Brazil before jetting off to the Cyprus Cup.

 

And lest we forget

The U.S. U-20′s got off to a rip-roaring start in La Manga, Spain. The team defeated Switzerland 10-0. Germany earned a 1-1 draw with Norway.

Japan’s reception of the hosting rights to the 2012 U-20 FIFA Women’s World Cup? Confirmed.

The full schedule for the 2012 Algarve Cup (all times Eastern):

Group A

February 29

10:00 AM Germany, Iceland

11:00 AM Sweden, China

 

March 2

9:30 AM Iceland, Sweden

11:00 AM Germany, China

 

March 5

11:00 AM Sweden, Germany

11:00 AM China, Iceland

 

Group B

Feb 29

8:40 AM Japan, Norway

1:00 PM USA, Denmark

 

March 2

8:10 AM Denmark, Japan

11:00 AM USA, Noway

 

March 5

10:10 AM Japan, USA

10:10 AM Norway, Denmark

 

Group C

Feb 29

11:00 AM Ireland, Hungary

11:45 AM Portugal, Wales

 

March 2

11:15 AM Portugal, Hungary

2:00 PM Wales, Ireland

 

March 5

1:15 PM Hungary, Wales

1:15 PM Portugal, Ireland

 

March 7

Final

 

And last but definitely not least, the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy’s (JFSLA) Choose to Matter contest is underway. Participants in the JFSLA – along with girls in its partner organization, Girl Talk – have undertaken various community service projects. By voting for a favorite project, you can help send a girl to the Olympics. The winning project from each category will win an all-expenses trip to London this summer as a Youth Ambassador in the McDonald’s Champions of Play program. The five easy steps, as shared by Julie Foudy:

1) Go to website.

2) Read through projects.

3) Find yourself smiling.

4) Vote for your favorite one in each category.

5) Find yourself not being able to stop smiling.

And yes, I’ll then tell you I told you so.

Voting is open from Feb. 1st- Feb. 21st.  And, there are 2nd and 3rd place prizes too – a PUMA shopping spree on Eurosports website, soccer.com

First Impressions Of A Post-WPS World: Truth Telling

If you’re reading this sentence, chances are you’re one of the hundreds (or thousands) of readers who helped crash Pitchside Report’s server this evening. If you’re reading this sentence and aren’t sure what the previous one refers to, click here.

See? Ella Masar’s blog entry may have elicited as much – if not more – public reaction than Monday’s news of the league’s suspension.

Prior to the World Cup, a commenter said it was a good thing the mainstream media didn’t pay attention to WPS. The never-ending nonsense with magicJack surely wouldn’t cast the league in a positive light (although it did help produce a few funny titles on Deadspin). Perhaps Masar’s piece will rouse some interest.

First off, one must applaud Masar for her courageous decision to step forward and shed insight into what transpired during her time with magicJack. It’s important to note that her account is hers and hers alone, and does not necessarily reflect the experiences of her teammates. Still, it confirmed the assumptions. She may have even merely scratched the surface. Unseemly things definitely occurred in South Florida; things that went far beyond the pale; things that shouldn’t be tolerated in any professional setting, never mind that of a women’s professional sports team.

Masar’s raw, upsetting, and candid entry stands in stark contrast to the interview Julie Foudy conducted with Abby Wambach after the U.S. defeated Costa Rica last Friday to qualify for the Olympics. To put it mildly, Wambach reiterated her unwavering support for Dan Borislow. The blessed few who are unfamiliar with the magicJack saga likely wouldn’t know Masar and Wambach were referring to the same man.

So what happens Wednesday? More fallout from Masar’s blog? (Hope Solo replied to a query on the matter on Twitter.) Will we see a number of copycat blogs penned by scorned players eager to come clean about situations previously restricted to rumor? For one, Tasha Kai has promised to spill the beans on what happened in 2009 – presumably the incident with former Sky Blue FC head coach Ian Sawyers.

Such sudden candor could be an element of the catharsis that follows the messy dissolution of a relationship. The anger here is real and it’s everywhere; fans and players with owners, owners with lawyers, teammates with other teammates, the WoSo world at large with Dan Borislow.

It’s still difficult to make sense of everything that’s gone on since Monday morning. Life as many knew it is now gone, and it likely isn’t coming back. The latest outpouring of uncomfortable truths has only made everything more surreal – and sad.

We’ll see who else is willing to lend more clarity to WPS’s murky demise, and all the ugly episodes that preceded it. Perhaps those who remain silent are the ones with the most to tell.