(For those that were here during last year’s World Cup, first of all, thank you. Second, we’re going to tweak the format slightly because there were so many games in just one day. So instead of one post, you’ll get six. The longest will be the United States games, we’re going to assume you watched that one, so it won’t have a recap, just Things We Learned. The other games will give a quick recap and just a couple of Things We Learned. As with the World Cup, hopefully this will be a little bit of an interactive discussion. Within reason, of course. So without further ado:)
After the United States got all the momentum against France today, Brandi Chastain talked for a good minute about the mental side of the game and how the Americans had such an edge because they had been there before and that’s the way they played. To be honest, it was more than a little pretentious, especially if you weren’t American (alas, I’m sure most of her audience was). After all, the Japanese had made the U.S. look pretty ordinary at times in the World Cup final, and the French had plenty of the play in their Cup semifinal defeat.
But when you looked at the body language of the two teams today in the second half, it was really hard to argue with her. France – winners of 17 straight games and apparently ready to take over the women’s soccer world – looked physically and mentally spent. The U.S. looked neither. And when the States finally went ahead, there didn’t seem to be any way the French were coming back.
It’s always hard to pinpoint how much the “mental game” means. Obviously, if I show up with a team like Colombia and my mental game is perfect, I’m still going to need a lot of luck to even stay in the game, let alone get a result. But when a team like the U.S., which has won all but one gold medal that’s been offered at the Olympics in women’s soccer, dispatches of what still might be the best team technically in the world with relative ease after going down two goals in the first 20 minutes, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and France in Day 1:
1) Alex Morgan is legit
I mean we knew that already, but with all the talk of how she looks and what kind of bikinis she wears in photoshoots, she’s at least one of the best strikers in the world right now. The way she times her runs, her speed, and her ability to finish give the U.S. somewhat of an added dimension they didn’t have last year (when Morgan was mostly a super sub). Combined with Abby Wambach, it’s hard to argue Pia Sundhage’s move back to a 4-4-2.
2) It’s hard to see the U.S. not scoring goals
Lauren Cheney didn’t do a heck of a lot today, but you saw glimpses, and then you throw in Megan Rapinoe, Wambach, and Morgan, is anyone really going to be able to keep them quiet for 90 minutes? Even if you sit back, it seems like it’s only going to be a matter of time before a Rapinoe cross finds Wambach’s head (and what a header today for the first goal). If you try to press, Morgan will get behind you at some point. The only thing that may slow them down is the lack of outside backs getting forward (especially Amy LePeilbet), but they may not need it.
3) The offense did bail out the defense, though
In the defense’s defense (thank you, I’ll be here all week), the first French goal came out of nothing. A long ball with a mediocre clearance by LePeilbet, and maybe they should have stepped, but Hope Solo probably should have saved Gaetane Thiney’s shot, which was hit well, but not that well. The second goal was a horror show, although it was everyone involved, not just the back four. Tobin Heath and Rapinoe had the best chances to clear, but didn’t. With all of that being said, Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler did look vulnerable in the air, although it shouldn’t be a factor in the next three games, really.
4) When you’re wrong, don’t be afraid to admit it
Yep, I was one of the people who didn’t think Carli Lloyd needed to be in the starting lineup, and Pia Sundhage largely agreed in the buildup to the Olympics, and obviously today. But Lloyd was ready when her name was called in just the 17th minute when Shannon Boxx went down, and boy did she play well for the most part today, even without the winning goal. Small coaching point from the goal, Camile Abily knows from the scouting report that Lloyd can use both feet, so she can’t just overplay Lloyd’s right, giving her just enough room to take an extra touch and unleash her winning drive. Lloyd can play the holding midfield role (and probably will have to the rest of the way), but does have to make sure she doesn’t drift too far forward, especially against top competition. But the smile on her face after the winning goal pretty much said it all.
5) France just looked slow overall
I know they had won 17 straight, but France looked a step slow all over the field and that slowed down their possession game and allowed the U.S. to win a lot of the 50-50 balls that allowed them to keep tempo and have a lot more of the ball then they had the World Cup semifinals last year. Unfortunately for the U.S., surely Bruno Bini saw that and if they meet again, this may have just served as a test run. There were moments where they were able to cut the U.S. defense up, like a Thiney chance in the 38th minute, but they were few and far between today.
6) Delie stays on, Necib comes off
Bini may have overcoached a bit here, obviously not in leaving Marie-Laure Delie on the field (which he didn’t at the World Cup), she was dangerous all day, but when he took Louisa Necib off for Eugenie Le Sommer, France didn’t get any better. In fact, they got much worse. We know Bini loves the 4-2-3-1, and he correctly wants to get Le Sommer on the field, but maybe he needed to pull Elise Bussaglia at that point and get a little more athletic. We shall see.
7) The road is much easier now. It seems that way, at least
After a delay, North Korea and Colombia really didn’t show much that either is going to be a threat to the United States or France, which means that a France-Japan quarterfinal is likely, while the U.S. should get someone like New Zealand (who was relatively feisty today). The U.S. would then likely get Brazil in the semis, which seems easier than Japan or France, but who knows?
8) Limited view of the stripes?
I haven’t gotten confirmation, but if the U.S. as home team has choice of jerseys and chose blue (which would force France to get away from their regular blues and into the whites they wore today), and you add in the fact that they won, we might not see much of new stripes for the rest of the Olympics.
9) The U.S. may not be tested for a while
As I said, North Korea and Colombia didn’t show much today and really should be an easy three points. The quarterfinal game is always tricky because it’s a knockout game, and someone like New Zealand could do something like get an early goal to make things interesting, but really the next test won’t come until the semifinals. Not so sure that’s a great thing right now. Although Pia should get a chance to give some people some rest in the next two games, hopefully.
10) No Heather O’Reilly?
There was no report of an injury to Heather O’Reilly (although we’re not 100 percent sure), but she didn’t come on even as a sub. Obviously, the team won and Tobin Heath was serviceable, but still strange. We’ll have to keep an eye on it going forward.
Show up, people
The crowd was involved, but slightly surprising that in Scotland more people didn’t turn out for a marquee game like this. I guess it was worse in Cardiff where there wasn’t much of a crowd for Great Britain and New Zealand in the first event of the entire Olympics. Say what you will about women’s soccer in America, but whatever arena would have been full here.