Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Final Edition As Japan Is Crowned

The rules of athletics (at least knockout style) dictate that there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser.

Expert commentary, I know.

But (and I realize not everyone reading this is a United States fan, and I love that about AWK, so keep visiting) if you can take yourself out of your rooting shoes (or jersey) for a second and take the game you watched on Sunday for what it was.

A brilliant advertisement for women’s soccer, which saw the best the game has to offer. An underdog that everyone could root for, coming off an unspeakable tragedy in their home country, playing an attractive style of soccer, and exuding pure class and sportsmanship at just about every turn.

Of course, the rub is that this great story of Japan comes at the expense of the U.S., who lost the game in heartbreaking fashion, leading both in normal time and extra time before losing in penalties. It’s hard to imagine losing in a more painful fashion, actually.

But, perhaps the biggest lesson I try to get across to both the players I coach and students I teach is the “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” lesson.

Can you be happy for someone else even if it comes at your expense? Can you put aside your pride to congratulate an opponent or adversary on a job well done?

This one will hurt for a while for the United States. There’s no telling where the national team program will be in four years, there’s a lot of work to be done to stay on top of an ever-changing and improving women’s soccer world.

But there’s something to be said for being a part of something great. Sunday’s final capped a beautiful tournament that drew attention to women’s soccer that it hasn’t seen in 12 years. And, I would argue, this was even better because people seemed to be tuning in more for the quality of the play than the novelty of it. Or if they tuned in for the novelty, they were stunned by the quality and refreshing way the women went about their craft: few horrible tackles, less gamesmanship, more reasons to smile on a daily basis.

It was capped by the “right” team winning, the one with the best story, the underdog everyone can attach themselves to.

It was just unfortunate it wasn’t the team in our country.

But that doesn’t mean the U.S. shouldn’t be proud that they played such a big part, they had the better chances, controlled play, and played their best game of the tournament. They did everything but win the title, and getting so close will sting.

As Abby Wambach did, though, just minutes after the match, it doesn’t mean you can’t tip your proverbial cap to the Japanese and walk away with your head held high.

After all, even though they lost, they were part of something special. It may not mean anything tomorrow on the plane ride home or next week or even next year.

Someday, though it should.

The final edition of the 10 things we learned at Germany 2011.

1) The United States looked like the best team in the world today *** (but see No. 2 and 3)

The U.S. came out with a game plan to press Japan as soon as they got out of their own third, and they executed it brilliantly in the first half. Every time the Japanese tried to play through them, one of the midfielders (Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Shannon Boxx, and Heather O’Reilly) was in their face. More importantly, the next outlet was cut off by the U.S. hard work, and Japan was simply lost for about the first 30 minutes of the match.

2) But you have to take your chances

Again, expert commentary, I know, but to put only one of their first 13 shots on goal was not going to get it done. You understand nerves and the huge occasion, but – as I’ve said before in the U.S.’s behalf in this tournament – they don’t give you points for that kind of stuff. Carli Lloyd was the biggest repeat offender, but she wasn’t alone.
Of course, sometimes you’re just unlucky. Abby Wambach’s 28th minute missile (with her left, no less) was inches from being a spectacular goal. Alex Morgan’s ball in the 49th minute at the near post seemed harder to stay out than go in, but somehow spun in the goalmouth and was cleared.
That’s the way the game goes sometimes.

3) The defense left a lot to be desired

Ironically, they didn’t have to do too much for much of the match, but both goals came on just panicked defending, and there were a couple of other moments that didn’t result in goals that made you cringe.
I’m sure Rachel Buehler feels as bad as anyone, but it was her clearance that caromed off a shocked Ali Krieger (and a couple of other defenders had chances to clear the ball as well) and led to the equalizer.
On the second goal, Homare Sawa lost Buehler, but it was a simple ball over the top that resulted in the corner in the firstplace.
Even Hope Solo looked extremely nervous at the end of the game.

4) You just expected the U.S. to win

To break it down, the only game the U.S. has lost in extra time or penalties in a major tournament was the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when Tiffeny Milbrett scored in stoppage time to tie the gold medal match against Norway, only to have Dagny Mellgren score in the 102nd minute to give Norway the gold, 3-2.
Here’s the rest of the list:
1996 Olympic semi – 2-1 ET win over Norway (Shannon MacMillan game-winner)
1999 WC final – PK win over China
2004 Olympic semi – 2-1 ET win over Germany (Heather O’Reilly 99′)
2004 Olympic final – 2-1 ET win over Brazil (Abby Wambach 112′)
2008 Olympic quarters – 2-1 win over Canada (Natasha Kai 101′)
2008 Olympic finals – 1-0 win over Brazil (Carli Lloyd 96′)
2011 WC quarters – PK win over Brazil

So it was a little surprising historically to see the U.S. lose in the fashion that they did.

5) Alex Morgan is going to be a star

Jenna has already pointed out that Morgan leads the searches that lead to her site. I’m guessing many of those aren’t for her soccer talents, unfortunately.
But she was the most dangerous person on the field Sunday, on either team, and the finish on the first goal was clinical. She will be a handful to deal with, and paired with Wambach will be an absolute handful for anyone to deal with.
We’ll see if Wambach hangs around for another World Cup, but until she retires, that’s a lethal duo.

6) It’s never over until……

There was really no reason to think that Japan was going to get back into the game after the Morgan’s goal. I was as guilty as anyone of prematurely awarding the U.S. the trophy and speculating on how much money Alex Morgan (and others) could make in endorsements, and then – pretty much out of the blue – Japan struck.
But that’s why we love this game, a 1-0 or 2-1 lead can be erased just like that.

7) Japan never really could get Aya Sameshima or Yukari Kinga into the game

A lot of what Japan did was predicated on outside backs Kinga and Sameshima getting forward, but Heather O’Reilly and Megan Rapnioe kept them in check for most of the game (until the very end), and made them defend much more often than Japan wanted them to, which obviously wasn’t in their game plan. Again, things went pretty much how the U.S. wanted them to for most of the game despite the result.

8) Give a lot of credit to Ayuma Kaihori and Saki Kumagai

If you watched the friendlies against Japan, you wouldn’t consider Kaihori or Kumagai to be a strength, you’d probably say go at them. But – although they weren’t perfect, Kumagai couldn’t handle Morgan on the first goal – they weren’t a liability, and both grew in confidence as the tournament went along.
It wasn’t always pretty, but for most of the game, the pair did their job, including 20-year-old Kumagai burying the winning penalty.
Kaihori is only 24 as well.

9) Hopefully, Homare Sawa will get some of the credit she deserves

If she wasn’t before, she deserves to be put up there with the list of the greatest women’s soccer players of all time, we know she won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at this tournament, but she’s been with the national team since 1993, playing in five World Cups with 81 goals in 171 caps (not to mention what she’s done in various leagues – including WUSA and WPS – over the last two decades).
Sawa deserves everything she gets.

10) So what now for the United States?

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot coming through right now, although Becky Sauerbrunn should be able to step right in for Christie Rampone if she retires. That’s probably the only change that will need to be made for next year’s Olympics in London.
Obviously, people like Tobin Heath hope to see more time, and they could use a creative midfielder, and maybe they’ll be a youngster we don’t know about that can break through and really make a difference, although I’m not sure there’s one in the pool right now.
The biggest question may be the coach, my gut is that Pia Sundhage stays with the United States through next summer’s Olympics, but with Sweden qualified already (somewhat unxpectedly), we’ll have to see what Pia does. Eventually, you get the feeling, she’s going back to coach Sweden.


Pure class from Abby Wambach

Wambach was absolutely gutted, this may have been her last shot at winning a World Cup, and yet she stood there and answered the tough questions on the field, without blaming, giving full credit to Japan.
A lot of people wouldn’t have done that with such class, and we noticed that, Abby, if it’s any consolation to you.

Double bonus:

Ah, penalty kicks

You know my dislike for penalty kicks, although I don’t know any better way right now. It did seem that people that don’t watch soccer a lot can’t grasp the whole “penalty kicks deciding a game” thing. It is what it is, I guess.
I don’t really understand why the whole golden goal thing didn’t catch on, though. Exciting, lessens the chance for penalty kicks, seems like a no-brainer for me.
Of course, although the U.S. would have won Sunday’s game with a golden goal, they would have been eliminated in the quarterfinals by Brazil.

Triple bonus:

WPS boost?

I’ll be honest, the whole St. Louis fiasco turned me off to WPS last season, but I did watch my first entire match of 2011 tonight (Western New York-Sky Blue). It wasn’t great, but I’m willing to try.
I’m thinking of heading to the Boston-WNY game next week. Will others follow (and stay with the league into 2012)?
I guess only time will tell.

(Finally, thanks to Jenna for giving me this outlet, and thanks to you for reading. It’s been a lot of fun, hopefully we can do it again sometime.)

57 thoughts on “Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Final Edition As Japan Is Crowned

  1. Bill

    You mention “being a part of something great”…

    I took my daughter to one of the warm-up matches against Japan. She hadn’t been to a women’s game before, but was excited. She got the media guide, read it cover to cover (and would spout random facts from it for the next two months), stuck around for 45 minutes after the game, and appeared hooked.
    We watched the group stage matches, yelled at the quarterfinals, etc – she paid a lot more attention than to any other sporting event I can remember.

    Today, she had a prior commitment, and headed out at halftime, telling me not to tell her what happens. She came back later this evening… while I didn’t say anything, my 4-year old let it slip. (“It was a tie. Japan won.”)

    My daughter expressed some regret that it was spoiled for her, declined watching it, and went off to watch some silly show on the Disney channel.

    Obviously, it just one anecdote. But I hear people saying how it’s a game that will stick with people, or how it will be great for women’s soccer in the US. But I just don’t know.

    1. Tim Donohoo

      You are right with your comments. It won’t stick. I was watching the WNY-Sky Blue game today and without Marta in the game- it was dull and boring. That is why the WPS has paid her so much money to come play here. The U.S. players are just too weak to compete with the likes of the 5 time World Player of the Year. The advertising for the world cup was all about PRESSURE and the Americans choked today under the pressure. What does that leave people thinking? It won’t work. I will be surprised if the WPS is around next year. The future here is Tobin Heath? PLEASE! And Hope Solo– an aging player and over-hyped. Come on America!

        1. Tim Donohoo

          It is all about marketing. Hope Solo is about marketing. Watch the reaction of Solo (meaning one) to Abby Wambach postgame. Abby cool and collected under pressure. Solo lost it. Over-hyped. Maybe top 5 goalie in the world. Not the best. Needs to watch her PRESSURE MAKES US commercial and learn from one of the best- Abby Wambach.

    2. Ray Curren Post author

      I think this is a great point, and we don’t know. At camp today, everyone – and I mean everyone – had seen the game.
      (Unfortunately, “pulling a Carli Lloyd” now means launching the ball over the goal, but on the plus side, they know who Carli Lloyd is).
      But people’s attention spans are short, I’m pretty sure the next World Cup in Canada will be huge, but are there enough women’s soccer games in between to make it big?
      It comes down to WPS then and that’s asking a lot with the state the league is in now.
      Like I said, I’ll give it a shot, but they’ve turned me off once before.

  2. CW in LA

    I really don’t know why FIFA dumped the golden goal, apart from the fact that it was cool and FIFA is run by idiots. On the other hand, I know penalty kicks are unpopular, but if they’d just kept playing at the ’99 final when it was, what, 150 degrees, people would have died.

    I feel like I shouldn’t be pissed since it is a great triumph and a heart-warming for Japan and I really didn’t think the US would even make the final before the tournament started. But I am pissed.

    On the plus side, coming into the tournament I was concerned that Wambach was over the hill. Now I’m reasonably confident that she’s not. I sure hope she sticks around for Canada ’15 (It is Canada, yes? The LA Times soccer writer, Grahame Jones, seems to think there’s still a chance it could be awarded to Zimbabwe, but if it doesn’t concern big-glamor Euro-ball, he generally can’t be bothered to get his facts straight), since whoever the coach ends up being, Wambach’s poise and leadership will be invaluable.

    Anyway, I really appreciate this blog; it can be hard to keep track of women’s soccer, especially on the west coast these days, and this place is is knowledgeable while rooting for the game and it’s participants. Thank you!

  3. TC

    Thanks Ray for your insights and opinions. Your and Jenna’s analysis was thought provoking and added another layer of enjoyment to the whole event.

    1. Bobo

      Seconded. I’d heard of this blog before but hadn’t checked it out much since I don’t follow the national team too much. But come the World Cup, it was a natural place to turn to and you folks didn’t disappoint. Job well done, and I hope the result didn’t bum you out too much. It was quite an effort by the team to come back from the rough qualifying season.

      1. Ray Curren Post author

        Appreciate the kind words. The final result was disappointing, but it was overshadowed by the overall quality of the tournament. Shame we have to wait another four years, but hopefully it will get more Olympic games live on a network my cable gets.

  4. HSC DOC

    Let us have a dose of reality leaving the nationalistic pride behind. From the standpoint of the beautiful game, the US Women’s team was the fifth best team in the tournament (1. France, 2. Japan, 3. Sweden (better at the US physical game) and 4. Germany). Before we get carried away about the US play today (their best in the tournament), please remember that France dominated the US. I expected the US to play their poor physical game today and win. Instead, we actually played soccer for once and lost.

    You say the US needs a creative midfielder (and not a #10 who puts all her shots into the stands, inclduing her penalty). This development will never happen if people think that the US “deserved” to win this World Cup with players with poor touch and no real invention in the final third. At least the Japanese understand the killer pass.

    1. casualfan

      I agree with most of what you said, but you and I were watching a different game if you don’t think that we had invention in the final third for a large portion of the match today.

      Finishing? Now that’s a different story!

    2. Ramon

      Hope Solo said in an interview that Pia Sundhage wasn’t the kind of coach that stands on the sidelines yelling detailed instructions to her players. I’ve seen too many coaches that do exactly as Solo describes. We need coaches that use a more hands off approach at all levels of the game, so that players learn to think for themselves and create. Until we get the Xs and Os mentality out of our youth coaches we will never be able to play the beautiful game Japan and others are playing.

      BTW I think you’re being a bit harsh. We do have at least one player who understand the killer pass. Megan Rapinoe has made a few this tournament, including one today when she set up Alex Morgan for the first US goal. But yes, we need more of that.

      1. HSC DOC

        As I wrote, we did play our best soccer of the tournament in the final. Where was the emphasis on possession and passing on the ground in the early games. Our newspapers make it seem like Japan was lucky to be in the final and lucky to win it. The USA lost to Sweden, who were better, won on luck aginst a better (individually) Brazil side, and then wre dominated by France but beat them. The French domination of us was more pronounced than our “domination” of the Japanese.

        My foucs in my measured criticism of our national team’s play is youth soccer. As you say, unless we focus on individual skill (first touch), we will continue to rely on attributes that can be found in any sport, i.e., strength, organization, conditioning, rather than TIC (technique, insight, and communication). Unfortunately, money drives youth soccer which puts the focus on results. The USA should have the ability to field a team who technical brilliance leads to domination in very game, not just one of four.

        1. Ramon

          TIC. I’ll have to remember that. It’s absolutely right. Ditto on the money issue. That reminded me of something Ian Darke said during the broadcast, something about Alex Morgan’s dad (I think) offering her a new Lexus if she met some goal scoring target. I don’t know in what vein the story was offered in, but ouch. I should hope we’re not shutting out a large portion of our population from our money driven youth system simply because they can’t afford to buy into it. Because the pool of Lexus buying dads out there is rather small.

          1. Ray Curren Post author

            It’s a big problem, even more so on the women’s side than the men’s, I think, because a lot of the immigration that helps the men’s side comes from parts of the world that still aren’t too keen on women’s soccer (at least as much as the U.S.).
            You hope the Latino population eventually helps, Alina Garciamendez is a good example, of course she’s playing for Mexico.

  5. sad fan

    I missed Lindsay Tarpley today. She would have been useful to help kill the game off at the end of either regulation or the extra time.

  6. casualfan

    Japan earned it. We didn’t. It’s as simple as that. I feel bad for Abby because she never gave up. Never got cocky. Never quit. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everyone on the US team.

  7. TDK

    Epic match. Great tournament. The level of the game is improving by just leaps and bounds. And it does feel like there’s a change in the wind, with the big, established, Route 1 football teams being overtaken by the possession and skill game.

    Full props to Japan: they looked nervous and a little tentative out there, and combined with some inspired play from both our defense and offense, they were completely taken out of their game. But they never panicked, their body language never said “Hey, just getting here is a win”, they never turned petulant and hacking (which isn’t in their game anyway), they just refused to turn over and die. And they did it the hard way, going through 3 of the biggest, most accomplished sides in the game to do it.

    As for the US, great game (except for the finishing part). I haven’t seen them control the run of play so thoroughly in ages. That said, now is probably the wrong time to ask questions, but I’ll do it anyway. If Sundhage wants to play a possession game, as she says she does, why does she start Boxx and Lloyd? If we struggle to score, as we have for a year now, why doesn’t the starting lineup include Morgan, Cheney, and Rapinoe? And late in extra time in the championship match, with the outcome completely in doubt, why put on a such a greenhorn as Tobin Heath? Especially for PKs?!?

    About missing chances, true, and if this weren’t a tendency of this particular USWNT I would just write it off to bad luck. After all, if France hadn’t been so wasteful it could have been Japan – France.

    As for classy, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd were also graceful and generous in defeat. Well done, ladies.

    Some other random comments. I hope the North Korean players don’t get punished for not doing better. One can’t avoid the feeling they’re just pawns here, right down to the steroids business. I hope Nigeria gets a decent coach — so much speed there, so much potential. Same for Equatorial Guinea. I hope (though at this point I should know better) Brazil gives its women a little support — what a team that could be. And I hope Canada aren’t completely shattered by this experience.

    1. JM

      Agree, Agree … The PK part gets me still since Boxx missed her chance with Brazil, but got a second chance on a minor technicality in that lead-up match. This was lucky for the U.S., but it left a video trail for Japan to scout. Did anyone think Japan wasn’t going to do their homework? And then to repeat the lineup? Why put her up again? Certainly Sundhage would know who was a PK clutch and who was not, especially in the final minutes with one sub still unused.
      And of course, getting Tobin Heath up there. That was readable. Sundhage let that one go. Initially I thought Lloyd’s miss was just randomly unlucky, but TDK has me convinced otherwise.
      I’m really impressed with some of the soccer I saw. And who begrudges Japan? But the fall off at the end for the US. Well, there is the Olympics.

  8. cambridge_footie

    Trying to be philosophical.

    Cheney, Morgan, Wambach scrape the woodword. 3 of the 4 US backline players conspire to give Japan the first goal. The entirely different body language of the US players in the PK shootout. It was Japan’s night and everyone felt it even the US players.

    But credit to team USA. After 3 up and down games they came out strong and played a good game. The Cheney injury was a shame. I’d have some issues with Pia’s choices but ultimately it didn’t matter. Japan gave everyone (except the USA) the storybook ending. They are a credit to the sport and their country and all that is left is to tip my hat to them.

    My final ‘glass half full’ reaction is how very proud I am of these players. After sitting though the painful men’s Italy v Frace WC (2006) and not much better Spain v Netherlands (2010) this was a game played with a respect for the sport that we don’t often see. It warms my freakin’ heart. So yeah my team lost but there was plenty to celebrate.

  9. Soccer

    Just a couple points….Rampone had a horrible bad pass out of the back to lead to the first goal and the Buehler tried to clear a ball by kicking it through the face of the goal. The girl’s a Stanford grad and I thought she would have remembered Defending 101 (never clear across ur goal).

    Rachel Buehler is too slow for the highest level of women’s soccer. It was honestly embarrassing trying to see her run.

    I think a lot of people KNEW Lloyd would hit hers over….I think out of the 20 or so shots she’s had in the world cup….only 1 was on net and was a goal due to goalkeepeing error.

    Tobin Heath for 3rd in PK? It should have been Rampone as the captain taking that PK….Period.

    2 things I want to see with the National Team that I will never ever stop saying…

    #1 Tobin Heath is not good enough to be on the National Team. She is known for her “tricks” She looked like she was a total amateur out on the field today and in the semi. You need midfielders that actually give positive passes or score….she does NEITHER! Shoot I’m not pro-Casey Nogierua (spelling?), but even Casey would have done better than Tobin.

    #2…..Lauren Cheney needs to replace Carli Lloyd as the offensive center mid. PERIOD.

  10. grrljock

    My 20-20 hindsight (echoing points made above):

    – Losing Lauren Cheney in the second half definitely left a big gap in the middle for US.
    – For a keeper regarded as best in the world, Solo sure looked tentative this match.
    – Subbing Rapinoe out with Heath turned out not to be a good thing: all Heath did was dribble the ball right into the Japanese defenders and Rapinoe wasn’t available for PK.
    – Lloyd was Shank City all through the match–surprising that she was one of the PK takers.

    Otherwise, it was a match worthy of a World Cup final, with a storybook ending, as Ray stated. Hats off to Japan, for their poise and deadly strikes in the goal. And yes, hats off to Wambach and the rest of the team, for being gracious in what must be such a bitter moment.

    1. cambridge_footie

      Agree on every point.

      My biggest complaint was the Heath substitution. I can see a reason to have Heath in the squad but at 2-1 up you want someone who can keep possession and that, if I can put this delicately, is not Heaths strong suit. I would have preferred someone with a cool head, who does the simple things well and has some experience…. and is perhaps called Lori Lindsey!

      I was probably one of the only ones OK with the Rapinoe sub. She did some good things but there were numerous times I found myself yelling at her that there were 10 other people on her team. Also Wambach kept having to adjust her run because Rapinoe kept running into that space (see Rapinoes point blank miss). Cheney moved into the middle too but her movement with Wambach is much more fluid.

      1. Ray Curren Post author

        I think if Pia had one thing she’d take back, it would be the Heath sub. But Rapinoe (who hadn’t played a full match in the tournament) had gone 114 minutes and was out of gas. At the time, she hoped Heath could just take the ball and run out the clock.
        If she knew the match was going to penalties, she would have left Rapinoe in, but hindsight is always 20-20.
        But why she put Heath up to take the penalty in that spot? Don’t have an answer to that one.

  11. allan allen

    i would have called Cheney over to the sideline after she blew that shot on goal instead of passing the ball, what a mistake (about 55 seconds into the game)….Rapinoe should never
    have been subbed…she was a sparkplug …total game…

  12. Katharine Sinderson

    On a human level of course I feel for the US players, but as a game it was hugely entertaining and the Japanese players just didn’t give up. From an England fan’s point of view, at least we can say that England did beat the eventual winners! Also, Faye White in the BBC studio, who now knows about missing penalties, called the game correctly.

  13. e

    Well I had to take 15 hrs before I could sit down and visit AWK. First, what a great tournament and if you are finally just realizing how great women’s soccer can be…support the WPS and continue to support the USWNT. Watch the WPS games, go to WPS games, go to USWNT friendlies and qualifying for the Olympics. It does not end here-it only continues to grow for this great sport and for these women. But they need your support year-round.

    Second, I just want to thank the US team for your hard work and being such great role models. In a society that rewards these idiot athletes who use drugs, beat their girlfriends, talk trash about their own teammates etc…it is refreshing to see our team not get into any of that bullshit. Abby, Lauren, HAO and company…keep on being the classy people/players that you are.

    Third, when Abby retires, hopefully AFTER the 2015 WWC, I nominate her for the head coaching position.

    Fourth, if the word on the street is true about Magicjack turning over ownership to Abby, Hope and Rampone, I would like to be the first to pledge some $$$$ to keep this team going. We need the WPS to keep on pushing women’s soccer to the next level. Let’s get a campaign going…change the name back and everyone can own a little piece of the Freedom.

    Finally, thank you, thank you Jenna Pel…your hard work for this blog has been amazing.

  14. Psmith

    It was a terrible lineup for PKs. Carli Lloyd? She missed every shooting opportunity all night long. She has classic terrible finishing style, driving the ball up and over the crossbar almost every time she takes a shot. Why not use a finisher like Morgan early on? Are they saving her for later? They have to make the first 4 kicks at least!

    That said, I hate PKs. What is it with FIFA that they won’t allow overtime to be sudden death like every other sensible sport and college soccer? Even if you limit overtime to 2 periods, a sudden death format would eliminate most PKs. If they can’t bring SD to soccer, then in a World Cup final there is no next game. Let them play on until someone wins by playing soccer!

    I still love the women’s game, even if I am disappointed.

    1. Ramon

      Interesting point about Morgan. Presuming that this is what happened, Japan did the same, saving Sawa for last; as it was she was not needed. My view is that you have your best take the first 3. They set the tone, and you have to make those to make the last two count in any case.

      I hate sudden death more than I hate PKs. Just go over to any NFL message board and you’ll see that I’m not alone in hating SD. One good counter, one bad call, one lucky bounce (one coin-flip, for the football guys), and it’s over; the other team has no chance to respond. So teams will play cautiously. As long as you have to determine a winner somehow, why not the current system? With SD the US would not have been in the final, and fans would have been denied the storybook comebacks provided by both Wambach and Sawa. With the current system–which is scrupulously fair–we got both, and the drama of the PKs as a bonus. Great for the fans.

      1. Marshall

        Regarding penalty kicks, here’s my point of view: put 2 of the best 3 penalty takers first and the other one at the very last. The first 2 set the tone and the last one, probably the deciding penalty kick, will be taken by someone you’re (kinda) comfortable with handling the pressure. Putting the best players at the beginning puts a lot of pressure on the last takers, and they are the ones who are not as good as the first 3. Keep in mind that I’m brazilian and we are VERY GOOD at missing penalty kicks, men or women (the men are in a more advanced stage than the women… I’d say they master the art of missing PKs). 🙂

        In reality, chosing the list and deciding the order is not an easy task. I absolutely hate when brazilian players call PKs “a lottery” (even Marta did this), because it is anything but this. It is more like a chess game and you have to develop a strategy with the pieces you have at the moment. Like others have said here, the substitutions played a big part in the outcome of the PK decision (same with brazilian men, when Mano decided to take Pato, Ganso and Neymar off, therefore losing 3 good penalty takers – although Neymar has already missed many PKs trying to be too “clever”, with a lob kick like Zidane did).

  15. Bruce Scott

    All I want to say is thanks a million for this blog, I watched your 1000th post video and I will definitely be following in 2015. Irony has it that just when the USA were the best team on the field between the 16’s (perhaps for the first time) it was this game that we had to lose. It felt a bit like Bad Stars. But the key was that the Japanese goalie could have been sitting on the bench drinking tea and our first goal would still have been at 60′. You have to put it between the sticks! Also, why don’t they (this goes for the Japanese forwards too) think to hit it right into or along the ground since when they are pumped up the most natural thing is to hit it into the sky? Still, to echo many above comments it is heartening to see us playing football with a system and not just assuming we’ll prevail with energy. We will have to see if we can keep this going after Sundhage leaves.

  16. augusto

    watch again the Vt and and see how coolly morgan acted, calculating for a precise shot in her goals vs Japan. Promising in such a nervous final game. granted she was a sub and Pia obviously didn´t trust her ability to this date. would she need just a patient persevering daddylike coach and longer time span to mature and be a natural starter?

  17. random

    As far as the subbing issues, honestly who did Pia even have to go to on the bench? At half she had to sub in Morgan for Cheney due to injury, Rapinoe started. If you think about the subs that have worked this tourney it was Rapinoe and Morgan coming on, she started one and had to bring on the other early, there was no one else. No one would bring on A-Rod as a sub, I feel like she is similar to an earlier conversation on another thread about Lloyd, you start them and see what they do and then sub them when they don’t perform b/c they are both inconsistent (well it could be argued A-Rod consistently underforms…). Pia wasn’t going to bring in Lindsay and why sub out Buehler for Sauerbrunn at that point. O’Hara was so nervous in her one outing it would be too risky to bring her in and well I think we all know the feelings on the rest (everything has already been said about Heath).

    I was really sad for Cheney that she got injured, she had a fantastic tournament. Very happy for Morgan to have such a great game with a goal and assist. Krieger had little to do, Japan did not attack her for most of the game, but as she had looked throughout the tournament she looked solid again.

    On a different note, I really hoped the US would win for probably different reasons than others. I really wanted Abby and some of the other older players to retire on a high note so Pia could bring in the younger players and use the olympics to blood them. Not only that, but I think the US will play a more relaxed possession game without Wambach. Why? Because the US uses route 101 to her head too often instead of holding the ball and working it around. I’d really like to see the USWNT without her for that reason. Not to take anything away from Wambach, I just think she defines our style of play too much. And if she plays in 2015, I hope it is as a super sub, I’d hate to see her int’l career end like Birgit Prinz’s.

    1. Bill

      It appeared to me that, if anything, they play *more* Route 1 over-the-top to Morgan than Wambach. Of course, that’s not to Morgan’s head.

      For the Olympics, it will be interesting to see what, if any, signficant changes there would be. A straight Rampone/Sauerbrunn swap maybe, and Morgan becomes a full time starter instead of A-Rod, but those wouldn’t change much. The question is (as always) the center of the midfield?

  18. Caro from Germany

    For me as a neutral spectator it was one hell of a game. If it had been my favorite team on the field yesterday I probably would have had a heartattack. It was dramatic, exciting and entertaining, all at the same time!
    I was at the Germany vs. Nigeria game which took place in Frankfurt too, so I can imagine how powerful the atmosphere in the stadium must have been!!

    As for the game I’d say the US was probably more dominant, had many chances to score and showed their best game of the tournament but it wasn’t enough because Japan fought hard and always came back after being a goal behind. They simply never gave up and in the end they earned the win.
    This finale was the best ending a World Cup could wish for! 🙂

    All in all I think it was a great World Cup that showed how much women’s soccer has improved and also that a lot of people are interested in it. I’m from Germany so I experienced this last 3 weeks “live” and it was awesome! We’ve had public viewings, sold-out stadiums and spectacular ratings on television! In 2006 we hosted the men’s WC and it was a huge success. But unlike back then nobody expected this much excitement for the women’s WC as well.
    I can’t comment on how we did as a host because I’m biased but I hope all of the teams and the foreign fans had a good time and felt comfortable here 🙂

  19. Mike

    “and they could use a creative midfielder, and maybe they’ll be a youngster we don’t know about that can break through and really make a difference, although I’m not sure there’s one in the pool right now…”


    Kristie Mewis is much more of a #10 than Carli Lloyd ever thought of being….

    1. Ray Curren Post author

      Living in the Northeast, I’ve seen the Mewis sisters a few times. Is Kristie Mewis the answer for Lloyd’s spot? Too soon to tell, although I wasn’t encouraged by the U-20 World Cup last year.
      But definitely someone to keep an eye on at Boston College this fall, and I will.

  20. john

    I was heartbroken as a true homer fan, but if anyone else should win I was tickled f/ Japan. Sawa is really a class player. I will however be spitting mad if any US player over 25 goes to the Algave tourney. US was the second oldest group in Ger. and one of the issues w/ residencies has always been the contractual difficulty of bringing in new players. WPS is giving more players a chance to state their case, but we need to pressure more young players and see who rises to the top. If the older players are displaying good form bring them back into the mix f/ London. Any coach’s job is to find the players to replace her current players b/c they’re better. This is the essence of college recruiting-each class should be better than the previous one and damaged egos be danged.
    Onward and upward!

  21. korsakoff

    What stands out is how classy the US-ladies handled the loss. It is tough to overcome such losses. It was a game the USA dominated and should have won, if not won by a wide margin. And then the destroyed themselfs. Really, really bad.

    So at the end there remains a really, really brillant goal (from Alex Morgan). The goal of the tournament in my opinion.

    Congratulations to Japan, but although they offer a great story now, they were extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) lucky to win that one, and they probably shouldn’t have won it from tha game’s perspective. But that’s soccer and that’s why I love it, the male and the female version.

  22. korsakoff

    Another thing we learned: I was probably a bit unfair to Germany’s viewership. 16 million TV watchers in Germany (!) for the final is unbelievable, no, spectacular – and there wasn’t even playing Germany’s team. It’s really mind boggling, even if there are some variations in measurement-methods.

  23. Maria

    Lose beautifully or win ugly? The question of the day, let the debate begin. I’d like to ask the USWNT players that exact question. Japan played brilliantly for most of the tournament and their matches. They didn’t play spectacular on Sunday but they got the W. As cliched as this may sound perhaps they wanted “it” more. For the road they traveled in the tournament..beating Germany and Sweden in the knock out rounds, I think they earned it as well. Was the focus for the US too much on possession and pretty soccer going into the final at the expense of finishing? I heard at least one interview where a USWNT player mentioned that they wanted to show the world that yes we can PLAY the beautiful game too. Is a World Cup final where you want to try and make that point? To play beautifully you need the skilled players that can play that way and perhaps right now the US lacks the personnel to play beautiful possession oriented soccer and WIN. That being said all the hate for Lloyd and Boxx being vented here and other places is pretty lame. I think they both PLAYED their best game of the tournament on Sunday in the final. They were working, visible, connecting on passes, tracking and playing defense. Ironically the back four as a unit probably had their poorest performance of the tournament. There were more giveaways out of the back then in the midfield which in turn caused more chasing scrambling and trouble in the back. Even with the best GK in the world you can still lose when your defense is having a nighmare. As for the pks, it should have never reached that stage and a coach often times goes with what they have seen in practice and their gut instincts. Who would have guessed that Lloyd would pull a Baggio? The Japanese GK was short. Plain and simple Japan got the job done and deserved the trophy. Lose beautifully or win ugly?

    1. ibpootie

      Maria, you’re right on point. We had too many missed opportunities and Japan’s tech skills were impressive. Beautiful is not a term I would use for the way we got to the championship game so why would we even entertain the notion of changing our style to please the critics. Play “your” ugly game and win sisters!

  24. HarleyPeyton

    Well, I don’t usually blog-stalk, but I had to check in and see if you repeated some of the jaw-droppers you let fly over at Grantland earlier today. Happily you didn’t. But given that Grantland doesn’t allow comments, I can’t resist a brief one here. (Okay. Maybe not so brief.)

    The idea that the Japanese team — now 1 and 26 against the USA — was somehow, and obviously, both the more deserving team and the better team is absurd on the face of it, not to mention to anyone who watched the final with even a moderate level of cognition.

    In fact, the Japanese side was outplayed and outclassed for almost the entire match. True, never so much as in the first thirty minutes, but the USA’s superior field management, ball control, etc. were on display through the rest of the final as well. Think of any one of the USA shots on goal, or rather the goal post. (I’d start with Wambach’s blast that nicked the underside of the crossbar.) Now try to imagine an equivalent shot by the Japanese side. Oh, right. You can’t. Because there simply wasn’t one. Not in the entirety of the final. (In truth, the Japanese goals, both of them, were something less than memorable. A sloppy error in the box on the first; a lucky, and luck is a big part of any soccer match, deflection off Wambach in the second.)

    Actually, watching this helped me to understand how German or Brazilian fans must feel when they watch their teams play the US men. Sure, your team dominates play on the field from start to finish. But those damn pesky Americans bend but don’t break, they wait for the one or two lucky counter-attacks they need to carry the day. And sure, usually they don’t. But the threat remains constant — and a source of irritation, I’d suspect, to those German and Brazilian fans. As it was to me throughout Sunday’s action.

    Look, I’m glad generally that women’s soccer was so ably represented. I’m happy for the plucky underdogs. And yes, I’m aware that the saddest and thinnest complaint in sport is made by the fan who insists that his/her team may have lost but are still the better team. So let’s dispense with that at the last. The Japanese side scored more goals. Therefore they were the better team on the day.

    But if these two teams played ten more games, with these exact rosters? The Japanese could well be looking at 1 and 36.

    Suggesting otherwise — again, those Grantland jaw-droppers — does a disservice to both teams. Not to mention your own reputation.

    1. Jenna Pel

      Harley, that’s fine. Arguing over something we’re clearly never going to see eye-to-eye on is futile.

      The bottom line is that the U.S. missed at least three clear-cut opportunities in the first half, conceded the lead twice (one of which came off a poor defensive clearance), and then completely folded in the penalty kick shootout.

      As I said in the Grantland piece, the U.S. played their best attacking soccer of the tournament. In fact, it’s the best they’ve played since the Germany friendly last May. And trust, USWNT fans have suffered through plenty of dull soccer over the past year. That, too, against a team that had played perhaps the best soccer throughout the tournament. The U.S.’ play in that first half was practically a dream. But it means nothing when you can’t finish your chances, can’t protect a lead (twice), and then capitulate in penalty kicks.

      It doesn’t matter that the U.S. had never lost to Japan before, just as it didn’t matter that the team had never lost to Mexico prior to the CONCACAF WWCQ semifinal back in November. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. may have/probably would have/who knows defeated Japan 9 times out of 10. It was a one-off match. Prospective results in playoff series was never the question.

      The U.S. a.) couldn’t convert any of their first half chances and b.) couldn’t hold their nerve at the last stage. Japan succeeded on both those counts, and thus, on the day, they are the deserved team because they managed to accomplish what mattered most. That comes down to technical precision; something that Japan has flaunted throughout the tournament.

      I’ll let other speaks for my own reputation. And it’s okay if you don’t think too highly of it based on a piece about a match that has polarized opinions. I simply hold one that is contrary to yours.

      1. HarleyPeyton

        Fair enuf. Tho’ I’d suggest your point of view is contrary to the overwhelming majority of opinion on the subject (which is different than ‘polarizing.’) Making it, well, contrarian.

        Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s inaccurate, and, well, a little self-serving, to suggest otherwise.

        1. Jenna Pel

          I honestly haven’t seen it as clear-cut as that. Not in the comments on this post (which I didn’t author), the ones below it, or on Twitter.

          And to suggest that I’m being self-serving for having an opinion that is different from yours – whether is right or wrong – is slightly insulting. The team that I support lost in the final of the World Cup. No cause for smugness.

          1. HarleyPeyton

            Again, fair enuf. Tho’ — and please don’t take this as smug — when I look for informed opinion on any matter, World Cup finals included, I rarely look to Twitter.

            1. Randy

              Harley, then perhaps you are looking at the wrong part of Twitter. Plenty of well informed comment if you know who to follow. But seriously, you are calling Jenna out about something she wrote for Grantland in the comments of one of Ray Curren’s posts? You seem like one seriously confused individual to say the least. And you didn’t even mention the only (non)controversy that appears to matter right now, the whole “choking” issue, which I think Jenna rightfully ignored. This is what AWK needs, more milquetoast trolls.

      2. HSC DOC

        Your analyis is not contrarian. What most readers of this blog do not understand is that the standard for the sport the world calls football, whether men’s or women’s, is not our beloved country. Most of the world, apart from our country, did not find the referee in the Brazil/USA game to be guilty of such criticism for most of her calls. Most soccer writers and television analyst, ranging from the WSJ to Julie Foudy,know just enough about the game to be dangerous. Foudy seemed surprised by the attacking play of France’s outside backs. Just because USA’s 4-4-2 does not encourage such positive play does not make it remarkable. Obviously, quite the conntrary is true.

    2. TDK

      “But if these two teams played ten more games, with these exact rosters?”

      If we did that for all of the knockout rounds we (the US) wouldn’t have made it out of the quarters. And if somehow we eked that out, no way we get out of the semis.

      Whoever wins the hypotheticals, Japan won in reality. And they did it the hard way. Full props.

    3. Maria

      Harley you have a point…just kidding you have no point what-so-ever. Your pretentious nature makes your opinion of soccer very contriving and less than if you have to belittle others to get your point across. Bottom line is these women on both sides played their hearts out to the best of their abilites and I congratulate both teams for a game well palyed AND rhe officials for a job well done!

    4. HSC DOC

      Again, France absolutely outplayed us and showed so much more quality soccer in their play. Brazil could have scored more if they had any coaching. Sweden handled us pretty easily. If you look at the whole tournament, we were not the equal of Japan.

      If anything, we need a thoughtful post-mortem which address the lack of youth (not to mention invention) in our team. We can celebrate making it to a final on grit and luck.


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