Tag Archives: Abby Wambach

A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Five: 2003.

Maintaining the standard.

Three of our 2003 acquisitions: #2 goalkeeper Nicci Wright, midfielder Kelly Golebiowski, and reserve goalkeeper Erin Regan

Three of our 2003 acquisitions: #2 goalkeeper Nicci Wright, midfielder Kelly Golebiowski, and reserve goalkeeper Erin Regan

Not surprisingly, offseason changes to the Freedom roster are limited and mostly involuntary. Chinese national team captain Pu Wei stays home to help prepare her team for the upcoming Women’s World Cup. Bai Jie is slow to arrive for reasons that are unclear at first but it eventually turns out that the Chinese government refuses to let her come to the US as a protest against the invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, former Chinese national team goalkeeper Gao Hong joins the Freedom from the New York Power, replacing Erin Fahey, who’s been cut. (She’s already over here, so the Chinese government can’t do much about it.) Though the ramifications for the Freedom in the long run are very positive (as shall be seen), the decision is baffling: Erin was a terrific #2, so there seemed little point in taking a gamble on Gao, who at one time was one of the best goalkeepers in the world but who is coming off a miserable, injury-ridden season with the Power. Still, perhaps she has enough left to be a solid backup to Siri.

Lori Lindsey joins the team and becomes a mainstay for years to come

Lori Lindsey joins the team and becomes a mainstay for years to come


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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Four: 2002 Late.

Finishing strong

The league-leading Philadelphia Charge, who have only been beaten once so far this season, come visiting on July 14. They’ve shrugged off the loss of their superb midfielder, Kelly Smith, as French speedster Marinette Pichon has taken the team on her shoulders. In June, Pichon scored six goals in five games, adding to her total of twelve for the season, and is coming off a hat trick in Philly’s previous match. So guess what Carrie Moore’s job is for this game? That’s right, man-mark Marinette for 90 minutes and try to keep her from scoring.

 Marinette Pichon gets one of her few touches on the ball in the July 14 match.


Marinette Pichon gets one of her few touches on the ball in the July 14 match.

Meanwhile, Mia Hamm makes her first start of the season. She has an opportunity to give the Freedom the lead early, as Bai Jie is taken down in the penalty box in the 11th minute. But she misses the resulting kick. It’s not until the 75th minute that anyone scores, and it’s the Freedom, courtesy of Abby Wambach, who gets the ball from Steffi Jones on a corner kick from Mia Hamm and puts it away. Unfortunately, Casey Zimny – three minutes after coming into the game – commits an unnecessary foul on the Charge’s Zhao Lihong just outside the box, and Zhao puts the ensuing free kick in the net to tie the score. As for the the dangerous French forward, Carrie limits Marinette to one shot on goal the entire game, garnering effusive praise from all quarters, even the Charge’s head coach. She ends up third in the voting for WUSA Player of the Week, an award that invariably goes to the player who scored the most goals unless there’s a sensational goalkeeping performance that week – giving a defender any consideration is unheard of.
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A History of the Washington Freedom. Part Two: 2002 Early.

Changes and a new arrival

The Wombat arrives!

The Wombat arrives!

I’m going to go into some detail on the Freedom’s 2002 season because it was really special. I followed the Orioles when they won the World Series in 1983. I boarded the Redskins bandwagon through their three Super Bowl wins. My high school football team won the state championship in 1974. But for all that my favorite single season of following any sports team was the Freedom in 2002. You’ll understand why by the time I’m done.

The advantage of finishing next-to last in the league was getting the second draft pick. And Abby Wambach, a tall, powerful forward from the University of Florida, was in the draft. Now keep in mind that Abby didn’t have the reputation she has now. She was highly regarded, yes, but only as a topnotch college player, not as a national team stalwart – in fact she only had something like 17 career minutes on the field with the national team. So it’s not hugely surprising that the Carolina Courage went instead for defender Danielle Slaton, who had several years and 35 caps with the national team, earning an Olympic silver medal with them in Sydney in 2000. (Slaton, alas, had ongoing problems with her knee and had to retire early, else she’d likely be as familiar a name now as Whitehill or Mitts. [Of course, as I republish this she’s doing color commentary for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying.)

Meanwhile, coach Gabarra was doing major housecleaning, trading away players and bringing in some fresh blood. Michelle French and Pretinha went to the CyberRays in exchange for Ann Cook and scrappy midfielder Jacqui Little, who would join her identical twin sister Skylar. Roseli was cut, to be replaced in the international allocation by Chinese captain Pu Wei. Amanda Cromwell is also cut and is picked up off waivers by the Atlanta Beat. Another coup is signing German national team star Steffi Jones, who doesn’t count as an international because her father’s an American citizen. The only downside is that Steffi can’t join the team until after the German season ends in May.
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NWSL Week in Review: Roses For All in Portland

It was the worst of times, not in the women’s soccer world, but in just about everyone’s world in America last week as sports receded into the background while the nation searched for two terrorists. It’s weeks like this where our games can seem so insignificant, especially when “real life” hits close enough to home that one of the NWSL games has to be postponed because the entire greater Boston metro area was in lockdown and the Breakers could not leave to get to Kansas City.

The last portion of the preceding paragraph would be preposterous just days earlier, but there we were Friday night paralyzed watching as there was at least an ending that saved us more horror. The Breakers, like the rest of Boston, were able to try to get back to some sense of normal on Saturday, although it’s understandable if it takes a little while.

And yet this weekend we were able to see the hope for the NWSL. On Saturday, Washington and Western New York played before an overflow crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex, which was in remarkable condition (and featured real live grass). A day later, more than 16,000 piled in to Jeld-Wen Field to see Portland and Seattle, and while the number was obviously stupendous, the demographics appeared almost as striking.

We love young players to attend games, as a coach of young girls, I hope this league gives them a chance to have role models and the like, but what struck me Sunday is that – while there was still a family atmosphere – it sounded, well it sounded like a professional soccer match: chants, the din actually following the play, and – yes – roses for the goal scorers.

Well, maybe we don’t see that last one around the world very much.

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Olympics – What We Learned : Matchday 2 – United States 3:0 Colombia

One of the problems we find with young players in this country is that they just don’t see enough soccer. Therefore, not only do they not fall in love with the game the way I (and I’m assuming you) did, but they miss out on nuances that can sometimes be the difference between a good player and a great one. Little head fake there to let the ball run across your body here, movement off the ball creating space for others there.

So, a fellow coach had a great idea for his 11-year old girls. Give them a “homework” packet that they can complete by watching the Olympic soccer tournament. Not too hard, just enough to watch a few minutes at a time, and with a whole channel devoted to Olympic soccer for two weeks, how hard could that be?

One of the parents arranged for the girls to get together for the only group game that made sense (i.e. a weekend): against Colombia at noon. The other coach couldn’t go so I did today, which led to a site you hope you see more often, a bunch of girls together watching and cheering their heroes on the screen.

An area of the “homework” was entitled “Physical Play”, with the idea being that the game at higher levels is much more physical than young players (and their parents) often imagine, how often body position and using your body helps both attacking and defending.

And as the two girls in front of me had the little booklet out to the “Physical Play”, it happened. Abby Wambach was laying on the ground, after play was stopped, the camera focused in on her with a shiner on her eye already, and Abby telling the Greek ref, “Do you see my eye?”

Many times during games the girls hear me say, “That’s not a foul” when two players come together, an answer that is twofold: most times it isn’t a foul, but even if it is, you want them to respect the referee’s calls.

In this case, though, it was a pretty easy answer: “Coach Ray, wasn’t that a foul?”

“Yup. That’s definitely a foul.”

Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and Colombia on Matchday 2:

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My 2011 On AWK: At Least We’ll Always Have Germany

Mere seconds after Abby Wambach’s dramatic equalizer in the World Cup quarterfinals back in July against Brazil, I got a text message: “Wambachhhhh” was all it said.

What was significant was not the message itself, but who it was from. My friend Steve (the name may or may not be changed to protect the guilty) is not a soccer fan. He’s certainly not a fan of women’s athletics, occasionally prone to both negative comments about soccer (“How could you call it a sport if you can’t use your hands?”) and women that play sports (I’ll let
you insert your own sexist remark here).

Maybe (or maybe not) like you, my life is divided into “soccer people” and “non-soccer people”. They usually stay as far away from each other as possible.

But for a magical week or two in July, as the noted philosopher George Costanza first theorized, my worlds were most definitely colliding.

People like my mother – whom I love very much but I can probably count how many soccer matches she’s watched on television on my fingers – wanted to know when the U.S. was playing next. Radio stations that I’d heard the week before begging to go to their website to vote for “The Hottest Moms in Connecticut” were talking up the semifinals and finals (and not just Alex Morgan and Hope Solo). People turned down Yankees tickets because they wanted to stay
home and watch the games in the knockout stages.

In some ways it seems like years ago, and in some ways, the final shootout against Japan seems like yesterday. And I can’t thank Jenna enough for the opportunity to give analysis and perspective for All White Kit. It was probably the highlight of my year, and I’m guessing the World Cup might have been the highlight of some of yours as well.

I began in June on AWK with my (horribly wrong) previews this way:

“Jenna and the finest women’s soccer website on the planet has been nice enough to ask me to add my two cents (or $2) on the Women’s World Cup. I spend most of my time writing on MLS and the men’s game, but I am a big fan of the women’s game. In my coaching career, I’m primarily a girls coach these days, and it’s always nice for them to have someone to look up to. Sadly, some of the youngsters I coach were barely born in 1999, and obviously have no
recollection of that wonderful summer.”

And 1999 mirrored 2011 in so many ways. Well, except the end, of course. But after spending years trying to get my players to learn by watching games on television, suddenly everyone has seen the games.

“That girl Necib is awesome on the ball.”

“Look how quickly the Japanese play, all one-touch stuff.”

“I wish I could head the ball like Abby Wambach.”

“Alex Morgan never stops running.”

When the high school season began, the girls had not only seen the games, but some could talk intelligently about individual players and teams. A few had even watched the WPS as its season wound down.

Ooooh, did I mention WPS? That brought our party to a screeching halt, didn’t it?

Seemingly just weeks after our glorious time in Germany was over, there was the WPS in the hospital again, near death. I don’t need to rehash the reasons, you can find them splattered all over this site, surely. But it did make me a combination of sad and angry.

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USWNT vs. CanWNT: Wambach & Morgan were Left Unmarked and Made Canada Pay

The United States concluded their post-2011 Women’s World Cup Celebration Series tour against Canada with a 3-0 victory. Both friendlies were played in front of incredible crowds; Megan Rapinoe joked earlier in the week that the fanfare has been like if the WWC runner-ups had actually won the title.  18,570 strong serenaded the team with chants of “U-S-A” at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, Oregon, as did 16,191 at the first friendly in Kansas City, Kansas last Saturday (1-1 draw).

Similar to the previous game, the USWNT lined up in a new 4-2-3-1. As promised, Pia Sundhage featured all 21 players over the two friendlies, a full strength roster from the WWC. Notably in the starting XI, the experiment with Amy Rodriguez as a left winger continued, while Shannon Boxx and Lori Lindsey replaced Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney as holding midfielders. Stephanie Cox stepped in for Amy LePeilbet and Becky Sauerbrunn slide over from her usual role in central defence to the outside right.

John Herdman, who is playing without two of Canada’s regular starters Christine Sinclair and Candace Chapman, switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 and made two changes to his starting lineup from the first friendly, with Lexi Marton in place of Emily Zurrer and Karina LeBlanc in goal for Erin McLeod. Herdman’s fourth ‘keeper, 22 year-old Justine Bernier, was the only one of the 22 player roster not to see playing time. New talent was introduced as three players received their first senior caps during the two friendlies.

The US peppered the Canadian 18-yard box with dangerous crosses and well paced shots throughout the match, but were upstaged by great Canadian goalkeeping from Karina LeBlanc in the first half and Stephanie Labbé in the second.

Canada was kept deep on defensive duties for much of the game, but Melissa Tancredi got an early opportunity when she fended off a couple defenders before sending the ball over the net.

LeBlanc made her first of several great saves in the 17th minute. Abby Wambach started the play when she blocked Sophie Schmidt’s cross, which fell to Rapinoe. She was able to advance the ball up field before laying it off to Wambach, whose ensuing cross was met by an unmarked Rodriguez.  Her side-footed shot from point blank range was denied by a one-handed save.

About 10 minutes later, Heather O’Reilly led the charge forward when she beat Diana Matheson to send in a cross. Lauren Sesselmann was in a great position to block Christie Rampone’s initial shot. Her far post rebound was grabbed in the air by LeBlanc, who then sparked the Canadian attack with her goal kick. The bouncing ball eluded Rachel Buehler and fell favourably for Tancredi. Her header into space allowed her to turn and shoot, but the low bouncing ball went just wide to the right of Hope Solo.

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The USWNT & CanWNT Battled in a Scrappy 1-1 Draw

The first of the two-game friendly series between the United States and Canada resulted in a 1-1 draw in front of a near capacity crowd of 16,191 packed into Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Boisterous fans created a lively atmosphere to welcome home their Women’s World Cup heroes, whose performance in this summer’s tournament ignited interest all over the US. Of the three friendlies played at home in 2011 prior to the WWC, two took place in comparatively large stadiums, like Red Bull Arena (25,000 capacity) and Columbus Crew Stadium (20,000 capacity), but had only managed to draw attendance merely in the 5,000s.

The situation for both teams couldn’t be more different: the USWNT was playing with the exact same group who recently propelled themselves to newfound celebrity status, and a coach whose unwavering loyalty to a particular formation and players have drawn cries for change and ingenuity from fans and commentators alike; in contrast, the CanWNT was playing under a new coaching staff following a sorrowful WWC with new players and new tactics.

September 17 was to be a battle of old and new. Yet, surprisingly, both teams stepped onto the pitch to test new strategies.

Pia Sundhage implemented a 4-2-3-1 for the match, a departure from her favoured 4-4-2.  The USWNT coach expressed her hopes of adding another dimension of unpredictability to the attack. Sundhage experimented by moving Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd, both of whom normally occupy more offensive roles, back to act as deep-lying midfielders. She was quick to point out that the pair would be “possession midfielders” as opposed to holding midfielders. Still in search for the team’s true No. 10, the Swede had Megan Rapinoe assume that role in the starting XI. The new formation was to emphasize play in the centre of midfield, but the US still found the most success attacking from the wings, especially in the first half.

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The All-Curren Team: Picking The Best 18 From The World Cup

Well, I promised you people I’d have an All-Tournament team for the Women’s World Cup, and after a week of stalling (and working with the future soccer players of America in 100-degree heat), here you go.

But to do it the right way, I need to make an actual team. It’s easy (at least, easier) to give you a list of players, harder to pick the best at each position, and who I might want to use off the bench if I had to win a game (of course, I think I’ll do OK with this team no matter what 11 I choose).

Among the players that didn’t make the cut:

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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.

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