Tag Archives: berange sapowicz

Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: U.S. Semifinal Victory Edition

It was former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards who went on this rant in 2002, with the money quote, of course, being:
“You play to win the game.”
Less infamously, he continued, “You don’t play it to just play it. That’s the great thing about sports. You play to win.”
Edwards’ speech has – somewhat rightfully so, don’t get me wrong – been relegated to the comedy files, mostly because Edwards’ coaching career in the NFL was pretty forgettable (see: mostly mediocre).
But the message isn’t necessarily a bad one.
Yes, France was more technically sound than the United States today. Yes, Japan will probably be more technical in the final. Both can pass the ball better and probably had a better first touch overall than the U.S.
France clearly won the possession battle, and Japan probably will – by a wider margin – on Sunday.
Is that something we should strive for when we’re developing our players? Absolutely.
However, you play to win the game, and the United States has won in the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
They’ve done it through hard work, superior fitness, athleticism, better ability in the air, having the best goalkeeper in the world, and – yes – a little but of luck.
Those are the reasons why they’ll win in the finals as well.
You can say a lot of things, but you can’t say France was “better”, and neither was Brazil.
This isn’t a figure skating competition where we’re judging artistry, the rules are pretty simple: you score more goals than the other team and you advance.
(I’m not advocating cheating or gamesmanship, that’s a whole different element.)
Little known fact about Edwards and the 2002 Jets, they won seven of their next nine games, and pulled an upset in the playoffs before bowing out in the conference semifinals.
Maybe it’s the American attitude in me, maybe it’s because much of my playing career was spent against (and with) players that were probably better technically than me, but (and obviously not at younger ages, I understand) there is only one goal when you get to a World Cup and that is to bring home the trophy.
You play to win the game.
The United States only has to win one more.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 18 of Germany 2011.

1) Goalkeeping is the most important position on the field

We talked early on about goalkeeping being an issue at this World Cup, and the U.S. had a massive advantage again, and again put it to good use.
While none of the U.S. goals were complete goalkeeping calamities, you were never comfortable watching Berange Sapowicz in goal today, and that surely has an effect on the team.
Meanwhile, at the other end, you just sort of laughed when the French tried more than a few long-range shots.
Sorry, you’re not beating Hope Solo from there, France.
The first U.S. goal (which I’ll get to in a second) was a good example. It actually started with a Solo save on a pretty good Louisa Necib shot. Obviously, that resulted in a corner, Solo eventually got a hold of it, and less than 30 seconds later, the U.S. had a 1-0 lead.
There’s a lot in between, but it starts with the keeper.

2) France was better technically, but the U.S. had some good (and pivotal touches) as well

Back to the first goal, it was on a pseudo-counter, which helped the United States greatly in the end.
Carli Lloyd found herself on the left touchline, Shannon Boxx played her the ball, and Lloyd came up with a nifty backheel to find Heather O’Reilly (who had also popped up on the left momentarily).
Lloyd’s touch took right back Laure Lepailleur out of the play, center back Laura Georges had to come over and cover and that was a speed battle that O’Reilly was always going to win.
(Ironically, Georges probably should have known that. While Georges was ACC Defensive Player of the Year at Boston College in 2006, O’Reilly was also on the All-ACC First Team that season.)
Lauren Cheney’s deft touch finished the movement, and just like that a huge goal was scored.
But without Lloyd’s backheel, they probably get nothing.
Alex Morgan’s goal to seal it was also a very skillful touch as well that obviously led to another U.S. tally.

3) Don’t want to bring up Dawn Scott again, but…

You have to, don’t you? The U.S. fitness shined again in this match as just when it seemed they were getting tired of chasing France around the field, they seemed to get a second wind and took the game back in the last 20 minutes.
Again, I’m repeating myself, but you don’t know how hard it is to play as many minutes as these women have in the past few weeks and not get fatigued.
And it’s not like the U.S. is a young team, players like Boxx and Wambach have logged a lot of minutes in their careers and – those two particularly – looked strongest at the end of the game.
Of course, some credit goes to….

4) Pia Sundhage again seemed to press the right buttons

The Alex Morgan substitution made sense, but Megan Rapinoe for Lloyd in the 65th minute of a tie game? In retrospect, Lauren Cheney was in the middle most of the time anyway, and Rapinoe’s energy seemed to be contagious for the rest of the squad.
Leaving Amy Lepeilbet on the outside and inserting Becky Sauerbrunn worked as well.
Meanwhile, Bruno Bini’s move to take Marie-Laure Delie off in favor of Eugenie LeSommer at halftime seemed to be a good one, despite its awkwardness, but the U.S. scored twice in four minutes after he made an attacking sub with Elodie Thomis for captain Sandrine Soubeyrand in the 78th minute.
That wasn’t the main reason for the French collapse, but it probably didn’t help.

5) The France 4-2-3-1 did give the U.S. fits, but they couldn’t cash in

As we surmised, trying to matchup with a Necib the way the U.S. was set up proved to be a big problem. Early in the match, the strategy was to have one of the back four step up and pressure, which worked for a little while.
But once Necib found holes and/or Lloyd and Boxx gave the ball away in dangerous positions, Necib has her space.
At that point, though, the U.S. defense did well. They didn’t dive in, held their ground, and forced Necib to either shoot from outside the box or try to play a perfect pass to a teammate. Necib is great on the ball, but her decision-making wasn’t quite quick enough, and the U.S. was able to get back just in time on a few occasions.
(There were a couple of times that Necib was very close. In the 29th minute, Necib played a through ball to Gaetane Thiney, but Solo was there to save the day.)
That will be the next step for France or what Japan will look to do on Sunday, can they quickly take advantage of an exposed U.S. defense in the 4-4-2 before they recover.
We shall see.

6) France still should leave with their heads high, though

They easily could have won this game (they probably think they should have won) and certainly have to be in the discussion in the best teams in the world right now.
They’re not as young, though, as they were made out to be on the broadcast. This is probably the end for Soubeyrand and Bompastor, although you’d think everyone else will be around for Canada 2015.
You’d hope the French people support their team a little better. Reports from Monchengladbach were that there were very few French fans in attendance.

7) Becky Sauerbrunn was fine in a huge spot

You didn’t notice Sauerbrunn much in this match, and a good center back can often work like a good referee, the less you notice her, the better match she had.
Interesting note, Sauerbrunn (playing for Virginia) was also on the 2006 All-ACC Team with O’Reilly and Georges.
I still think Sundhage goes back to Rachel Buehler for the final, though, but we’ll see.

8) The winning goal was a disaster all around for France, but good hustle from the U.S. caused it

In the minutes before the goal, the subs Morgan and Rapinoe were using their energy to put pressure on the French, and the winning goal started with an awful clearance by Sapowicz that basically hit Rapinoe, and eventually became a corner kick.
It was 5-foot-7 Lepailleur who was picked to mark Wambach (would it have been Delie if she was still in the game?), and that went horribly wrong quickly.
As I would tell my players, “She’s going to the goal eventually, isn’t she?” But Wambach was two steps ahead of Lepailleur early, there was no one on the back post, Sapowicz couldn’t get there, and the rest is history.
(By the way, what Wambach did on that play was as brilliant as anything else in this game. The way she shook her mark, used her body as a shield, and knew exactly where to go to finish? Those are skills you can’t really teach, at least the hunger part of that.)
You’d think if there was one player you wouldn’t want to beat you, it would be Wambach. And that’s what makes her so good.
(And, yes, for those of you that have read this throughout the World Cup, I’m fully aware that it was a man marking problem and not a zonal marking problem. That happens sometimes, too.)

9) It’s cold in Germany in the summer sometimes

Even here in the Northeast (U.S.), it gets pretty hot in July, but watching the game today, we saw plenty of winter coats in the stands (and on Bruno Bini).
That probably helped with the fitness of both teams.

10) So it’s Japan in the final

A great matchup, but one I tend to like for the United States, although I said the same with Germany and then picked Sweden to beat them in the semifinals, so what do I know?
The danger will be if Kozue Ando can find the room that Necib did today, but we’ll have plenty more on the matchup Friday night.
One thing I will say is that I’m very happy for the Japanese, who deserve everything they’ve gotten at the World Cup. Great story, and they seem like a class act all the way around.

Bonus:

Hopefully, Ali Krieger is OK

She finished the match, but never looked 100 percent after going down midway through the second half.
It’s obviously not serious, but the U.S. is going to need her at her best (and she’s been one of the best players in the tournament) for the final.

Double bonus:

Did a man buy the U.S. uniforms?

Not soccer related, but it seems like we guard against the “see-through effect” when we buy our uniforms for girls at our club (or for boys or girls when you have white shorts).
But at least Alex Morgan matches.

Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Day 10

The thing about a tournament in soccer (or in any sport for that matter) is that it really doesn’t matter how well or how poorly you played in your last game.

The goal is simple and clear: advance to the next round. There are no style points, and – unlike in a championship that is won over the long haul – dropped points are erased when you get to the next round.

And so those first two games where Germany struggled and France looked unbeatable, they have been quickly forgotten. While England at times had trouble getting out of their own way, and Japan was doing their best Barcelona impersonation, that has been pushed past the back burner all the way off the stage.

But it’s also a warning that things could flip the other way just as easily. I picked France to go the finals because I thought they could beat England, and maybe catch Brazil off guard. I still like those picks, despite what happened today.

I also picked Germany over the United States in the semifinals, and I’d like to say Germany just had a good day today, but I’m not so sure.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 10 of Germany 2011.

1) That was the Japan we thought we might see in the World Cup

My worst pick appears to be not having Japan go through, and the reasons were what you saw today. They were still able to move the ball, and had the territorial advantage, but there was no end product. There wasn’t really much that make you think there was going to be an end product.

2) Hello, Ellen White

You hear things like the women’s Wayne Rooney and one of the next big stars on the women’s scene, and you just didn’t see it in the first two games (of course, in the opening draw against Mexico, she didn’t even start, which looks a tad inexplicable now). But, even though the first goal had a hint of shoddy goalkeeping, Smith was dangerous and a complete handful for the Japanese defense for most of the match, one they didn’t have in their first two games. Karney Carney wasn’t too bad, either, including the assist on the second goal.

3) A little redemption for Karen Bardsley, too

Those of us that have watched WPS at least a little have seen that Bardsley has the ability (including physically, obviously) to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but the goal from distance against Mexico could not have helped her confidence. But she was tremendous today, possibly the best performance by a keeper at the World Cup.

4) It doesn’t mean much going forward, though

As I said in the opening, it is a great accomplishment to win the group, and I’m sure they’re happy to avoid Germany in the quarterfinals, but I think it’s still a toss-up at best in the England-France match (and that should be a good one). Obviously, just on today’s performances, maybe England was better, but as we’ve seen already, things change from game to game.

5) Mexico can leave with their heads held very high

It’s tough to get respect when you play in CONCACAF, and you’re not named the United States or Canada, but Mexico showed they were well deserving of their berth in this World Cup. They’ll be upset at giving up two goals in the closing minutes to New Zealand, but they may make things fairly difficult for the two big powers in the next few years, although they’ll likely have to do it without Maribel Dominguez, who has had a fine career. How they wish she was a decade younger.

6) Simone Laudehr might be the best player in the world not named Marta

She had probably been Germany’s best player in their first two matches, but she was on a different level today. She sets up as a holding midfielder, but when she can run box-to-box as she did a little in the first match, and did a lot of today, she just adds so much to the German attack. However ….

7) Laudehr (and a bunch of others) probably shouldn’t have been on the field today

I could be completely off here, but is there that much incentive to winning this group to play anyone with a yellow card? But both teams did.
Take it one step further, why would you play anyone you thought you were going to need in the quarterfinals? It’s tough to predict red cards, certainly, but now France has to face the quarterfinals without their starting goalkeeper (Berange Sapowicz).
(Was it a red card? It looked like there was a covering defender coming behind Sapowicz, and she might not have been the last man. Of course, there is no such things as “last man” in the FIFA Laws, it says “denying a goal scoring opportunity”, and I guess that was certainly a goal scoring opportunity just six yards from goal and the net virtually empty.)
I’ve talked about the tight schedule, and how many games these teams have had to play in a short period of time, but both these teams had most of their starters out on the field for 90 minutes today.
Obviously, the France attack is completely different with Marie-Laure Delie on the field, but would a full week’s rest have set her up for a big quarterfinal against England? Some players were rested, so why not rest everyone you can?

8 ) It might be a sad ending to the World Cup career of Birgit Prinz

I made a slight mistake in how I worded saying that Marta had caught Michelle Akers with 12 World Cup goals. Obviously, Prinz is still the overall leader with 14.
But that may be it. After today’s game, you can’t see Prinz starting the quarterfinal. And if they win that, she probably won’t start the rest of the way (and if they lose, they’re out and done). The only way you can see her getting back on the field is if Germany trails and needs a goal in the late stages of a match. It might not happen.

9) Nigeria deserves some credit for this World Cup, too

Off the field controversy notwithstanding (and maybe the second half against Germany), Nigeria was organized, and really not that far off against the toughest group the World Cup had to offer, a long way from where they were four years ago, and even longer from a decade ago when African teams simply couldn’t compete.
Their win today was no fluke, they were the better team against Canada, and Rita Chekwulu would make my Best XI from this World Cup. She was outstanding in her holding midfield role, and the biggest reason why they only conceded twice in the tournament.
If they can keep their act together, they might be the first African team to get out of the group stages in four years. Canada hopes it isn’t against them.

10) It was a sad ending for Christine Sinclair and Canada, but…

Today’s game reminded me a lot of the United States’ final game against Iran in the 1998 Men’s World Cup. The U.S. was out, they had little motivation, and would just outplayed by a hungrier Iran side. Obviously, there will be some fingers pointed at Carolina Morace.
Fittingly, Nigeria’s winner came right after a power outage delayed action in the match for 11 minutes, as if anything else could go wrong at this World Cup. We can only hope Sinclair can be in decent form when Canada hosts this tournament in four years. That U.S. team that was embarrassed in 1998 came back to have their best ever World Cup performance four years later, reaching the quarterfinals, and they weren’t even at home.

Bonus:

Zonal marking is stupid

I don’t always agree with the commentators on ESPN, but I think they’re right here. I don’t get it, I really don’t.

Double bonus:

Belief is the best of things

This is not commentary, but the summer soccer camp circuit started this week. A little 8-year old girl was sporting the old gold U.S. women’s jersey, and I asked her if she knew why there were two stars on the back collar.
She didn’t know, but her 10-year old sister butted into the conversation:
“That’s how many World Cups the United States has won. But they’ll have one more in a couple of weeks.”
Hopefully, the team has the same level of confidence.