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Olympics – The All-Curren Team: Trying To Pick The Best 18 Not Easy

Well, here we are again, the end of another major women’s tournament, and time again for the AWK All-Curren Team. I call it that not out of a massive ego, but to indicate that it is indeed my choices and opinions. I point that out up front because for some reason choosing the best team from the Olympics was even tougher than the World Cup, even though there were fewer teams.

As with the World Cup, I sought to put together a real squad, one that could actually play (as opposed to starting nine forwards where we could score at will, but might end up playing Marta and Alex Morgan at outside back) a legitimate match.

And as always, feel free to put your choices in the Comments. Just remember, if you put someone in, someone has to come out and vice versa.

Among the players who barely missed the cut:

  • Portia Modise (South Africa), who had the goal of the tournament, and was very active in midfield for South Africa, who had their moments. Not enough moments for her to make the 18, though.
  • Renata Costa (Brazil) had a very good tournament defensively despite her team’s lack of organization.
  • Ali Riley and Ria Percival (New Zealand) might have cancelled each other out, as the entire New Zealand defense, including Jenny Bindon and Katie Hoyle, had a great tournament.
  • Two players who barely missed the cut at the World Cup did so again here in  Louisa Necib (France), who got off to a good start, but held the ball a little too long in some key spots for my taste, and Yukari Kinga (Japan), who was just edged out.
  • Lotta Schelin (Sweden), who probably suffered from a lack of support more than her failings.
  • And, perhaps the last cut, Yuki Ogimi (Japan), who scored three times in the tournament, including in the final, but in a tournament loaded with attacking players, we just couldn’t find a spot for her this time around. Next time.

So without further ado, here’s the squad:

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Olympics – What We Learned: U.S.-Canada – Sorry Canadians, But “Tuff S***”

SamuelLJackson: “Don’t know enuf about Soccer refs to know, but TV dude says he’s never SEEN that call made! Wow….we ll… TUFF S***!”

Yup, that’s what Samuel L. Jackson (indeed, that’s the same guy) sent to his 1,256,000 followers after the end of the U.S.-Canada game. I don’t know how much soccer Samuel has watched over the years (although we’ve seen him before), but in a game that is impossible to sum up in 1,400 words, let alone 140 characters, he did a pretty good job.

There is so much to talk about in this epic encounter that to spend too much time talking about a single referee’s decision will take away from how great this game (and this day) was for women’s soccer, but you have to start somewhere and we might as well get it out of the way.

In the 78th minute, Pia Sundhage and the U.S.,  trailing 3-2, had just played its trump card by substituting Sydney Leroux in for Amy LePeilbet and gone to a 3-4-3 formation. Megan Rapinoe put in a rare poor corner and Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod claimed it rather easily, falling to the ground as she did. She rose and was about to kick it quickly, then looked, saw her tired defense slow getting out, realized time was in her favor, took another couple of seconds, and punted the ball, as has been done thousands of times in last two decades (since the 6-step rule was changed to the 6-second rule for goalkeepers by FIFA) and likely hundreds of times at the Olympics.

We know what happened next. I don’t have a big problem with the ensuing penalty call that eventually allowed Abby Wambach to level the game, although common sense usually dictates that if you made one controversial call, you might let another questionable call against the same team go seconds later.

There are some that say that common sense has no place when we’re talking rules. They might be right. They might not.

But there is a rule that states that a goalkeeper must release the ball in six seconds. Not necessarily six seconds after they receive it (from the run of play), but – as it states here – six seconds after they are able to release it (as in not on the ground, how McLeod started). In watching the play again, I counted about eight legitimate seconds that McLeod had the ball.

So technically, she broke the rules, an indirect kick was correctly awarded and the U.S. eventually scored. There is no arguing that from here or anywhere, really.

However, to paraphrase Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men: “Yeah, but it wasn’t a real rule, was it? After all, it’s the Olympics. She wasn’t being asked to call a penalty or give out a red card. I mean, surely a referee of Christina Pedersen’s intelligence can be trusted to determine, on her own, which are the really important rules and which rules might, say, be morally questionable?”

If you know the movie, you know the response: “No she cannot.”

(Ironically, McLeod said after the game, she was warned, but “it wasn’t a real warning”. Really.)

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Olympics: Semifinal Preview – U.S.-Canada: One Small Switch, One Giant Leap for Canada

Perhaps one of my best coaching moves ever was a complete fluke, really. The summer months are technically a time for a break, but youth soccer takes few breaks these days, so of course a summer league was hastily organized. The games were glorified pickup, with a ref in the middle.

The parent organizers usually coach the teams so I went to watch one of my players to see how she was doing. Of course, parents always know what’s best in soccer coaching, so this dad thought his daughter (not the same player) was the best attacking midfielder and stuck her there accordingly, which was a little frustrating because I was hoping to see my player in her natural midfield position, the one she would play for my team.

The parent stuck my player at striker. Striker? Whatever. But then – keeping in mind my team had only managed 26 goals in 18 games the season before – a funny thing happened. She scored. Then she scored again. She finished with four goals the first game, a hat trick in another I watched.

Huh.

Six months later, she had the school single-season scoring record and the team erased just about every mark in the books on the way to its first league championship ever.

I’m sure John Herdman’s thought processes behind his tactical decisions are a little more complicated for Canada these days, but you never know. The Canadians were a team that I quite frankly thought was decent, but going to come up a little bit short at these Olympics after a somewhat disastrous 2011 World Cup. I went to Gillette Stadium to see Canada take on Brazil in March, and although Canada got a 2-1 win on two Christine Sinclair goals, my assessment on the Canadians was the same as I had since the World Cup (the Brazil stuff is a little telling, too), and probably all the way back to the 2007 World Cup, to be honest (although you may remember that the Canadians took the U.S. to extra time in the 2008 Olympics):

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Brazil-Canada Recap: Random Thoughts About A Random Game

Sorry I’m a little late with this, real life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t do it intentionally to look disorganized as Brazil always seems to be in these situations. Normally it’s mostly off the field, as was the talk of the press box during the game Saturday in Foxboro, but this Brazil side looked particularly disheveled on the field as well, which is slightly disheartening. Even though they are a rival of the United States , no one likes to see tremendous talent go to waste, and it always seems like Brazil has a ludicrous amount of talent.

Rather than give you a boring game report that would tell you that Christine Sinclair scored twice and now has 133 international goals for her career and Canada won 2-1, I figured I’d just tell you what I found interesting:

  • Unfortunately, I was there to cover the New England-Portland MLS game which followed, so I didn’t have too much time after the game to talk to everyone involved. But it wasn’t the most organized operation in the world, at least for us people that don’t cover the teams on a regular basis. The media was ushered into a mixed zone, which isn’t all that unusual, but either we missed or didn’t see either head coach, which stinks. Karina LeBlanc, about as media friendly as they come, gave us some time. Christine Sinclair, also generally nice (and also used to talking to the media), came by. I awkwardly yelled out to Desiree Scott, more on that in a bit, but that was about it.

Some of this is understandable. There was no home team, and the game was somewhat hastily thrown together to help both teams. But, from a media perspective, it was just strange.

  • I still really have trouble with the Marta hate I see from time to time. First, she was clearly the best player either team had, and it wasn’t even close. From high up, her field vision, her positioning, her technical ability served to really change the game after Canada had dominated the first half. In a somewhat relaxed friendly atmosphere, it was a joy to watch.

Marta came down the tunnel after the game, laughing with LeBlanc, then saw the media waiting, and immediately had an uncomfortable look on her face. She took LeBlanc aside, chatted with her for another minute, then turned around to face the media, which – of course – was all there to see her.

Foreign countries are often different with their media, and in addition to answering questions, Marta was asked to pose for numerous pictures and sign autographs. She did so willingly and with a smile on her face, albeit somewhat reluctantly, long after every other player, Canadian or Brazilian, was long gone.

Marta is clearly the best player in the world, but she can’t find a regular team because everywhere she goes, the team seems to fold. Her national federation seems virtually invisible sometimes when it comes to their women’s team. And – as I alluded to – she’s just not someone who seeks out the spotlight, she just wants to play soccer.

So, excuse me for feeling a little sorry for her.

  • On the field, Brazil was dreadful tactically, as a back four of Maurine, Erika, Daiane, and Raffaele Sousa looked like they had never played together before. And maybe they haven’t. You may remember Brazil under Kleiton Lima played a sweeper, but Jorge Barcellos went flat, which takes time to develop. Of course, it takes practice to develop, too, and we’re not completely sure how much of that he’s going to get, although you’d think the upcoming trip to Japan will be huge for them. They were without Rosana, Cristiane, and Elaine for various reasons, so their depth was exposed a bit, too.

Canada really should have had three or four goals in the first 30 minutes. There was a scary moment at the end of the first half where goalkeeper Andreia, who played well, was involved in a nasty collision. She was eventually stretchered from the field, although they personnel didn’t seem entirely sure where to take her. She was eventually taken to the hospital, but for what we were told for precautionary reasons.

  • So, bottom line, as you might imagine, it’s hard to get a read on Brazil out of this game. They only had 17 players dressed and looked completely disorganized. But they will (I hope) have some time to clean things up by the summer with some more games, and with Marta on the field, I’m not counting them out of anything.
  • On the other side, John Herdman played a 4-4-2. It seems to me you can relate the present situation with the Canadian women with the problem the U.S. men have. Canada was able to get tremendous results using young players in the 2003 World Cup (and a couple of other tournaments in that era) under Evan Pellerud, but we know now that Pellerud probably wasn’t exactly developing creative players that would push Canada forward technically, was he? Obviously, like in the case of Kara Lang, injuries derailed promising careers, but – other than Sinclair – almost all of those players are gone, all but forgotten as we get ready for the 2012 Olympics.

Canada will be a tough out, but you wonder how good Sinclair and Canada would be with a couple of creative players around her (as France, Germany, and a few others seem to have), players that should have been developing in the last decade.

While people are upset (rightfully so) that the U.S. men won’t be going to the Olympics, Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that this is a long-term process, which the failure this week clearly showed. Patience is needed.

  • Anyway, Herdman seems to have a plethora of defensive midfielders, although he had Kaylyn Kyle on the bench for this game, and pushed Sophie Schmidt into a more advanced position, which she handled pretty well, better than I would have thought, including a beautiful assist on what turned out to be the winning goal.

I was very impressed with Desiree Scott, whom I thought was the player of the match in this game, a true defensive mid in every sense of the word, she controlled the midfield when Canada was at their best. She played a key role in Canada qualifying for the Olympics, kind of coming out of nowhere, as in we saw her in a wide position in last year’s World Cup.

“The new coach coming in has helped,” Scott said. “I’ve gone from a sub to a starter, he’s brought something out in me that I’ve never seen before.”

  • I still, though, think when push comes to shove, that Canada may be a creative player or two short when you’re talking about taking down a France or (a full-strength) Brazil, host Great Britain, or the United States right now. But they’re not that far off.
  • LeBlanc (as well as Scott and Sinclair) talked about beating a Tier 1 team (which I guess Brazil is) as significant, and also talked about Herdman emphasizing attacking play, which we kind of saw, but I didn’t exactly see the ball pinging around the field. Baby steps, I guess.

LeBlanc did have the quote of the day when she reminded me that Canada played at Gillette Stadium (then brand new) in the 2003 World Cup.

“We’ve played here before in 2003,” she said. “I lived in Boston for three years, played for the Breakers. Tom Brady? Love him. It’s an honor to be on a field like this. What a great place to get my 100th cap.”

  • Brazil’s goal scorer, Gabriela Demoner was called Demosier on the roster given out, and I think a couple of other names by the end of the day. Luckily, Jeff Kassouf was on the case, and knew who she was and sorted out the problem. Brazil evidently took on Demoner’s former college team, Franklin Pierce, in a friendly on Thursday. While a thrill for those kids and Franklin Pierce is a very good Division II team, it will be a little step up when they get to Japan.
  • One final story (and feel free to ask questions or point out my mistakes, this is a pretty interactive site): It was definitely a partisan Brazil crowd, as there are plenty of Brazilians in the Northeast. In 2008 I went to a friendly (on the back of an MLS game) between Brazil and Venezuela, and the place was just about sold out, people arriving hours before, craziness. Somehow Venezuela actually won the game 2-0, by the way.

But I think back to that game, and to the brilliance that Marta shows every time she steps on the field, and the difference between the couple of thousand people at Saturday’s game and the chaos of that 2008 night.

I just hope in time Marta gets the credit she deserves.