Tag Archives: heather o’reilly

NWSL Week in Review: Concussions Are No Fun

It was 10 minutes into one of the final games of the high school season last fall, and our tall center back – perhaps the biggest key to anything we did in keeping from conceding goals – went up for a lofted ball into our box, something she does a few dozen times a game (in some cases in which we were outclassed, probably more).

She won the ball, per usual, but not cleanly. It caromed straight up in the air and was eventually kicked out of bounds. As I looked toward her, she was rooted in the same spot she headed the ball, blinking her eyes. A teammate went over to her, followed quickly by the referee, who waved me on. While she had never actually been knocked off her feet and could answer any question I threw at her, her pupils were clearly dilated and she said she had a little bit of a headache.

Because we were playing at a large school, the trainer had to be called from the volleyball game at the nearby school, which took about five minutes.

“It doesn’t look too bad, and I’ll leave it up to you, but I wouldn’t put her back in the game.”

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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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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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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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20 (or 12) Questions With Anson Dorrance

Courtesy University of North Carolina

We have time for one more of our 20 Questions (actually this is only 12, but there’s some good info in there) feature before this glorious World Cup comes to a close, and – perhaps the most legendary women’s soccer coach of all-time (at least in our country) – Anson Dorrance was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time from the road.

Dorrance will soon begin his 33rd season as women’s coach at North Carolina where he has won an outrageous 21 national titles (20 NCAA), but he was also the coach of the very first World Cup champions, leading the United States to the 1991 title in China.

And to slip in a book recommendation, as a women’s soccer coach and fan, “The Man Watching”, a biography on Dorrance and story of the remarkable UNC dynasty is one of my top five books of all-time.

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Women’s World Cup – Day 11: What We Learned – United States Edition

There’s always a point in every season where things go wrong. When they do, I inevitably refer to Apollo 13, specifically the scene where it didn’t look good for the astronauts.

One of the men says, “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”

Legendary Flight Director Gene Kranz snaps back at him, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

I still believe, even after today’s pseudo-debacle for the United States women, this might prove to be our finest hour.

If there were few people that thought the U.S. had a shot of dethroning Germany, there are surely less now. But, now that we’ve seen each team three times, even with all their faults – and they were on full display today in the back – they might still be the best team in the World Cup.

(I can hear you laughing, but seriously, think about it. And don’t just use the third game as your barometer, all three games, please.)

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle will likely come Sunday against Brazil in the quarterfinals, but four years ago at this time, there were few people that thought Brazil was going to beat the United States back then (let alone 4-0). We shall see.

(I’ll have a preview of the U.S.-Brazil game and the dreaded sweeper Friday night.)

For now, here are the 10 things we learned in Day 11 of Germany 2011.

1) You saw the danger of playing a high line in the back and of playing a flat 4-4-2

People will talk about the lack of pace and that certainly is an issue, but in the center of a defense, it’s more about reading the game than pure speed, and Rachel Buehler and Christie Rampone had a lot trouble anticipating and being in the right spot today. That could be a real problem against Brazil, but it might not with a little different game plan.
The trouble on the first goal started when Buehler had to step up where a holding midfielder would have (should have) been, and then all heck broke loose behind her (and Amy LePeilbet should have been sent off, there’s not much doubt).

2) Lauren Cheney not only should start, but is one of the best three or four players in this tournament

Starting her at left mid has turned out to be brilliant by Pia Sundhage, because teams can’t track her coming in from the left. She pops up in dangerous spots, and is a dangerous player, able to score from places on the field others can’t.
Unfortunately for the U.S. today, she wasn’t very clinical around goal, but she’s shown enough of late, that if you give her the chances she got today against Brazil, I’ll bet on her scoring at least once.

3) Of course, Cheney vacating the left side leaves LePeilbet on an island

And that’s going to be a real lonely place when Marta and company start running at her. I don’t know what Sundhage’s answer is there, maybe put Heather O’Reilly – who hopefully will be healthy – on the left side and Cheney on the right. We’ll talk about that Friday.

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

This is from yesterday, but it bears repeating: “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) It is a missed opportunity, though, for the U.S., and Germany has an easy path to the finals

You can’t help but think the U.S. would be better off against Sweden and Australia then Brazil. But such is life. The real winners are Germany, who get a tricky game with Japan (but one with a good matchup for them) and then the Sweden-Australia winner in the semifinals. Hello, finals.

6) Unfortunately, it might be too late for Sundhage to make changes

Sundhage has proven she’s not afraid to pull the trigger on player moves, and I wouldn’t put it past her to throw a lineup out there Sunday that didn’t include LePeilbet, or possibly Lori Lindsey for Shannon Boxx.
But my mind wonders what a 4-3-3 with Megan Rapinoe able to sit in a hole and run at people with O’Reilly and Lauren Cheney in wide positions would look like. It ain’t gonna happen, though, so there’s no use dreaming about it.

7) Thomas Dennerby did win the tactical battle, though

Some of what he did was forced by the suspension to Caroline Seger (another discouraging point for the U.S.), but Dennerby decided that speed was the way to beat the United States, gave Josefine Oqvist the start over Jessica Landstrom, and it was definitely the way to go.

8) Australia may lack some in talent and experience, but not in guts

Sometimes you can get by with guts, like when your opponent takes advantage of a defensive calamity to grab a lead, and you come back – literally – off the ensuing kickoff and tie the game. Sweden will probably have more talent on the field on Sunday, but I’m probably picking Australia just because of the pure hunger factor. If they can’t find a way, they’ll make one. Until they play Germany, I guess.

9) Brazil was more of the same today

They played almost all their regulars, which was somewhat surprising (read yesterday’s stuff), and still went into halftime against Equatorial Guinea scoreless. Through Marta and some fantastic finishing (Erika’s goal was fantastic), Brazil prevailed, but didn’t really dominate in they way you’d expect them to. Again.

10) The Brazil-U.S. quarterfinal should be a great game

You can bet as you read this that the U.S. coaching staff is scratching their heads trying to figure out how to attack a Brazil sweeper formation they probably haven’t seen in 20 years.
I think they’ll succeed there (more on Friday), but stopping Marta? That might be a taller task. But we’ll see.

Bonus:

Zonal marking is still stupid

That is all, Sweden.

Double bonus:

Did not going to ground hurt Elise Thorsnes and Norway?

Hear me out. If Thorsnes were any men’s player, she probably would have gone to ground when she was hit by Australian keeper Melissa Barbieri on the Aussies’ defensive nightmare that nearly cost them a spot in the quarterfinals.
She scored, and that is admirable.
But, if she didn’t, and went down, it likely would have had to be a penalty and a red card to Barbieri. Would Australia with 10 players been able to come back?
I know I’m reaching. But, at the least, Barbieri is lucky she’ll be playing in the quarterfinals.