Tag Archives: lauren cheney

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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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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Breakers-Sky Blue postgame sound-notes

Some postgame quotes after Sunday’s 2-0 victory for Boston over Sky Blue FC, that sees the Breakers, despite a 5-9-4 regular season record, qualify for the postseason.

Boston will travel to Boca Raton, Fla. for the game against magicJack Wednesday night.

It was confirmed after the game that Lauren Cheney’s goal 14 seconds into the game was the fastest in WPS history, breaking Christine Sinclair’s record that stood for a year.

And as you’ll hear, it wasn’t a complete accident.

Cheney’s goals were her second and third of the season, but she had only played in eight matches before Sunday’s game.

Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra was pretty honest and direct about his team’s performance and the decision not to start Casey Nogueira and put Petra Hogewoning in her place. Obviously, it didn’t work, but hindsight can be 20-20.

Jim Gabarra

Tony DiCicco was finally happy to have a (almost, still no Kelly Smith) full team to put on the field and explained Lauren Cheney’s opening goal.

Tony DiCicco

Lauren Cheney says her ankle is now fine and it was an inspired performance by someone who probably could have taken the rest of the season off after the World Cup injury and no one could have complained.

Lauren Cheney

Meghan Klingenberg, who waited patiently for the media a month ago when I was here, only to get pre-empted by Alex Morgan and others, is just happy to be playing somewhere. I also teased “Kling” (that’s what Cheney calls her, so good enough) about “Winning Isn’t Everything”, a documentary on North Carolina women’s soccer that I show to my high school team every year that prominently features Klingenberg, then a freshman. She had a great match tonight.

Meghan Klingenberg

Finally, Leslie Osborne, who played her holding midfield spot as well as anyone can today, at least in the first half. Strange that she slipped in something about this being possibly “the end”. Let’s hope that doesn’t mean the league is in more trouble than we think (and most of us think it’s in some degree of trouble, obviously).

Leslie Osborne

Thanks for joining us. And we might see you in Philadelphia at some point.

 

 

Postgame Sound – Breakers/Flash (Lauren Cheney, Tony DiCicco, Ali Riley, Christine Sinclair)

I’m sure you’ve seen Alex Morgan’s goal by now, unfortunately (as you can hear a little in the Lauren Cheney interview) the Breakers band was walking behind, which made her sound unintelligible, but we did get a hold of Cheney, Tony DiCicco, and international World Cup players Ali Riley (New Zealand) and Christine Sinclair (Canada).

Some interesting comments from all on various subjects:

Everyone wants to talk to Alex these days

So for your enjoyment:

Ali Riley

Christine Sinclair

Lauren Cheney

Tony DiCicco

 

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: 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.

U.S.-Brazil Quarterfinal Preview: The Sweeper Is Dead, Long Live The Sweeper

If you’re like me (honestly, hopefully you’re not) and you grew up playing soccer in the United States 20 years ago, you probably played most of the time with a sweeper.

The person behind the back line was essential to a good defense, they were often the team’s best athlete, covered for mistakes that the rest of the defense played, and told the rest of the team where to go.

It was just how you played. Through high school, our teams played in a 4-4-2 with a sweeper, and so did almost everyone else.

(I don’t have time for it here, but you’d be amazed how much of an English flavor there is in U.S. development. We had an English coach, and there were more than a few others around at a time where not many people other than at the highest levels were very versed on the intricacies of soccer.)

About this time (the mid 90s), the sweeper was slowly disappearing from games at the highest level. By the turn of the century, it was just about extinct. Coincidentally, it also happened to be the time when I started coaching soccer. As you might have guessed, my teams most definitely played a 4-4-2 with a sweeper.

But I also began to watch more and more soccer, at least what was available. It’s easy to forget that a decade ago, there wasn’t much soccer on the tube, some MLS, some internationals. As a coach, you start to look at the games a little differently.

Where was the sweeper?

There was no sweeper.

As I started coaching varsity high school and higher level youth games, some teams I played against didn’t have a sweeper, either. I noticed that most of the coaches that didn’t use a sweeper were pretty organized, and people that had played the game on a higher level than I had.

And so in 2003, I set out to learn as much about playing a flat back as I could. My teams have never played with a sweeper since.

(Ironically, for this discussion, this was also the time where I made the switch from coaching predominantly boys teams to predominantly girls teams.)

I’ve come to see how much better the flat back works, especially when trying to teach how to play team defense and how to read the game. Sadly (at least for me), I still play against teams with sweepers all the time, more so on the high school level where the coaches often aren’t experienced or – like me – just played with a sweeper when they were younger and don’t really watch much of the game.

One exception (the only one I had seen over the past few years) was the Nigerian women’s team, who actually did pretty well with the sweeper in 2007, although it often looked chaotic to say the least. You could see the sweeper running in circles last November when Nigeria was bludgeoned by Germany 8-0 in a friendly.

But when Nigeria opened the World Cup two weeks ago, much to my delight, the sweeper was gone, and I remarked “it was, by a pretty wide margin, the most organized display ever by an African side at the Women’s World Cup.”

Nigeria lost that game to France 1-0, but gave up only two goals in three games. If they weren’t in a group with France, Germany, and Canada, they may very well be still with us this weekend.

But just when the sweeper was about to be pronounced dead and Franz Beckenbauer was being found to speak at its funeral, the Brazil women’s team took the field against Australia. The lineup was announced as a 3-4-3, which got my attention, Kleiton Lima was really going to open things up with a formidable trio of Rosana, Cristiane, and – of course – Marta leading the line.

Something looked strange, and about 10 minutes in, Australia played a through ball wide, and Daiane came across from a deep position to win it.

“Boy, they’re playing deep,” I thought.

A few minutes later, it happened again, and the light bulb went off in Julie Foudy’s head at about the same time it did mine.

Daiane was playing as a sweeper and Erika and Aline were marking the two Australian forwards.

Cancel that call to Mr. Beckenbauer, please.

Foudy, like me, has been apoplectic about Brazil’s sweeper system. Just like I see in my games, their defense looks disjointed and completely vulnerable to switches of the field.

But the ultimate proof is in the pudding and the scorelines, and there is only one team that has yet to concede a goal, and that, folks, is Brazil.

Is Kleiton Lima a genius? Has he started a sweeper revolution? Or is it just that he has some of the best players in the world, and he could send them out there without any organization at all, and they still might win.

Unfortunately, my coaching career has also taught me that the teams that have the best players usually win, regardless of set up and anything else a coach can do in a short period of time.

So will the United States be unceremoniously dumped in the quarterfinals. By rival Brazil. Using a sweeper? Oh, the humanity. Everything I believe in rests on this game.

I fear the worst, but like Foudy, I think eventually the sweeper system is going to break down. It might as well be Sunday.

Here are 5 things to look for in Sunday morning’s epic clash between Brazil and the United States:

1) Lima’s tactics seem odd even with a sweeper

It is a 3-4-3, but the front three doesn’t seem to pressure all that much, allowing opponents to keep the ball in their half. When they have pressured, they’ve caused a couple of mistakes, but the only thing I can think is that Lima is afraid that his team isn’t fit enough to run for 90 minutes, particularly if it’s a hot day.
Also, I guess he figures his team is set up to counter well, so if they do get the ball they can come at opponents with their front three, with Maurine and Fabiana joining them.
The problem I’ve seen (and Brazil has scored only once in the first half, and that was a controversial goal against Norway) is that Brazil’s formation has turned into a 5-2-3 at times, which makes it very tough for them to get forward. To take advantage of this, the U.S. will need its central midfielders to play well and will need to get someone (Heather O’Reilly?) to run at Brazilian defenders in wide areas. But we’ll see.

2) There’s some history there

It seems everyone (me included) remembers the 2007 embarrassment more than any other, but the U.S. – minus Abby Wambach – came back and knocked off Brazil for the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics back in China on Carli Lloyd’s overtime goal. Jacqueline Purdy of ESPN (whom most of you at this site know) had this excellent piece on the rest of the history between the two teams, and why it’s likely the best rivalry in women’s soccer.

3) The 2008 team has some names you’ll recognize, but some differences, too

There were two major factors why the U.S. was able to prevail three years ago. One is in No. 4, but the other was the aforementioned fitness. If you remember, Brazil got very tired at the end of regulation and it only got worse in extra time.
The U.S. back four will feature only one of the four that played in 2008, Christie Rampone. The other three were Heather Mitts and Lori Chalupny (boy, did the U.S. miss her against Sweden. While the media has generally done a decent job, the fact that the Chalupny story hasn’t been more reported is very, very surprising) on the outside and Kate Markgraf joining Rampone in the middle. So things have changed in the back more than you’d think. The only difference in the midfield was Lindsay Tarpley starting at left mid, but Lauren Cheney did come on in the 71st minute at that spot, and played a part in the winning goal. Many people (me included) forget that.
With Wambach out, it was Angela Hucles who led the U.S. in scoring at the Olympics.
Statistically, Brazil outshot the U.S. 15-10, but had a 15-3 edge in corners, which is a bit scary, even if it was three years ago.

4) Hope Solo may be the biggest advantage the U.S. has

As you probably know by now, I’m not Solo’s biggest fan off the field, but on the field she’s the best goalkeeper in the world, and – if this World Cup is any indication – it’s not real close.
She can’t be faulted for either Swedish goal (although she did not come out on an early breakaway when she probably should have), and has looked confident for the most part, at least more confident than Andreia at the other end. It wouldn’t be shocking if a goalkeeper mistake was the difference.

5) So what lineup for Pia Sundhage?

Really, your guess is as good as mine. There are so many questions. Here are the definite starters: Wambach, Cheney, Rampone, Krieger, Lloyd, Solo.
That’s all, folks.
So there are five positions that we probably won’t know until Sunday morning, also scary.
O’Reilly will start if healthy at right mid, and if she’s not, I expect it to be Megan Rapinoe, I don’t think Sundhage would go to Kelly O’Hara to start.
In looking at lineups from the last few years, an interesting one was May of last year, when the U.S. crushed Germany 4-0 in Cleveland. The center back pairing that day was Amy LePeilbet and Rachel Buehler, with Ali Kreiger (Heather Mitts played the first half) and Stephanie Cox on the outside. Does Sundhage drop Buehler, put LePeilbet in the middle, with either Cox or Mitts (who we haven’t seen yet) on the left? Not out of realm of possibility.
I really think Lori Lindsey starts for Boxx in midfield, and I think that’s the right decision, although my dream is still a 4-3-3.
Which puts us at forward. I thought Amy Rodriguez had a good first half (and she nearly scored), but she was replaced for Alex Morgan. I really can’t see Morgan starting, but I’m not sure what Rodriguez’s confidence is right now. But if there’s someone that can move around and drag Brazil’s marking defenders all over the field, I’m sure it’s got to be Rodriguez.
So if it’s me (and you forced me to go 4-4-2):

Kreiger-Rampone-LePeilbet-Cox
O’Reilly-Lindsey-Lloyd-Cheney
Rodriguez-Wambach

Unfortunately, as I said, is just may come down to the fact that Brazil has better attacking players. But they did in 2008, too, and don’t underestimate how important the goalkeeper will be in this matchup. It may not be pretty, but I think the U.S. can get this done with superior aerial ability and a chance to wear down Brazil as the game goes on.

I hope I’m not out on a wing and a prayer.

Prediction: United States 2-1 (aet)

Elsewhere (times EDT):

SATURDAY

England vs. France, Noon
This will probably come down to whether France can handle the pressure. Most of these players have played in the Champions League, but this is another level of pressure in front of the whole world (sadly, the whole world isn’t watching the women’s Champions League yet).
I think Bruno Bini tried some things against Germany, like starting Wendie Renard for instance, that just didn’t work. Marie-Laure Delie is for real, and I think she’ll prove that again, no matter how good England looked against Japan.
Prediction: France 3-1

Germany vs. Japan, 2:45 p.m.
Japan has very skilled players and I would like to pick them, but I think this is probably the worst team they could have drawn, and not just because they’re the hosts.
Germany will surely impose itself physically on this game, and I’m not sure the Japanese will have an answer. But give Japan too many set pieces near their goal, and the Germans will be asking for big trouble.
Prediction: Germany 2-0

SUNDAY

Sweden vs. Australia, 7 a.m.
To best describe Australia, I have to go back to the Bad News Bears when the hated Yankees begrudgingly gave the Bears a little respect, “We still don’t think you’re all that good a baseball team, but you got guts. All of ya.”
Australia’s got guts, all of them, whomever Tom Sermanni throws out there. And it might be enough to get the Aussies to a surprise semifinal.
Prediction: 1-1 (Australia advances in penalties)

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.

Women’s World Cup – Day 3: Things We Learned – United States Edition

There were few people that pushed the panic button, but there seemed to be quite a few whose hands might have reached in that general direction as the United States sputtered to a halftime draw against North Korea Tuesday afternoon.

Thankfully, none of those people was named Pia Sundhage. She stayed calm, collected, made no substitutions, but tweaked the right things, and gave the right motivation. The result: a fairly shocking second half (at least in its complete and utter domination) as the U.S. rolled to a 2-0 win over usually stubborn North Korea that could have been double that.

There’s a long way to go, obviously, but certainly the U.S. looked like contenders for the title. Unless, of course, it was the lightning that got the North Koreans.

In the other match, well, let’s just say the Swedish finishing left much to be desired against Colombia.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 3 of Germany 2011.

1) Lauren Cheney needs to be on the field

You or I might switch up the formation to find a way to get her in, but Scandinavian coaches like Pia Sundhage (or Hans Backe in MLS for the Red Bulls, for instance) never seem to vary from that 4-4-2. Which is fine, to each their own, and – as we saw today – sometimes the formations can just be numbers. Cheney spent much of the day tucked in and acting as a third striker, in the process probably being the most dangerous player on the field today.
Now, doing that does leave some holes behind you, and that’s something the U.S. will have to address, but you have to give up something to get something, and the positives seemed to outweigh the negatives today, namely a threat to score every time Cheney touches the ball in the opponents’ third.

2) Abby Wambach has some skill, too

We know Wambach as the hard-charging, physical presence who gets most of her goals with her head, a job she has been remarkable in, scoring 118 times for her country in 157 appearances.
But it was the things she did off the ball and with the ball at her feet that helped the U.S. most today.
On the first goal, her run into a wide area opened space and a beautiful Carli Lloyd long ball found her on the left. Instead of just hitting it first time, though, she cut it off her left, sending the North Korean defender jumping, which opened up everything. Wambach’s cross found Cheney, and it was a pretty simple header back across goal.
That little touch, though, was the difference.

3) Who is Dawn Scott?

If you know before reading this, you are an A+ U.S. women’s fan, and – if I could – I’d send you on a plane to Germany and get you tickets.
Dawn Scott is the fitness coach for the U.S., and in a tournament full of cramping and other fatigue issues at the end of matches, the States showed none of it today. In fact, I can’t remember a single cramp.
Now, it was a little cooler in Dresden, and the U.S. kicked off a little later in the day, but it was still warmer than ideal, certainly.
Scott was hired last year, ironically from England, where she worked with Hope Powell for almost a decade.
Why ironic? Because England was one of the teams most affected by the conditions on Monday, completely wilting at the end of their match against Mexico. Appears to be a fantastic signing for U.S. soccer. Yea, Sunil Gulati.

4) Amy LePeilbet may need more help at left back

Sundhage knows that LePeilbet is slightly out of position, but it was exposed far too often in the first half by 16-year-old Su Gyong Kim down the North Korean right. A lot of coaches, especially with the game still scoreless would have pulled LePeilbet for Stephanie Cox, but Sundhage stuck to her guns and was rewarded, North Korea wasn’t nearly as dangerous in the second half.
In fact, LePeilbet got forward much more in the second half – more than I’ve ever seen her. Was that the tactical adjustment? Going forward, Sweden attacked mostly down the left through Therese Sjogran and Sara Thunebro today, and Colombia’s most dangerous player – Carmen Rodallega – was also on the left, so maybe that will help, at least through the group stages.

5) Carli Lloyd played well in a big spot

Lloyd had the secondary assist on the first goal, but – more importantly – had the engine to match North Korea and was still going strong at the end (I guess Scott gets a little credit for that, too, Lloyd looks as fit as she’s ever been in her career). She won plenty of balls and was a dominant force in the middle.
North Korea did, however, get a few shots in the middle of the field, and that’s the concern with a “flat” 4-4-2, we’ll see if it will get exposed by other opponents.

6) It’s OK to go direct sometimes

Some of the Twitter chatter at halftime was about how many teams are better technically than the U.S., and how embarrassing that is for U.S. soccer. I don’t disagree completely with that sentiment, but now is not the time to worry about things like that.
Sundhage has Abby Wambach, Lauren Cheney, and others, and I don’t mind using some direct play to go at some shaky defenses and goalkeepers.
That doesn’t mean just smacking the ball forward at every opportunity. Look at the first goal: Ali Kreiger had a little bit of a poor touch, but didn’t panic, laid it off to Christie Rampone, who hit Lloyd, and Lloyd delivered the long ball to Wambach. That works.

7) It would be shocking to see the U.S. not win the group now

More about Sweden-Colombia in a second, but Sweden had a chance to hang a few goals on what is sure to be the minnows of the group and didn’t do it, which should mean that the U.S. would have to lose to Sweden to not win Group C. I don’t see that happening. However, while that may help them avoid Brazil, Norway has been feisty of late as a potential quarterfinal opponent. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

8) Megan Rapinoe’s goal was correctly disallowed

FIFA’s Law 12, as it pertains to goalkeepers, states:
“A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball: a) while the ball is between his (it says his, sorry) hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body); b) while holding the ball in his outstretched open hand; c) while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air.
When a goalkeeper has gained possession of the ball with his hands, he cannot be challenged by an opponent.”
So the hand on the ball disallows the goal. It shouldn’t matter, I don’t see goal differential being an issue.

9) Sweden should have scored a few goals on Colombia today

I wasn’t impressed by Colombia today as I was with Mexico yesterday. Carmen Rodallega was pretty good on the ball, but Sweden – thanks to some dreadful finishing – really could have and should have had 4 or 5 goals by the end of the match. Colombia didn’t even look like they could get a goal kick further then 30 yards down the field (as Sweden took advantage of when it finally scored, it was a nice goal) and gave the ball away several times in their own end. I thought Colombia keeper Sandra Supulveda was decent, but Sweden barely even tested her. I think if the U.S. is a little more clinical, they can hang a crooked number and advance with ease on Saturday.

10) Where was Yoreli Rincon?

I hate to break it to Ricardo Rozo and young Yoreli, but you’re not going to replace Marta as Player of the Year from a holding midfield role. At least, you’re not going to replace her as a holding midfielder who has as little impact on the game as she did today. Rincon’s touches were decent, but she didn’t do anything to really make you notice her, which is a little bit of a shame after the hype she was given. We’ll see what happens against the United States.

Bonus:

Was Colombia talking trash in the pregame tunnel?

I probably wouldn’t try that on Saturday. Just saying.