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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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Olympics – Matchday 3: What We Learned – France 1:0 Colombia

If you truly believe in France, your glass is half full heading into the quarterfinals. Sure, they had a meltdown against the United States, but they hadn’t faced an attack like that in forever and it was the first game of the tournament. They struggled against North Korea, but eventually buried them and would have done the same against Colombia if they could have finished one of their 612 (estimated) chances in the game.

However, if your glass is half empty, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and crew exposed a relatively slow and quite average international defense. Their inability to really put away North Korea and Colombia also shows that while they’re obviously one of the most improved teams in the world in the last few years, they’re not ready to win a gold medal here at the Olympics, especially with a bracket that includes Sweden, Brazil, and Japan. Maybe in three years.

Where do I stand? Safe to say somewhere in the middle. How’s that for a cop-out?

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Olympics – Day 1: What We Learned – United States 4:2 France

(For those that were here during last year’s World Cup, first of all, thank you. Second, we’re going to tweak the format slightly because there were so many games in just one day. So instead of one post, you’ll get six. The longest will be the United States games, we’re going to assume you watched that one, so it won’t have a recap, just Things We Learned. The other games will give a quick recap and just a couple of Things We Learned. As with the World Cup, hopefully this will be a little bit of an interactive discussion. Within reason, of course. So without further ado:)

After the United States got all the momentum against France today, Brandi Chastain talked for a good minute about the mental side of the game and how the Americans had such an edge because they had been there before and that’s the way they played. To be honest, it was more than a little pretentious, especially if you weren’t American (alas, I’m sure most of her audience was). After all, the Japanese had made the U.S. look pretty ordinary at times in the World Cup final, and the French had plenty of the play in their Cup semifinal defeat.

But when you looked at the body language of the two teams today in the second half, it was really hard to argue with her. France – winners of 17 straight games and apparently ready to take over the women’s soccer world – looked physically and mentally spent. The U.S. looked neither. And when the States finally went ahead, there didn’t seem to be any way the French were coming back.

It’s always hard to pinpoint how much the “mental game” means. Obviously, if I show up with a team like Colombia and my mental game is perfect, I’m still going to need a lot of luck to even stay in the game, let alone get a result. But when a team like the U.S., which has won all but one gold medal that’s been offered at the Olympics in women’s soccer, dispatches of what still might be the best team technically in the world with relative ease after going down two goals in the first 20 minutes, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and France in Day 1:

1)      Alex Morgan is legit

I mean we knew that already, but with all the talk of how she looks and what kind of bikinis she wears in photoshoots, she’s at least one of the best strikers in the world right now. The way she times her runs, her speed, and her ability to finish give the U.S. somewhat of an added dimension they didn’t have last year (when Morgan was mostly a super sub). Combined with Abby Wambach, it’s hard to argue Pia Sundhage’s move back to a 4-4-2.

2)      It’s hard to see the U.S. not scoring goals

Lauren Cheney didn’t do a heck of a lot today, but you saw glimpses, and then you throw in Megan Rapinoe, Wambach, and Morgan, is anyone really going to be able to keep them quiet for 90 minutes? Even if you sit back, it seems like it’s only going to be a matter of time before a Rapinoe cross finds Wambach’s head (and what a header today for the first goal). If you try to press, Morgan will get behind you at some point. The only thing that may slow them down is the lack of outside backs getting forward (especially Amy LePeilbet), but they may not need it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That girl Necib is awesome on the ball.”

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

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

“Alex Morgan never stops running.”

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

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

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

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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.-France Semifinal Preview: Beware Delie, Necib, And The 4-2-3-1

A few months ago, Richard Farley (who does an excellent job over at Foxsoccer.com, where you can find the suddenly ubiquitous Jenna as well) and I started to predict what was going to happen in the Women’s World Cup.

I had just seen the U.S. get taken apart by England (at least in the first half) in a friendly, saw England had a relatively easy group, and told Richard that England might be able to make it all the way to the finals to face Germany.

(I was never sold on Brazil for reasons that I don’t have time to get into here, but they had to do with disorganization in the federation, etc.)

Richard countered with France. Typical Farley, I thought, pick an obscure squad that no one else was going to look at. France wasn’t going to touch Germany, and had CONCACAF champion Canada in their group. There was no way.

Of course, truth be told, although I don’t like to admit it publicly, Richard is usually correct in these arguments.

And, another truth be told, I hadn’t really done any research on the subject (which is probably why Richard is usually right most of the time, shocking how that works). The more I looked at France, the more I was impressed. There were some curious results (like losing to Holland in the Cyprus Cup in the spring), sure, but it was most certainly a program on its way up.

After going to the finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2010 with a good chunk of the French national team, Lyon won it in 2011 impressively over German opposition (Turbine Potsdam), and by wiping out England’s best team – Arsenal – in the semifinals.

The French women’s league is probably the third best league in the world. Montpellier, which went to the Champions League quarterfinals in 2010, finished fourth domestically – even with French goal scoring machine Marie-Laure Delie leading the way – and didn’t even qualify for the Champions League last year.

You add in a veteran coach in Bruno Bini, a supportive federation, and the World Cup right next door, and you’ve got yourselves a sleeper.

If France finished second behind Germany, it would likely get England in the quarterfinals, and France could take them, which would likely get them Brazil in the semis. And so, I picked a France-Germany final (yea, I had the U.S. losing to Germany in the semis. Sorry.)

And so, here we are, the United States and France in the semifinals. Perhaps we shouldn’t be that surprised. And we certainly shouldn’t think this will be an easy game for the U.S.

Here are the five things to look for in Wednesday’s semifinal (11:30 a.m., ESPN):
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Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned, Day 1:

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

However, they can look on their televisions (hopefully they will) and see sell-out crowds in Germany and a country head over heels for the women’s game.

Here’s how I described what I did last year for the men’s World Cup:

“I’m going to try every day of the World Cup for a little different kind of analysis, entitled What We Learned. We won’t go too deep into tactics, and it may not even be terribly cohesive, but they are things we learned during the day’s action, and maybe some things to think about going forward.”

The tactics were so interesting today that they do get a couple of mentions, but without further ado, 10 things we learned in Day 1 of Germany 2011.

1) Nigeria put together, by a pretty wide margin, the most organized effort of an African side in Women’s World Cup history

The Nigerian women have always been known to me as the “Last of the Mohicans” (a fine movie, by the way) because they were still playing a sweeper long after it was seemingly extinct at the world level (and some levels below).
As late as last November, on a grainy Zapruder-like film, it seemed as if Nigeria was playing a sweeper in a 8-0 thrashing (5-0 at half) at the hands of Germany.
But there was no sweeper today. They knew they had a speed advantage, closed down the middle of field, played an organized high line, and were somewhat unlucky to leave with nothing.
Kate Markgraf (who I thought did a good job, too) insinuated that it may not have been Ngozi Uche but her assistants who were the tactical people, but it was refreshing to see some organization out of an obviously talented side.
If Desire Oparanozie finishes a 25th-minute breakaway in which France keeper Berangere Sapowicz seemed to get her angles all wrong, who knows?
It is somewhat unfortunate that Nigeria is stuck in Group A, though.

2) France has skill, but do they have athleticism?

France was able to knock the ball around, but there were a few times where they just couldn’t keep up physically, and that could be scary for them going forward. Camile Abily, Elise Bussaglia, and Sandrine Soubeyrand (who was subbed off at halftime by Bruno Bini) in the midfield, especially, looked like they were completely frustrated by the buzzing Nigerians. Are the Nigerians athletic enough to give the Germans and Canadians the same problems, or is France just slow? I guess we’ll find out together. Elodie Thomis came off the bench to solve that problem in the 57th minute, and we’ll see if maybe Bini goes to her to start in the pivotal Canada match.

3) Louisa Necib taketh and Louisa Necib giveth away

Whenever you hear “the female Zidane”, obviously you get excited, and it didn’t take her long to show off her skill. But as the game progressed, like some of her teammates (see No. 2), she looked a little slow and made some poor decisions on the ball. That’s the difference between a good player and a great player, especially a midfielder, and she did make a great pass to send Marie-Laure Delie in late in the game. So, although I wasn’t overly impressed, it’s only the first game, I guess.

4) Marie-Laure Delie might be the real deal because….

By halftime, I was underwhelmed. But when her moment came in the 56th minute, she checked back, made a fine pass to start the movement, and then was at the right place at the right time to finish it seconds later. Getting 22 goals in 21 caps is no fluke.

5) Ian Holloway would be proud of Carolina Morace

Like Holloway at underdog Blackpool, Morace decided if she was going to go down today to heavily favored Germany, she was going to go down attacking, and we the viewing public thank her profusely. Morace had the “Santa Clara 4-3-3” that Jerry Smith made popular in the college ranks, but most teams today play with two holding midfielders (as Germany did). Morace started with Melissa Tancredi and Janelle Filigno not in a defending 4-5-1, but a straight attacking 4-3-3, Kaylyn Kyle as a box-to-box midfielder. Down two goals, Morace threw Kelly Parker in for Kyle to make it a more attacking formation. It put Sophie Schmidt (who I thought did her best) in a tough spot as the lone defensive midfielder, and it created some holes, but it was fun to watch, and Canada nearly pulled it off? Does Morace do it against France, or against Nigeria, who may use the lack of people back to counter them successfully?

6) Ah, those outside backs

Lots of youth coaches try to hide their weakest players at outside back, but as the U.S. men’s team learned Saturday night against Mexico, at high levels, you’d better have capable people in those spots. Unfortunately for Canada, Marie-Eve Nault had a disastrous first half. Thirty seconds before the first goal, she was beaten badly and Kerstin Garefrekes nearly scored. Then, fellow outside back Rhian Wilkinson switched off, Babett Peter was able to deliver a nice cross, and Garefrekes was able to outjump Nault for the first goal. On the second goal, Nault was woefully late coming forward, and then got subbed out at halftime, although her replacement – Robin Gayle – was caught stepping late just as Nault was in the 66th minute, only to have Garefrekes have one of the worst misses you’ll ever see. So some work for Canada to do there, but some of that is the attacking formation with no real midfielders to track back.
In the other game, by the way, Nigeria had a big injury in right back Faith Ikidi. Sub Josephine Chukwunonge didn’t look nearly as comfortable.
For France, right back seems an odd position for 6-foot-1 Wendie Renard, as – although obviously a target at the other end on set pieces – she looked vulnerable defending, eventually leaving with an injury in the 69th minute.

7) Goalkeeping will be an issue

One of the reasons I like Markgraf is because she is frank, she said that female goalkeeping is not as good as male goalkeeping, and the reason why Germany and the U.S. have to be favorites is because they have the best keepers.
For all of Hope Solo’s immaturity and questionable comments off the field, you don’t get much argument that she’s the best goalie in the world, and when you see keepers flap at crosses in the France-Nigeria game, I think it could be a deciding factor.
For Canada, Nault held Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi onside, but where was Erin McLeod? When she finally came into the picture, she was in her goal and had no shot at a save. If you’re going to play that high a line, your keeper has to play with you and hopefully cut off a ball like that.

8) These teams had a long time to work on set pieces

The coach in me was stopping the tape every set piece to write down some of the creativity these teams were using. You can tell they’ve been in camp for a while.
It started just two minutes in when when Necib hit an overlapping player. A few minutes later, Gaetane Thiney hit a post on a well-worked front-post corner, and Canada had all sorts of tricks up their sleeves.
Of course, as Julie Foudy correctly pointed out, what was the one that actually resulted in a goal? Christine Sinclair (who was fantastic and scary for Canada today) walked up the ball and pounding it home with a great, but fairly straightforward, free kick.

9) Germany has an embarrassment of riches

Silvia Neid’s three subs were Alexandra Popp, Inka Grings, and Fatmine Bajramaj in that order, three players that would likely be starting for any other team in the tournament, and that includes the U.S. We’ll have to see how Neid handles Popp, she doesn’t want to overwhelm Popp, but she’s too good to be on the bench.

10) Thankfully less riff-raff then in the men’s game

After watching a month of the Gold Cup with players rolling around on the ground to embellish, getting in the officials’ faces over and over, and all kinds of gamesmanship, there was none of that today. In fact, we almost escaped the entire day – with all four teams playing aggressive, but clean soccer. In fact, we almost escaped the day without a single card (there were none in the France-Nigeria match), but Germany got two in the final 10 minutes of the second match (Simone Laudehr and Annike Krahn). Hopefully, it continues.