Tag Archives: Marta

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

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

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

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

Among the players who barely missed the cut:

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

So without further ado, here’s the squad:

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Olympics – What We Learned: Quarterfinals – Brazil 0:2 Japan

Statistics can be useful information, and everyone is looking for an edge in any kind of endeavor, but one of the reasons why I love soccer so much is that the numbers don’t always tell the whole story or the same story that your eyes do. Brazil officially had a 21-10 edge in shots and had 64 percent of the possession, but that doesn’t begin to tell you what happened in the game. Marta and Christiane tried their best, but the disorganization of Brazil, from the top to the bottom, as disastrous. Meanwhile, Japan knew what to do, stayed where they were supposed to be and just waited for the opportunity to strike, taking advantage of lackadaisical play and mistakes to advance to the semifinals. It’s really a shame for Brazil, but it’s gone way past the point where I’m surprised, and probably past the point where I care anymore, which is even more of a shame. But we shall see.

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Olympics – Matchday 3: What We Learned – Great Britain 1:0 Brazil

Ironically, I got home today from camp and flipping through HBO, came across “Bend It Like Beckham”. I’m going to guess most of you have seen it, I happened to come in at the scene where a match is going on and some young men in the crowd are making fun of women playing soccer, “Can’t you just see them as proper footballers?,” one of them tries to interject before laughter erupts from the others.

Believe it or not, that movie came out a decade ago. Since then, women’s soccer in Britain has grown in the number of teams, but the prevailing attitude still seemed to be a little different than it is in more accepting countries, at least overtly, as much of the discussion seemed to revolve around how the U.S. looked more than how they played.

A couple of weeks later, at the hallowed ground of Wembley Stadium, more than 70,000 people packed the place to cheer Great Britain to a 1-0 win over Brazil, and a new era has been born. Well, we’re not that naïve, are we? But still a run to the gold medal game would certainly do wonders for the sport in the birthplace of the game, and with more structure for a professional league in place, could it be a watershed moment? And all they have to do is get by ….. the United States in the semifinals. Gulp. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it:

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Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – New Zealand 0:1 Brazil

Again, New Zealand huffed and puffed, but again they couldn’t knock the door down to get a result against a world power at a major competition. It was pretty cruel on poor New Zealand, too, who marginalized Marta and frustrated Brazil, only to give up a goal five minutes from the end that was really unlucky and unnecessary from a New Zealand perspective. On the plus side, a win – particularly a lopsided one – over Cameroon should still see them get through to the quarterfinals, and at that point, who knows?

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Olympics – Day 1: What We Learned – Cameroon 0:5 Brazil

In its first match at a major competition, and one of their first outside of Africa, Cameroon gave up two goals on set pieces in the first 10 minutes against Brazil, and appeared to be ready to be on the end of a hiding. But the Indomitable Lionesses (have to use that as much as possible in the next couple of weeks) settled down and held Brazil at bay for the next 65 minutes. And then gave up three more in the last 15. But they can keep their heads up, and with a break or two, might give Great Britain or New Zealand some trouble. As for Brazil? We’re still guessing.

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Olympic Preview And Predictions: Has It Been That Long Since Japan’s Win Already?

Was it already more than a year ago that we watched in delight as the United States women’s soccer team pulled off a comeback for the ages against Brazil, and then in horror as Japan did the same just a week later to capture an unexpected (and its first) World Cup.

Of course, it’s a little hard to be horrified when speaking of Japan, what a great story and a class act in a country that was not far removed from a devastating tsunami.

For whatever reason, the United States has continued to just about own the Olympic tournament, even if they haven’t won a World Cup since 1999, the U.S. has won every gold medal but one (2000) the Olympics have had to offer, posting a dominant 18-2-3 all-time mark.

Both losses at the Olympics came to Norway, including the opener of the 2008 Games in Beijing, but the Norwegians are nowhere to be found in Britain, and they’re not alone. The entertaining cast of 16 characters we had last summer in Germany has been cut to 12 for London (of course, most soccer matches won’t be in London, but I digress), and sadly we’ll be missing the Germans themselves, the aforementioned Norwegians, up-and-coming Australia, and African sides Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, neither of whom embarrassed themselves in Germany (Nigeria, especially, they beat Canada, and gave France fits).

But even without those teams, when it comes to the medal rounds, there are plenty of nominees to dethrone the Americans, starting with World Champion Japan. If you’re like me, you forgot (at least a little), but the Japanese were beginning to knock on the door way back in China four years ago. A new coach named Norio Sasaki had them playing decent soccer, but they were derailed twice by those darn Americans, 1-0 in the group stage and 4-2 in the semifinals after grabbing an early lead (Japan also played the U.S. tough in the 2004 quarterfinals, losing 2-1 on an Abby Wambach goal).

Then, of course, there are the French, who on paper, might be the favorites, running roughshod over just about everyone (including Japan) in friendlies, and seemingly just getting better since last summer, where they were pretty darn good. They haven’t knocked off the United States yet, but that didn’t stop Japan last year, did it?

Those seem to be the three heavy favorites. Great Britain, as the hosts, could be a factor, but I find it somewhat amazing that countries scour the world for players that will be eligible to play for them, and then Scotland and England can barely get along to combine to make a team for the Olympics, for crying out loud. But I don’t live there, so who am I to talk?

Sweden can’t be counted out, Brazil has Marta, and Canada has Christine Sinclair. So, really, if all goes according to plan, the entire knockout stage will be to eliminate one of: New Zealand, Cameroon, Colombia, South Africa, or North Korea.

So much for drama there, huh?

But I’ve been invited (as far as you know) back to the AWK Summer Timeshare, so here I am. The place looks a little different, but I’m happy to be here. Coverage will be a little tougher at the Olympics than it was at the World Cup. As Hope Solo has told us (and some others), there is plenty of other action going on around England, which means that all 12 teams will play on the same day in all three group match days. But we’ll do our best.

And have fun doing it.

A few times after the completion of games of the recent men’s Euros, Michael Cox of the fantastic Zonal Marking website simply said, “Small margins.” Like Spain beating Portugal in penalty kicks, for instance. With the real start of the tournament not until the quarterfinals, a team getting some breaks for three straight games may be able to beat the odds and take home an unlikely gold medal. But, as the Spain men have proven repeatedly, maybe not.

Here are my quick predictions:

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Brazil-Canada Recap: Random Thoughts About A Random Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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: Go Go, USA Edition

Thomas Paine wasn’t born in America, but he probably deserves his place with the Founding Fathers for his contributions in making the United States what it was in the Revolutionary War period.

It was Paine who wrote in December of 1776 (you’ll have to excuse the history lesson, it’s my day job) with the Americans falling apart and seemingly ready to capitulate, “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

We don’t know what kind of soccer fan Paine was, but he was reasonably progressive, I’m sure he would have been proud of the American women today.

It’s hard to imagine a win with more value or a harder conflict than the United States had today. (In soccer, of course. We’re not comparing today’s win to the Revolutionary War. It was a big, big soccer win, though, so bear with the analogy.) Against their nemesis Brazil, with a bunch of things (including one big one) that didn’t go their way, down a man and a goal in stoppage time of extra time on the world’s biggest stage, one where they haven’t won in 12 years, the Americans got the job done.

And that’s all that matters in the knockout stages of a major tournament.

Paine’s quote could almost apply to women’s soccer in this country as well. Maybe the U.S. obtained success too cheaply at the beginning of the World Cup era, winning two of the first three Cups, being No. 1 in the world for virtually all of the last 20 years. Whenever there was a loss, like there was to Germany in 2003 or Brazil in 2007, it was a huge letdown. What was wrong? Why was everyone as good as us all of the sudden? Why aren’t we developing players like we used to?

For one day at least, you can shove all that stuff where the sun don’t shine, excuse my Portuguese. The U.S. met a team that was in most ways their equal, was dealt a very hard hand to play, and found a way to get the job done, and it‘s the United States in the semifinals and Brazil on the next plane back to South America.

I try hard to guard against overdoing nationalism and patriotism, they lead to very bad things when used incorrectly. But when Abby Wambach said after the game, “that is a perfect example of what this country is about,” I smiled and went out the door with as much U.S. national paraphernalia as I can find.

I’m not right much, so surely I’m going to let you know when I am, I wrote after the Sweden loss that in spite of it, the Brazil match could be the U.S.’s finest hour. If beating China in 1999 was No. 1 in that category, this is surely No. 2.

But one cautionary note, folks, in case you haven’t noticed, France can play a little bit.

Without further ado, the 10 things we learned from a heartstopping Day 15 at Germany 2011:

1) Abby Wambach deserves her place in the pantheon of the U.S. greats

It’s not often I agree with Tony DiCicco, either, but when he said that Wambach put the U.S. on her back, he wasn’t kidding. Really, she’s been doing that for most of the tournament in one way or another. Her goal today was her 120th international goal and 48th with her head.
The second part of that may be why she’s sometimes not put in the same category as a Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, or even a Julie Foudy. And, yes, she hasn’t won a World Cup yet, and it’s true they won the Olympic gold medal without her in 2008.
However, even if she doesn’t have the flashy style of some of her predecessors or the star power off the field of a Hamm, hopefully Wambach will get her due when she hangs up her cleats. Obviously, two more wins in Germany will help the cause.

2) Yes, that call wasn’t very good

Let’s be as impartial as we can here. I praised the referees yesterday, and I’ve seen worse games than Australian Jacqui Melksham had today. But when Rachel Buehler and Marta are fighting for the ball, there’s nothing there, at least worthy of a penalty kick, Marta was giving as good as she got. That’s a no call.
From there, is it a clear goal-scoring opportunity? Probably, and that’s something I think FIFA should change. Aside from handballs on the goal line, the penalty of a red and a penalty seems silly to me, and always has. But I’m not going to blame Melksham for that one.
Then to disallow Hope Solo’s save because an American encroached nowhere near the ball on something that didn’t seem to have an effect on the play was also a little ridiculous. But by the letter of the law, I guess she’s correct. Common sense, though, after a controversial penalty (and red card) to begin with, dictates you let that go.

3) And still the Americans found a way

I’ve gone over this before here, but let’s remember that even in the 2008 Olympics which the U.S. won, they were probably outplayed by Brazil, and they obviously were in the 2007 World Cup debacle.
I don’t think, even with 10 people on the field, you can say that here. The statistics were remarkably similar and the chances were as well. It wasn’t the U.S. evening the game against the run of play or holding on for penalties and winning it that way, they played a very good game, their best game of the tournament, almost from start to finish.

4) Marta didn’t really deserve the crowd abuse, though

After the controversial call, the neutral Germans seemed to turn against the Brazilians and for the Americans (leading my friend to channel Rocky IV, “Some cheers now for the U-S-A”). The crowd particularly went after Marta, but – even though I think the call was incorrect – it wasn’t a case of diving by Marta, nor has she done much unsportsmanlike at this tournament (she seemed pretty gracious afterward, as well). But I guess as the best player on the team the crowd wants to root against, that’s going to happen. But Marta played pretty well today including scoring both goals, so she has nothing to be ashamed of.

5) Pia Sundhage’s loyalty in her midfield paid off

Shannon Boxx didn’t look 34 today, she ran her butt off and played a tremendous game. Like she was a couple of years ago, she was everywhere and never stopped working, even in extra time. Boxx was also getting forward more than in any other game. Carli Lloyd was also at her near-best today, as she and Boxx made their presence felt with sheer determination, and rarely left the back line exposed for Brazil to run at.

6) Goalkeeping was a big difference, too

That was where the Americans had their biggest advantage, and in the end, it came through. The first goal was obviously an own goal, but could Andreia have come and gotten it? Possibly.
On the second, Andreia comes and gets nowhere near it, blocked off by Daiane. Hope Solo also had some anxious moments at the other end, but there was nothing she could do about either goal, and she won the game with a penalty save, and that advantage is something the United States should carry into the rest of the tournament.

7) Down goes the sweeper

Hopefully, you read the preview, so I was personally happy to see that both goals involved the sweeper playing extremely deep. On the first goal, the switch of the field (something I wish the U.S. could have done a lot more often, but I digress) left the Brazilian defense lost and Daiane (the sweeper) got the own goal. On the second, Daiane was way too deep, allowing her goalkeeper no space to come out and get the ball (although who knows if Andreia would have missed it anyway?). Unfortunately, for most of the game, the Americans actually had trouble exposing the Brazilians, but at least – in the end – they did twice, and a team with a sweeper won‘t win the World Cup.

8) The U.S. was clinical from the spot

Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, and Ali Krieger were the five penalty takers, and none of the goals was soft. Andreia guessed the correct way a couple of times, but the kicks were just too good. Penalties can be a random outcome, but credit deserves to be given for the coolness under pressure of the Americans in the biggest of big spots with all the pressure they had on them coming into the World Cup.
I debated whether Krieger should have taken off her shirt as an homage to Brandi Chastain and the 1999 bunch, and I’m still torn. Maybe you can help me whether that would be completely tacky or funny and appropriate.

9) The U.S. defense still did look a bit shaky

Not trying to be a Negative Nancy on such a glorious day, but now that the U.S. is still in the tournament, so we do have to say that things weren’t always secure in the back, although some of that is obviously Marta and the Brazilian attack. Now the team must do without Rachel Buehler for the semifinals, which leaves Sundhage with a dilemma: move LePeilbet inside and go with Stephanie Cox outside, OR leave LePeilbet (who I thought had her best match of the tournament today) at left and bring Becky Sauerbrunn in (even though Sauerbrunn would be coming in cold), OR Shannon Boxx at center defense, as we saw a little of today? Not likely, although interesting.
They’ll need to figure it out, because ….

10) France will be a stiff test in the semifinals

Brazil has better athletes and Marta, but – for my money (which isn’t much) – France has been the best team at the World Cup through four games. Although it took penalties, they took apart England in the second half and extra time and should be able to keep the ball better than Brazil (or anyone else the U.S. has played thus far). But I’ll have a preview either tomorrow night or early Tuesday, let’s take the time to enjoy this one first.

(By the way, Thomas Paine also tried his hand in the French Revolution as well, only things weren’t quite the same over there. Not sure where his loyalties would lie Wednesday, though.)

Bonus

Hey, we’re Sweden over here

Unfortunately, the Sweden-Australia game gets pushed to the back burner today, as Australia’s youth an inexperience, especially in the back, finally brought their demise. There were some curious lineup selections from Tom Sermanni as well (like starting Ellyse Perry, who‘s a great story with the cricket and all, and scored a great goal, but was a liability defensively. Take nothing away from Lotta Schelin, who was very good, miles ahead of her performances in the first couple of games.

Double bonus

It’s not original, but …

Hopefully we’ll see some more of these soon. And hopefully they won’t be staged, you’ll have to judge for yourself.

Triple bonus

No Go Go, U.S.A.?

I’m disappointed in Ian Darke, although I guess that wouldn’t have been too original, either. Oh, well.

Quadruple Bonus

Go Go, WPS?

Might today’s victory – in the manner in which it happened – aired on a Sunday afternoon with very little else going on (it seemed to have buzz with people I normally don’t associate women’s soccer with), help save the WPS? Obviously, that’s very speculative and Jenna could answer that question (at a later date, perhaps) with much more evidence and validity than I can.

 

 

 

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)