Tag Archives: pia sundhage

Olympics – What We Learned: Quarterfinals – United States 2:0 New Zealand

“In one physical model of the universe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line in the opposite direction.” – Ty Webb

The United States Soccer Federation has recently advised all of its men’s Academy teams to try to switch to some variation of a 4-3-3 recently (actually, much stronger than advised in many cases) in an attempt to get more possession-oriented soccer at youth levels, and presumably to try to take that to the national team level at some point in the future.

In theory, I’m all for it: most of my young teams play in a 4-3-3 to try to teach them positioning and to create more possession and movement by giving another option out of the midfield and encouring the wingers to pinch in and allow the outside backs to overlap and get forward. Of course, despite what we may hear from some parents and others, winning isn’t our top priority.

Pia Sundhage, probably taking some advice from somewhere because Scandinavians play it about as often as a winter heat wave takes over Stockholm, experimented with a 4-3-3 after the World Cup, to mixed reviews and results. It was pretty obvious by then that the best lineup for the U.S. women’s national team was something that put Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan together, and quite simply that was a 4-4-2.

As the play of the United States has gotten more and more direct over the last few months, its status has been climbing. Do you remember before the World Cup last year? Germany was heavy favorites, the United States? Not so much. Obviously some personnel changes and more experience help the cause, but the U.S. has reclaimed its spot as the favorite to win a major tournament – in this case the Olympics – by doing what works best for them, playing it as quickly as possible at two of the best strikers in the world.

While against France and Japan (and maybe even Canada), things won’t be as easy, against New Zealand, all it took was one look at the terrified look on poor central defender Abby Erceg’s face every time the ball was played long and Morgan was on her outside shoulder, inside shoulder, or seemingly both at once. If Erceg did get there, she probably wasn’t going to be able to do what she wanted with it, and that kind of pressure just builds up over 90 minutes. New Zealand makes more mistakes, the U.S. gets more of the ball in their end, and gets more chances.

New Zealand – to their credit and as we expected – battled until the end. But the result and the number of scoring chances was inevitable. It won’t be as easy in the final two rounds, but I don’t see any reason why it won’t work.

Here’s what else we learned in the United States’ 2-0 win over New Zealand:

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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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Women’s World Cup – Things We Learned: Final Edition As Japan Is Crowned

The rules of athletics (at least knockout style) dictate that there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser.

Expert commentary, I know.

But (and I realize not everyone reading this is a United States fan, and I love that about AWK, so keep visiting) if you can take yourself out of your rooting shoes (or jersey) for a second and take the game you watched on Sunday for what it was.

A brilliant advertisement for women’s soccer, which saw the best the game has to offer. An underdog that everyone could root for, coming off an unspeakable tragedy in their home country, playing an attractive style of soccer, and exuding pure class and sportsmanship at just about every turn.

Of course, the rub is that this great story of Japan comes at the expense of the U.S., who lost the game in heartbreaking fashion, leading both in normal time and extra time before losing in penalties. It’s hard to imagine losing in a more painful fashion, actually.

But, perhaps the biggest lesson I try to get across to both the players I coach and students I teach is the “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” lesson.

Can you be happy for someone else even if it comes at your expense? Can you put aside your pride to congratulate an opponent or adversary on a job well done?

This one will hurt for a while for the United States. There’s no telling where the national team program will be in four years, there’s a lot of work to be done to stay on top of an ever-changing and improving women’s soccer world.

But there’s something to be said for being a part of something great. Sunday’s final capped a beautiful tournament that drew attention to women’s soccer that it hasn’t seen in 12 years. And, I would argue, this was even better because people seemed to be tuning in more for the quality of the play than the novelty of it. Or if they tuned in for the novelty, they were stunned by the quality and refreshing way the women went about their craft: few horrible tackles, less gamesmanship, more reasons to smile on a daily basis.

It was capped by the “right” team winning, the one with the best story, the underdog everyone can attach themselves to.

It was just unfortunate it wasn’t the team in our country.

But that doesn’t mean the U.S. shouldn’t be proud that they played such a big part, they had the better chances, controlled play, and played their best game of the tournament. They did everything but win the title, and getting so close will sting.

As Abby Wambach did, though, just minutes after the match, it doesn’t mean you can’t tip your proverbial cap to the Japanese and walk away with your head held high.

After all, even though they lost, they were part of something special. It may not mean anything tomorrow on the plane ride home or next week or even next year.

Someday, though it should.

The final edition of the 10 things we learned at Germany 2011.

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20 (or 12) Questions With Anson Dorrance

Courtesy University of North Carolina

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

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

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

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Women’s World Cup – 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 – 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 – Things We Learned: Day 7 – United States Edition

It took a week, but we had our first day that you can consider “meh” in the Women’s World Cup.

Unfortunately, North Korea is probably never going to be terribly entertaining, while Sweden is set up to defend first, and its strikers didn’t help matters by being fairly inept in front of goal.

Elsewhere, while it was fun to watch the United States knock the ball around against Colombia, and it’s always nice to see creative goal celebrations: a) we shouldn’t have been surprised at the result; and b) Colombia looked like they were almost treating the match as a scrimmage, making a fairly ludicrous five changes off a good performance against Sweden.

But there are always things to learn, and here are the 10 things we learned in Day 7 of Germany 2011.

1) Being able to strike the ball is an underrated skill

John Ellinger may have been a mediocre MLS coach (OK, he was probably worse than that), but he’s been very good at the youth level, and I refer to his “Five things that make a successful player” with my young kids, and two stand out as things we probably don’t do enough, for different reasons.
One is being able to head the ball, which is tough with younger players, and the other is “the ability to strike a ball cleanly”.
All three goals for the U.S. today were definitely cleanly struck balls, and although Carli Lloyd’s goal should have been saved, there are very few women in the world that can hit a ball as cleanly as Lloyd. Sometimes it’s a skill that gets overlooked when you’re talking about players, but it’s certainly a weakness for Amy Rodriguez, and a reason her days of starting in this tournament may be gone. Until she pulls a Megan Rapinoe, at least.
Sometimes that ability can be used as a decoy, if a team knows you can strike the ball from distance, they have to stretch their defense, and that might open up some other things in different places.
But it’s not – as even I tend to treat it as sometimes – a periphrial skill, it’s an essential one.

2) The U.S. looked very sharp today

They were able to “ping” the ball around, a lot of one and two touch stuff that kept the ball moving and the Colombians chasing. That type of play allows the team to stay sharp, and showed that they should be able to keep the ball a decent amount no matter who they’re playing and what round it is, but …

3) At some point, the U.S. may have to be able to go at people a little more

This comment is mostly about the first half, once Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath came on the field, they went at people and I thought that part of the game improved. However, the Colombians seemed to be giving space in the middle, and Lloyd and Lori Lindsey (or Shannon Boxx, for that matter) didn’t have the confidence to run at them with the ball, although Lloyd’s goal is kind of an example of what I’m talking about.
Unfortunately, that’s not likely to change in this tournament, so I guess I should just let it go.

4) Colombia is not good

Having seen everyone twice (almost), I think we can say Colombia is the worst team in the tournament, so you’d expect the U.S. to do what they did today.
On top of it, Ricardo Rozo made five changes, even taking Yoreli Rincon out, presumably to become a little more defensive, but it was always going to be an uphill climb.
Of course, it’s one thing to expect it and another to do it, so they should be happy. But the harder work is yet to come, and I think everyone knows it.

5) The U.S. might be vulnerable to speed, but we may not know it in the group stage

There were a couple of times where it looked like Colombia might have had Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler split. Would a team with better strikers have been able to take advantage of that? Problem is, it’s not like Sweden seems to have strikers that the U.S. has to be overly concerned about right now, either, so it may be an open question into the knockout stage, and no one likes open questions in the knockout stage, which leads us to…

6) The win the group vs. rest argument

The format for this tournament is asking a lot of the players, the U.S. quarterfinal game will be next Sunday, with the semifinal three days after and the final four days after that, so it would seem to be a good time to give some tired legs a rest as Pia Sundhage did with Shannon Boxx against Colombia.
The U.S. needs a draw to win the group, and probably play Norway or Australia instead of Brazil. Can the U.S., which is ridulously deep, get a draw against a Caroline Seger-less Sweden squad with a lot of changes? I think they can.
And, who’s to say Thomas Dennerby and Sweden aren’t thinking the same thing? It looks like second in Group C will get Brazil, but that’s not a certainty after they struggled in their first game, either. Finishing second allows you to avoid Germany until the final.
Just thinking out loud, we’ll see how it develops.

7) There are better ways to get yourself on the field than complaining

For instance, scoring a magnificent goal four minutes after coming on, as Megan Rapinoe did. Her first touch was nearly perfect and her second touch was, an unstoppable blast that was taken quickly. Rapinoe did lose the ball a couple of times and had some interesting tackles, but it’s hard to argue that the team’s best attacking team doesn’t include her in it after the goal she scored, and I think Sundhage has to give her the start against Sweden.

8) You have to have a little but of fun, too

An early goal obviously helps the nerves, too, but the (quite brilliant) celebrations show that there might not be as many nerves on the inside as there are on the outside, and a team that’s playing loose is usually a team that’s playing with confidence as well.

9) Most people aren’t worried about you, Abby

It is a little annoying for Abby Wambach not to have scored a goal in this World Cup, but the U.S. hasn’t needed her, she’s scored 118 goals in her career, and it’s not like she’s playing poorly, it just seems to be a bout of unluckiness more than anything else.
I’d be more worried about the card situation, another one in the last group match sees her suspended for the quarterfinals, so I think Sundhage will give a lot of thought on whether to give Wambach a rest or not in the Sweden match.

10) Despite their offensive woes, Sweden might still be a threat

Two goals in two games is far from impressive, but two things Sweden can hang their collective hats on (boy, that’s a horrible cliche): a) North Korea had less chances to score than they did against the United States, and b) they are creating some good chances even if they are not finishing them, so if they ever do start finishing, look out.

Bonus:

Colombia vs. Columbia

Colombia is the country is South America, Columbia is a university in New York City and some cities around the United States (and is the spelling for the District of Columbia).
But please don’t spell the country, Columbia.
Thank you.

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.