Tag Archives: saki kumagai

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 – Gold Medal Match: U.S. Worthy Champions, But Japanese Teach Us In Defeat

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – The Olympic Creed

Growing up, I used to listen to WFAN out of New York in pretty much all my spare time. It was one of the first sports talk radio stations in an era where ESPN offered little in the way of commentary (just highlights). Looking back, I don’t know what drew me to it, or what draws so many people to it today.

What doesn’t the manager play so-and-so? That guy stinks, we should trade him. The referees are clearly against our teams.

Just soooo much negativity.

As I got older, and not so coincidentally became a reporter and coach myself, I nearly completely stopped tuning in to sports radio. I try to stay clear of commentary shows with people spouting opinion that are clearly designed more for ratings and to get a rise out of people than actual analysis.

Before I come off as Mr. High and Mighty, as hard as I tried, the negativity never really left me. It’s easy to make fun of athletes when they fail or when they make mistakes, both on and off the field. Sometimes criticism is needed to be a proper journalist and not just a fan. The proliferation of Twitter has made it even easier to do that, complete with amateur humor.

I’m not here to cry, “Oh, those poor athletes.” They are in the public eye, they should be able to handle it to some extent. Of course, there is fair criticism, and then there Is what I think is overkill.

After Carli Lloyd yanked a penalty kick high after missing the target several other times at the World Cup, the next day at my camp anytime someone shot high it became known as “pulling a Carli Lloyd”. I remarked that the fact that everyone knew who Lloyd was and was watching the World Cup final was a victory onto itself, which was true, but I’m sure it didn’t make Carli feel any better.

There’s a more important lesson about negativity here, though, and it is has to do with the team who didn’t win the gold medal. While they weren’t quite as bizarre as they were against Canada, the U.S. was the beneficiary of a couple of breaks, most notably a pretty blatant Tobin Heath first-half handball in the penalty area.

Japan can also say they probably had the better chances in the second half, they could have won with a break or two, they were that close.

You know what, though, folks, you can say that about almost every big game in almost every sport. A break here, a break there, a call here, a call there. Small margins, as I’ve said (with credit to Zonal Marking) many times are the difference.

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Olympics: Gold Medal Match Preview – U.S.-Japan: Nadeshiko Try To Prove Me Wrong. Again.

“Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”

– Albert Einstein

There are probably psychologists – both amateur and professional – that can explain better than I the reluctance to leave a first impression, no matter what evidence there may be to the contrary. There’s something about what your eyes tell you the first time you see something that just makes it stick in your mind, no matter what comes after.

Last May, just two months after a horrific earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan, the Japanese came to America for a two-game series. Japan showed little different than what I had seen from the Nadeshiko in the past: they knocked the ball around pretty well, had spurts (especially early in the matches) were they looked like they could be dangerous, but eventually the U.S. did what they had done every time (almost: Japan was 0-20-3 against the U.S. lifetime at this point) they’d seen the Japanese before, they took over, posted a couple of comfortable 2-0 wins in which the Japanese looked horribly vulnerable in set pieces and in the air.

When it came time to make the picks for the World Cup, I wanted to get an upset in there, looked at the brackets and focused on New Zealand. They were in a weak group, they could knock off Japan, right? And so I didn’t have Japan getting out of the group stages.

New Zealand nearly got a point from Japan, but I immediately recognized I had underrated the Japanese as they blasted Mexico. However, the vulnerabilities showed up in the final group game as a 2-0 loss to England sent them to second in the group (don’t think Norio Sasaki was telling people not to score that day) and a date with host Germany in the quarterfinal.

(Too bad Germany had to miss this party, by the way. What a great event, too. They’re going to be mad when they check their text messages when they get back from vacation. Next time, girls.)

They stood no chance, right? In the end, despite the upset, I attributed more of it to a failure by Germany than anything Japan did, and therefore picked Sweden to win the semifinal. Wrong again, as Japan was opportunistic one more time.

Of course, we know what happened in the final after I again dismissed Japan’s chances prior.

A year later, it was harder to dismiss the now World Champions. They had proven themselves at every turn. Clearly they were now a contender, but as 2012 commenced, Japan was beaten by Germany in the finals of the Algarve Cup (although they had beaten the United States 1-0 to get there). They were beaten soundly by France and the U.S. in warm-up matches for the Olympics.

I looked at the brackets and conceded that Japan would likely win their group (I wasn’t counting on a draw against South Africa, but I digress), but figured their luck may run out in a quarterfinal against France.

Bzzzz. Wrong again.

Japan is 90 minutes away from winning back-to-back major tournaments in consecutive years, a feat that’s never been accomplished. Not by the United States. Not by anyone.

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Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – Japan 0:0 Sweden

Sweden and Japan played to a scoreless draw, and although Japan had the better of the play and more chances, Sweden wasn’t exactly dominated, with the exception of a 20-minute stretch in the second half. Really, the game was about what I expected, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Sweden is close to the top teams, the question is whether they can get past them and make a run at the gold medal. I think they can, but it might take a couple of breaks. Here’s what we learned:

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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 – Day 14: What We Learned

Everyone, including me, will spend the rest of time (and perhaps longer in Germany) trying to figure out how the Germans – such heavy favorites going into the 2011 World Cup – fell to Japan today.

Certainly, Germany didn’t play their best, and there will be plenty of questions surrounding Silvia Neid and some of the players on her team.

But this day belongs to Japan, folks.

It was March 11 when the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan. The Japanese are a proud people, and likely some of the last on the planet to ask for help, or to bring attention to their problems, but with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 dead and any damage estimates would just be a wild guess.

It’s also true that nothing the Japanese women can do at the World Cup can bring back any of the people that died or help rebuild their country.

But, even beyond that, the class that the Japanese women have showed has been astounding. Most of the reports out of the two friendlies Japan played against the U.S. mentioned something about the fantastic attitude and thankfulness the Japanese team had, even when they lost both games.

What’s more, the technical ability they brought to the World Cup was refreshing, not using the lack of height on their roster as an excuse.

They didn’t get a yellow card in the group stages, and here’s what impressed me most of all.

Trying to hang on for dear life against a heavy favorite on the road, not one Japanese player went down “injured” or really stalled for time at all in the 22 minutes after they scored their goal. And they won anyway.

With all the crap we see in soccer (and sports in general, let’s face it), it’s nice to see the good guys win every once in a while. And do it the right way.

Here are the 10 things we learned in Day 14 of Germany 2011.

1) Japan was simply technically better

Early in the second half, Ian Darke sounded amazed when he was told the possession was 57 percent in favor of Japan. Um, not really. Did we so easily forget how easily Japan dismanted Mexico? I know, it was Mexico, but still. It’s not like Germany looked like they could string a million passes together in their group stage games. Japan was under some pressure, but they were rarely forced to chase the ball.

2) In fact, the best two technical teams in the tournament are on to the semifinals

I’m as stunned as you, but it’s a good day for women’s soccer, even if Germany and England – two countries that might have needed a boost to their women’s domestic leagues (but in all honesty, who doesn’t?) – bowed out. Finally, the Evan Pelleruds of the world can see teams that can keep the ball and win doing it. A France-Japan final, while probably a ratings disaster, would be a brilliant advertisement for the women’s game.

3) Saki Kumagai was my Woman of the Match

I almost didn’t recognize her without her unique headgear on, but she headed away at least a couple of balls in the first half that Ayumi Kaihori (who seemed to get stronger at the game wore on) looked unsure on. Inka Grings was very quiet, and every time Germany looked ready to do something, it seemed that Kumagai was there.

4) Germany got very, very tight as the game wore on

The longer the game went on, the more desperate Germany looked. We’ll never know what would have happened if Kim Kulig didn’t get hurt, but other than Celia Okoyino de Mbabi, it’s hard to pick another German player that stood out. It wasn’t Simone Laudehr’s best game, Inka Grings and Melanie Behringer both looked a step (or two) slow, and Kerstin Garefrekes appeared as if the occasion might have gotten to her. Such is how upsets happen, and it did today.

5) Silvia Neid should take some blame, but not all of it

I actually didn’t mind the starting lineup that much, and although it was a slight surprise to see Lena Goessling come on in the 65th minute, I thought she was one of their best players (probably second to da Mbabi in her time on the field). That left Neid with only one sub left, meaning Lira Baramaj or Alexandra Popp was not making it on the field (I don’t think Birgit Prinz ever stood a chance). She went with Popp, which I can understand, but the change should have been made earlier. Way earlier.
You can knock her for not starting Baramaj if you want, though.

6) It would have been a real shame if France had lost

For once, the right team won on penalties, and again, I’m as shocked as you. I say “right” team because – let’s be honest – France prettty much dominated proceedings from start to finish. England really had three good chances. One fell to Kelly Smith in the first minute, Jill Scott scored with the second, and Ellen White had the third in the 103rd minute. The first two you can really put down to goalkeeping errors.

7) Although England didn’t deserve to win, it was sad to see Kelly Smith possibly go out that way

It makes sense for Smith to retire after next year’s Olympics in London, so this may be it for the World Cup, and even on one leg for a lot of the match, she did her best and was one of the top players on the field, dutifully burying her penalty when it came to it, too. Just didn’t have enough help on the day, however.

8) It may be the end of Hope Powell with England as well

It wasn’t a good tournament for Powell, her substitutions again today left much to be desired, taking both veteran outside backs out with a 1-0 lead in the 81st minute (Alex Scott looked as baffled as I did). While penalties are a crapshoot, sending Claire Rafferty and an injured Faye White as your last two kickers obviously didn’t work out. Powell hinted after the game that this might be it for her.
It’s a shame because Powell has done probably more than anyone besides Kelly Smith for women’s soccer in England over the past 20 years, and to go out like that isn’t quite fair, either.

9) France is the favorite to win this thing right now

Will they win in the end? As we saw today, who knows? Anything can happen, but France has played the best soccer in the World Cup. Their biggest liability today was third-string goalkeeper Celine Deville (who tried her best, you could tell she was just a bit overmatched), but Berange Sapowicz returns for the semifinal, and if the winner of the U.S.-Brazil clash thinks they’ll have an easy semifinal, they’ll be in for a rude awakening.

10) Kudos to the referees

We’ve had a couple of poorly officiated games, but not many. Today, Jenny Palmqvist (Sweden) and Quetzalli Alvarado (Mexico) were outstanding, particularly Palmqvist, who did not have the easiest game to ref, but was calm, composed, and had just the right demeanor to make the game go smoothly. She had a couple of chances to give a second yellow card to Kelly Smith, but instead talked to her. One of these two will likely be on the final and it will be well deserved.

Bonus:

I feel for England because I hate penalty kicks

As a Chelsea fan, I’m sure you can understand why. But my high school team was also eliminated in penalties last fall, as was a U-11 team I coached. The poor girl who had the last one saved looked a lot like Claire Rafferty walking up to the spot, quite scared. But if they kept playing, England may not have had any players left at the end.

Double bonus:

Was Hope Powell really asking people to take penalty kicks in the England huddle?

Haven’t seen a follow-up on that, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but you hope they at least practiced penalty kicks. Rafferty had her hand up like she was volunteering.