Tag Archives: tobin heath

Spirit vs. Thorns: Battle for 1st ends in scoreless draw

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé is pleased that the Spirit have three clean sheets on the season.

The Washington Spirit are still waiting for production from their bevy of forwards. Other than a late tap-in last week from Katie Stengel on a ball that looked to be going in already, all the goals have come from defenders or midfielders. Against the Portland Thorns, the failure to get the ball in the net cost them two standings points in a match when they were clearly the better team on the night.

The good news – surprising given the past for both the Spirit and head coach Jim Gabarra, whose teams have been much more known for scoring than prevention thereof – is that the defense has been stalwart, allowing just one goal in four matches and currently riding a 204-minute shutout streak. But for a perfect sequence of passes that led to a Maya Hayes goal for Sky Blue in the 66th minute of that match, they could have four clean sheets instead of just three.
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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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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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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: 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.