Olympic Summer Games

Rio 2016: Medal Round

I was looking forward to watching the USWNT take on Brazil in the semi-finals of the Olympic games today at 12 p.m. ET, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. On Saturday, the team lost to Sweden on penalties. I was working at a music festival and was unable to watch. I tried my best to follow along on twitter when I wasn’t busy. It was still upsetting regardless of the fact that I wasn’t totally enamored with the game on a TV in front of me.

Saturday’s loss was the earliest Olympic exit for the USWNT since they began competing in the games in 1996. The U.S. won gold at the previous 3 Olympic tournaments. The game was scoreless through the first half. Mid-way through the second frame in the 61st minute Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius put her team up 1-0. The U.S. tied it up 15 minutes later on a goal from Alex Morgan. Neither team was able to score through 90 minutes plus stoppage time. In the 30 minutes of added extra time again neither team was able to find the back of the net so the match went to penalties.

Alex Morgan took the first shot for the U.S. It was saved by Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Lotta Schelin (SWE), Lindsey Horan (USA), Kosovare Asllani (SWE), and Carli Lloyd (USA) all scored on their PK’s. Linda Sembrant stepped up next for Sweden but was denied by Solo, igniting a surge for the U.S. At that point the score was 2-2 after 3 rounds. Then Morgan Brian put the U.S. up 3-2, but Sweden countered quickly with a goal by Caroline Seger. Christen Press was the final kicker for the USWNT (unless of course the score still remained tied) but her shot sailed over the cross bar leaving it to Lisa Dahlkvist to seal the deal for Sweden, which she did. The U.S. fell 4-3 ending their chances to medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

No matter what the situation it’s always a surprise when the USWNT loses, especially at this point in the competition. They’ve set the standard for so long in the women’s soccer world that it’s expected for them to compete in every final in every major tournament. This time that wasn’t the case. For the first time ever the U.S. failed to medal in a major tournament, but a part of me believes this was coming. Since winning the World Cup last summer the USWNT went through some major changes. The lineup changed drastically with retirements, pregnancies, and injuries, but also with healthy players. Heather O’Reilly, a 14 year USWNT veteran wasn’t part of the active roster. Her status on the USWNT seemed to drop off last year playing in only a handful of matches including once in the World Cup for no visible purpose. She was named as an alternate on the Olympic squad. Ali Krieger, the States’ most consistent and reliable right outside back, began riding the bench some time during Olympic qualifiers for no explicit reason as well. She was a major part of the back line that almost broke the record for scoreless minutes in last year’s World Cup.

When it came to retirements, veterans Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, and Lori Chalupny hung up their boots. Forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez were left off the roster because both were pregnant. Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL back in December and worked her way back into the lineup and Olympic roster but still wasn’t 100 percent ready to go. Injuries to Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath right before the Olympics and Julie Johnston and Mallory Pugh during the first match of the games happened too. It seems that the USWNT didn’t have the right lineup and game plan formula for winning which puts Coach Jill Ellis to blame and rightfully so.

At one point in the match on Saturday she had midfielder, Tobin Heath at right back, a move that made most shake their heads. Her philosophy of having a more offensive team backfired. The U.S. barely outscored opponents during the tournament, never scoring more than 2 goals in any match. Relying heavily on rookies and injured players to perform against some of the best teams in the world was another blunder. Good rookies are important to have on any roster but there needs to be a core group of healthy veterans involved as well. In my opinion, Ellis wasted a roster spot on Megan Rapinoe. She wasn’t ready. She may have been healthy enough to play, but she wasn’t in her element at all. Without playing since December, it’s tough to come back strong and perform at your best in a major tournament. It seems to me that their were more politics at play than anything in this tournament, which caused for the early exit.

Now it’ll be another 2 years until the USWNT begins preparing for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. It’ll be time to focus on the NWSL and growing the women’s game in that regard. It was around this time 4 years ago that my love of women’s soccer grew and inspired me. It inspired me in so many ways. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the game and incredible players/humans that are a part of the U.S. women’s soccer team. Missing the game Saturday was slightly disappointing, but I missed it for great reason as I continue to follow my own dreams. I wouldn’t be doing that without “the Gals” and for that I’m grateful. Win or lose I’ll always be proud of the USWNT players and the way they compete. They’re incredible both on the field and off, and I’m glad to support them. I believe that we will win, but another day and time from now.

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Rio 2016: Group Stage

The 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil kicked off on Friday night. Before the opening ceremonies, the United States Women’s National Team began their tournament Wednesday in Belo Horizonte, Brazil against New Zealand. “The Gals” then squared off against number three ranked France Saturday afternoon again in Belo Horizonte and Colombia last evening in Manaus. Through three games the USA women’s soccer team had a record of 2-0-1 earning them 7 points and the top spot in their group, Group G. The first place seed sets them up for a quarterfinals match-up with former Coach Pia Sundhage and Sweden on Friday.

In the first match against New Zealand the U.S. came away with a 2-0 win. The goals came from the feet of Carli Lloyd in the 9th minute and Alex Morgan in the 46th minute. The U.S. wasn’t tested much against New Zealand, but that changed quickly when the team played France in their second Olympic Group Stage match.

The U.S. squeaked away from France with a 1-0 win. The game could have gone either way, but France failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities. It also could have ended in a tie, if not for 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd. Lloyd scored off a rebound of a Tobin Heath shot that was saved and hit off the post. France exposed the USWNT back line several times during the match, but U.S. Goalkeeper, Hope Solo, stepped up when needed.

In their third and final group stage match against Colombia last evening, the U.S. succeeded in winning the group but not in the way they would have liked. The game finished in a 2-2 tie with the game tying goal coming from Colombia in the 90th minute. The U.S. fell behind early in the match in the 26th minute when Colombia’s Catalina Usme sent in a free kick that slipped through the five hole of Hope Solo. The U.S. equalized in the 41st minute when Crystal Dunn cleaned up the rebound of a Carli Lloyd shot that was saved and hit off the crossbar. Then shortly into the second half Mallory Pugh beat out several Colombia defenders and kicked the ball through the Colombia defense to the back netting. Her goal came in the 60th minute and put the U.S. up 2-1. Then right before the game went to stoppage time, Catalina Usme again sent in a beautiful free kick from the right side that beat Hope Solo far post. The USWNT failed to hold on for the win and Usme’s brace gave Colombia their first tie against the U.S. after losing their previous 5 meetings. The goals for Dunn and Pugh marked their first ever major tournament goals for the senior national team since both are making their Olympic debuts this summer.

In my opinion, the USWNT is not playing their best soccer. They’re not taking advantage of their scoring chances and their defense doesn’t seem as strong as it was last summer in Canada at the World Cup. Fortunately being as good as they are, they were able to pull out of the group stage with a number one seed. The medal round will be a whole different animal though. If they make it past Sweden on Friday and Brazil beats Australia, the stage will be set for a semi-final between the top ranked team in the world and the host nation. The culture behind the USWNT is a winning mentality. The ladies in the red, white, and blue are going to give it their all to try to win gold for their country. They just need to start peaking to make it a little easier on themselves.

Of note from the group stage, Julie Johnston’s been out with a slight groin injury. Whitney Engen filled in at center back the past two matches. Pugh also took a knock in the first match that kept her out of the France contest. Morgan Brian has seen limited action due to a prior injury. She only played some of the first three matches. Lastly and finally, Megan Rapinoe made her return from being out due to an ACL tear that happened in December. As you can tell, the U.S. has some injury concerns to be aware of going forward too. Hopefully they’ll be able to manage, improve, and secure their third straight Olympic gold.

Road to Rio: Roster Release

I told you the next time I’d blog about the USWNT it would be after the Olympic roster was released. Well the release happened around noon today. With months since qualifiers and a tournament and friendlies in between, there were no surprises, just a few disappointments.

The 2016 U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Olympic Roster is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Hope Solo and Alyssa Naeher

Defenders: Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Johnston

Midfielders: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe

Forwards: Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh

I think the only question anyone had about this roster as time went forward was whether or not Megan Rapinoe would be healthy for the Olympics. She tore her ACL back in December, had surgery, and rehabbed post-op. She made it back though, just in time. My only concern is that she probably won’t be at 100 percent, despite what sources say. She hasn’t played in a match since October (she was injured prior to the U.S. Victory Tour matches in December). It’s almost like Alex Morgan at the World Cup last year. Morgan was injured twice for extended time periods over the past 2 years prior to the World Cup. At the World Cup, her performance suffered. She wasn’t at her peak. I feel like that might be the case for Rapinoe come August.

Two of the biggest disappointments of this roster are the exclusion of long-time USWNT veteran Heather O’Reilly (HAO) and 2015 Women’s World Cup back-up goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. O’Reilly’s playing time began to drop when Jill Ellis took over the reigns of the national team in the spring of 2014. She only played in one match last summer at the Women’s World Cup coming in as a sub in the quarterfinals against China PR. Harris on the other hand was named back-up goalkeeper in the months prior to the Women’s World Cup. After the World Cup, somewhere along the way during the Victory Tour, Harris’s status dropped. It became noticeable following the Victory Tour match in Orlando, FL, a city only about an hour away from Harris’s hometown of Satellite Beach. Harris didn’t receive any playing time, which isn’t common when a friendly gets played in or near a player’s hometown. It was disappointing and rather odd, raising a red flag for anyone who paid attention to the team. Coach Ellis also stated prior to the three December matches that each goalkeeper would receive playing time. Unfortunately the Hawaii match was cancelled because the field was deemed unplayable. In the other two matches Naeher and Solo played. Harris again didn’t receive any minutes, which was another red flag. Maybe she was supposed to play in Hawaii, but we may never know. Since the Victory Tour, Harris hasn’t played in any matches and has repeatedly not dressed for games, which was a sure indication of her third keeper status. Harris and O’Reilly will serve as alternates for the team along with Emily Sonnett and Samantha Mewis. Both are world class players who would undoubtedly be starters on any other national team in the world. What caused their status to drop on the USWNT is unknown and therefore a disappointment for this year’s Olympic Tournament.

On a happier note, the final cut from last year’s World Cup roster, Crystal Dunn, has finally made the USWNT for a major tournament. Dunn’s response to being left off the World Cup roster last summer was nothing short of inspirational. She lead the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with 15 goals and received the 2015 Player of the Year Award. She’s also scored 13 goals and had 7 assists since rejoining the national team during the Victory Tour. She’s been on fire and was a guarantee going into the Olympics. Her comeback was incredible and if you want to read more about that from Crystal, herself, check out this article in the Players’ Tribune.

Another happy note from the roster is the 31 year old, USWNT veteran, first time Olympian, Ali Krieger. In 2012 during Olympic qualifying, Krieger tore her right ACL and MCL and didn’t make it back in time to be on the Olympic roster, despite efforts of surgery and rehab. At the time, she was an integral part of the USWNT as the only player who played every minute in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and scored the winning penalty kick against Brazil in the legendary quarterfinal match that put the USWNT in the headlines.Her exclusion on the 2012 roster was expected but also a disappointment. Since then, she has stated numerous times that being an Olympic athlete was always a dream of hers. Now that dream is finally coming true. As a world class defender/right outside back, there’s no doubt that Krieger will be an impact if this team is to win gold, despite her playing time in the last few months being much less than normal (another questionable decision to say the least).

Lastly three other players (in addition to Dunn) on this Olympic roster were not part of the World Cup Champion team last summer. The youngest of those three is Mallory Pugh. She received her first call to the national team during January camp and has been lights out since receiving her first cap. The catch is that she just turned 18. She’s about to start college at UCLA in the fall. She’s also scored 2 goals and added 7 assists since her debut for the senior national team. Her 7 assists actually lead the team this year. She’ll be a quality play-maker for the USWNT going forward.

Lindsey Horan is another of the other three who wasn’t part of the World Cup last summer. Horan is the only player on the national team to pass on college and go straight to the pros. She played 4 seasons for Paris Saint-Germain in France before joining the Portland Thorns of the NWSL this year. Since coming in this year Horan has played as a holding center mid, occupying the spot most previously held by recent retiree Lauren Holiday (Cheney). There were questions of who would take on that role after Holiday retired, but Horan has fit into the spot well, even if she played forward all her life. Allie Long, the last of the other three players not a part of the World Cup, has also been competing for that spot with Horan. Long has been in and out of the national team for years. She could never quite secure a spot until now making her roster spot a “long” awaited accomplishment.

The rest of the roster contains players who won gold in Canada last summer including 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, 2015 Women’s World Cup Golden Glove Winner Hope Solo, and the face of the USWNT since 2011, Alex Morgan. Hopefully these 18 players will be able to bring back gold in the Olympics. If the USWNT wins gold, they will be the first team to ever win World Cup gold and Olympic gold back to back. They’ll face plenty of tough tasks along the way, including France, who beat the U.S. back in February 2015. Host country Brazil will also be a tough task if they meet at some point as well as Germany and the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winning team, Canada.

Only time will tell what happens this summer to the reigning world champion USWNT, but it will surely be entertaining no matter what. I’ll probably update a couple times during the Olympics, but I doubt it will be as much as when I covered the World Cup last summer. Look for updates nonetheless. See you in Rio!