Swedish Women’s soccer

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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FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015: USA v. SWE

On Friday night in front of a packed house at Winnipeg Stadium in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the #2 ranked USWNT matched up against #5 ranked Sweden and former coach, Pia Sundhage. It was quite the battle, but ended in a 0-0 draw giving each team 1 point in their second match of the group stage (Sweden had 1 in the first game, U.S.A. had 3). The game (like one of the Fox announcers said) was a chess match. It was patient, strategic, and well-played by both sides who were unwilling to budge. Both teams had their fare share of possession and chances, the best being off a Sweden corner kick late in the game. For the U.S.A. what stood out the most in this match was the play of the backline. Defenders, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Ali Krieger, were relentless defending the Swedish attack and proved to be the biggest difference makers for the American side. Megan Rapinoe continued her solid play from Monday night by creating chances and keeping possession on the left flank. In the first half, the game started slow with a back-and-forth settled attack for both sides that didn’t really result in any close chances. Towards the end of the first half though, the U.S. attack was sparked by the undeniable chemistry from Rapinoe and Krieger, even though both play on opposite sides of the pitch. From the left, Rapinoe switched the play by finding Krieger on the right flank, who had space to push the ball forward and send crosses to the box. Despite the effort though, none of their opportunities were converted.

In the second half, the game’s intensity picked up as the scoring chances became more frequent and more dangerous for both teams. As mentioned, the best chance overall came from Sweden in the 77th minute. They were awarded a corner kick that was sent to the middle of the box and headed down by a Swedish attacker to the feet of Sweden’s Caroline Seger. She took a left-footed shot that curled to the far post which was covered by Klingenberg, who headed the ball away. The header hit the underside of the crossbar before it bounced away for a U.S. clearance. If Klingenberg did not make the stop, it would have been a sure goal for Sweden as the diving Hope Solo wouldn’t have got a finger on the ball. It was the play of the game for sure. It was also one of several times the USWNT’s backline came up huge. Julie Johnston, who started her first World Cup match Monday night, played with confidence as she thwarted away any attack that came at her. She also maintained possession well and tried to make plays to ignite the U.S. offense. Two-time NWSL Defender of the Year, Becky Sauerbrunn, who played almost every minute of the every match for the USWNT since the beginning of 2015, made a couple huge plays in the U.S. defensive end. Being a centerback, her play often goes unnoticed by many media personnel and fans alike. However, she is one of the most integral pieces of the USWNT. In a tournament like this though, her efforts will surely not go unrecognized for long as the games will get tougher and she will get called upon to make strong defensive plays to stop opposing attacks.

Of note, Morgan Brian made her first World Cup start as she was selected to play in place of Abby Wambach. Also of note, for the last two matches the play of the U.S. central midfielders, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday (Cheney) has been average at best. For the USWNT to succeed as the tournament progresses, these two will need to get better (Yep, I’m calling you out Cheney and Carlos!).

The U.S.A. currently sits atop Group D with 4 points and one match left to play in the Group Stage against Nigeria on Tuesday night in Vancouver. Right now, they have a pretty good shot at qualifying for the Round of 16, but they’ll still need to put in a strong effort against a fast Nigerian team. In the meantime, there’s another 3 days of agonizing waiting until women’s football’s finest take the pitch again. Another battle begins Tuesday at 8:00 ET on Fox as the USWNT continues their journey to settle the score. I hope you’ll be watching.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015: USA v. AUS

BLAST OFF… (I hope you got this as my countdown from the last 3 games)

In the first game of the group stage at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), they cruised to a 3-1 victory over Australia. Although “cruised” might not be the best way to describe it. The game wasn’t smooth sailing. Australia dictated the play for the first 40 minutes or so. They had more chances, shots on goal, possession, and overall control of the game. At the same time though, it seemed that both teams took a while to settle down in their World Cup opener. Australia just had the better of it. The bright spot for the USWNT in the first half was the play of Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo. Solo came up with a few huge saves to keep Australia off the board early and from going ahead late. Rapinoe scored the lone U.S. goal in the first half in the 12th minute when her shot from about 20 yards out deflected off an Australian defender and sailed into the far corner. She also seemed to make something happen every time she got a touch on the ball. She was stellar even at the team’s lowest point. Unfortunately the poor play of the U.S. and dominance of Australia in the first 40 lead to a goal by Australian captain Lisa De Vanna in the 27th minute. The first half ended in a 1-1 tie, but the play finally started to come together at the end for the USWNT.

When the U.S. came out for the second half, they picked up where they left off in the last few minutes of the first. They controlled play. Their passing was in synch. There were less turnovers. They created more chances and capitalized twice. The first of those came in the 61st minute. The play was started by none other than Rapinoe who settled a Solo goal kick, took a few touches and sent a pass to Sydney Leroux on the left side. Leroux took control from there as she had a step on her defender. She took the ball down the left flank and sent a pass near the end line to a wide open Christen Press who kicked a one-time shot into the back netting. The third goal came from the foot of FIFA Player of the Match (well-deserved honor), yes, you guessed it, Megan Rapinoe (Yes, she was involved in all 3 goals). In the 78th minute, she took an intercepted pass from Carli Lloyd down the left flank, made one-touch to beat out her defender, and put a left-footed shot into the far side of the goal. That was it. The U.S. dominated the second half. It was a complete turnaround of their poor start. 3-1 Final. Game. Set. Match.

Of note, star forward, Alex Morgan came on in the 79th minute. Those 11 minutes plus stoppage time were the first she’s seen for the National Team since April 4th (she’s been sidelined with a bone bruise on her left knee). Now the USWNT will look to their Friday night match-up against #5 ranked Sweden, who only took one point away from their first match after a surprise 3-3 tie with #22 ranked Nigeria. They currently sit atop Group D with 3 points.

For me watching this game was kind of a surreal moment. Actually writing this blog post is too. I’ve been talking about this game since it was announced after the draw back in December. I can’t believe that it’s over and the World Cup is finally here. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever. Although four years isn’t forever, it is a pretty long time. A lot changes in four years. It’s the amount of time it takes on average for someone to complete high school or college. We grow, age, change. It really is a long time. So as I watched the game, it was much different than when I last watched the USWNT compete in a World Cup or any major tournament at that (2012 Olympics). One reason for that is that I actually know more players than just those on the USWNT. I’ve watched so much soccer since the Olympics in 2012. I’ve learned about the game. I’ve learned about players from all over the world and I’ve learned about more players from the United States than just those on the National Team. Plus, I really know USWNT better than I did back then. I’ve become a huge fan not only of the them, but also of women’s soccer.

The second reason that watching the game last night was different was that I’ve changed so much in four years. I’ve become a completely different person in so many ways. Part of the reason for my personal growths I owe to women’s soccer and a certain one or two players in particular. Without them/it, I’m not sure where I’d be as a person and in life. I know that’s a pretty heavy statement, but honestly it’s difficult to put into words how much inspiration it has provided me. To kind of quote/paraphrase one of my biggest inspirations, I’m feeling “totally confident, comfortable, and free” with who I am, who I want to become, and what I want to achieve. For that and for many other personal reasons, I am forever grateful for this sport and for those who play it.

The next game for the USWNT is only a few days away. It’ll be interesting to see if any line-up changes are made. With so many games in such a short period of time, line-up changes are imminent for the strength and well-being of the players, especially in this particular tournament since all the games are being played on turf (it changes the game entirely). From last night’s opener, it’s evident that winning a World Cup will be no easy task. It will be a battle every single time the team takes the field from the group stage to the final, if they happen to make it that far. As Coach Jill Ellis stated in a pre-game press conference, she didn’t expect the first game to be their best game. It wasn’t. It was far from it. With each game though, hopefully the team comes together and reaches their highest playing potential. The fun continues Friday night, June 12th at 8 p.m. ET on Fox versus Sweden (and former Coach Pia Sundhage). I can’t wait to see what happens.