USA Soccer

Right Side, Strong Side

When I became a U.S. Women’s National Team fan in 2011 and more so in 2012, it was because I fell in love with the personalities of the players on the team. As you may know, they got my attention after their dramatic 2011 Women’s World Cup Semifinal win against Brazil on penalties. I watched the rest of that World Cup and realized how amazing these women were at their craft. It was a year later when I got to know them as more than just athletes though. I watched videos, read articles, books, and interviews, followed twitter accounts, and in turn learned so much about these incredible role models. They had a strong core group of players lead by Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone. They had young rising talent in Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. They also had several players in the middle of the pack who brought special elements to the team. Some were around for years, while others made their way into the lineup over the last cycle (the 4 years between World Cups). One of those players was Heather O’Reilly, who I quickly learned was known to the Women’s Soccer world as HAO (pronounced Hey-Oh) (O’Reilly’s initials which stand for Heather Ann O’Reilly).

The New Brunswick, New Jersey native made her USWNT debut in 2002 while still in high school. She played alongside 1999 Women’s World Cup heroes Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and Brianna Scurry. Then she began her storied college career at women’s soccer powerhouse, the University of North Carolina under legendary head coach, Anson Dorrance. At UNC, she was a part of 3 National Championship winning teams and also made the USWNT roster for the 2004 Olympic Games, where she helped the team to Olympic Gold. After college, she continued with her USWNT career and played professionally once women’s leagues were again formed in the U.S. by joining Sky Blue FC in the WPS and the Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City in the NWSL. HAO currently plays for FC Kansas City. As a member of the USWNT, O’Reilly played in 230 matches, scored 46 goals, assisted on 54 goals, won 3 Olympic Gold Medals (2004, 2008, 2012) and 1 World Cup Championship (2015), out-performed everyone on the beep test multiple times, and displayed a limitless amount of game faces. HAO has been nothing short of incredible. Tonight she will play her final game as a member of the USWNT. She isn’t retiring from the game of soccer by any means, just from international play. Nonetheless she will be missed tremendously on the world’s stage.

With the additions of many new faces to the USWNT in the past year, HAO’s playing time dwindled. I’m guessing it may have played a role in her decision. Despite that and the fact that she was named an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games, I didn’t see this one coming. It hurts a lot more than the rest. She’s only 31, which is on the older player range, but still not as old as some. HAO was also a part of the USWNT for so long. She was a part of that core group I began following when I became a fan and part of a special duo that most fans of the team know and love.

As a midfielder, HAO played along the right side of the field. Somewhere along the way, which I believe began around the 2011 Women’s World Cup, she formed an in-game connection with right outside back Ali Krieger and the phrase “right side, strong side” began. I’m not sure who coined the phrase. It might have been an announcer, a fan, or even the pair themselves, but it became known among the USWNT community that #9 and #11 in the game equals right side, strong side. They might have coined the phrase themselves because they use it too. Hopefully HAO and Kriegs take the field tonight and play one last time dominating the right side of the pitch. Either way it will surely be an emotional night for HAO’s family, friends, teammates, coaches, and fans who watched her perform for the red, white, and blue. She’s the true definition of world class and represented U.S. Soccer in the best way possible. Thanks HAO for all you’ve done both on and off the field. Right side, strong side forever!

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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.

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!

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

Four and a half years ago, the only soccer I ever watched was youth soccer matches for teams a few of my friends played on. I didn’t know much about the game, except the few things I learned from watching those matches. In fact, at the time, I wouldn’t even refer to them as matches (which goes to show how far I’ve come since then). Something changed in the summer of 2011 though. Something that would eventually impact my life in the biggest way possible. Something that wouldn’t have happened without you. But to get to that point, it’s best to discuss the kind of player you are and the impact you’ve made in your time as a soccer player.

You’ve been playing soccer for quite some time now. You played as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. You’ve played for youth clubs, your high school, your college, The University of Florida, and the Olympic Development/U.S. national program (and maybe even other teams that I’m missing). You’ve played for professional clubs (Washington Freedom, magicJack, and Western New York Flash) throughout your career too. Most importantly though, you began playing international, professional soccer for the United States Women’s National Team over 14 years ago. You got your first cap on September 9, 2001 against Germany during the Nike U.S. Cup. You scored your first international goal on April 27, 2002 in a friendly against Finland and it’s only gone up from there.

You’ve went on to play in 254 matches (255 if you count tonight), including 4 Women’s World Cups, 2 Olympics, and many other tournaments, friendlies, and victory tours in between. You’ve scored a total of 184 international goals (and counting if you score some tonight), many of those with your head, and you’re the United States’ all-time leading goal scorer (for both men and women). You’ve won the World Cup (2015), Olympic Gold (2004, 2012), and the FIFA Player of the Year Award (2012).

Your impact has been great off the field as well. You’re an ambassador for women’s pro soccer and for equality in the women’s game. You’ve supported many causes and charities throughout your career. You’re even a role model in the LGBTQ world as an out professional athlete, even though that was never your intention as a soccer player. You also have an extreme passion for and dedication to Chipotle, possibly greater than mine, especially since you scored a personal burrito card (I’m super jeal).

Despite all your accomplishments, you never take all the glory. You always give the credit to your teammates and to those who put you in the position to be great. You influence and inspire those around you to be better, no matter your role. In all these ways, you really have been an impact in every aspect of your life, so now I guess I should explain how and why you impacted me. Back to the summer of 2011.

That summer you and your national team teammates competed in Germany in the Women’s World Cup. You reached the quarterfinals of the tournament after finishing second in your pool. You played Brazil and I think you remember what happened from there. After playing a man down for 25 minutes in the second half and all of extra time, your team was down by 1 entering the stoppage minutes of extra time. In a last ditch effort to tie the match, Megan Rapinoe took the ball up field and sent in the greatest cross of her life to the far post where the ball met your head as you easily directed it into the back of the net. Tie game. End of extra time. Next came the PKs. Every player (including you) nailed their shots and Hope saved one. You guys won and it sparked news all over the country. That’s when I heard about it. After that I thought, “Hmm, maybe I’ll tune into the next game.” I did and I was hooked. I watched your last two matches that summer. I cheered for most of you guys by name in the final and sadly, I watched you lose to Japan on PKs. It was at that moment that I declared out loud to myself, “They’re gonna win it in four years.” (And just an FYI, I was right!)

In the four years since the 2011 Women’s World Cup, I fell in love with the game and the national team. It was slow at first, because I really didn’t start following your team closely until after the 2012 Olympics. But when I did, it was all because of what happened in 2011. I wouldn’t have cared to watch the Olympics that summer if I didn’t already know about you guys and think to myself, “Oh yeah, I love that team! They’re beasts.” I watched almost every game of your Olympic tournament that summer, including that crazy semi-final against Canada, and the gold medal winning match against Japan. From that point on it snowballed. I was inspired by so many players, a few in particular and you included. Your diverse stories and personalities inspired me to change and accept things about myself that I never had before. It was life-changing. I truly believe I’m a better person because of it.

Without that goal in 2011, who knows if anything would be the same. I know for certain my life wouldn’t be where it is today without it or without you. Although maybe I should take a page from your playbook, thank Pinoe for the cross, and the rest of the gals for playing their hearts out  during the quarterfinal and rocking their PKs. You’d probably tell me I should, but for now, you deserve some credit too, so thanks for using your head and scoring that goal!

Even though your playing career ends tonight, I know you’ll still impact the game through whatever you decide to do. I hope you finally have the time to do all the other things you love and want to do, including playing golf and starting a family with your wife, Sarah. It might even be a great time to start campaigning for the position as the President of FIFA, or at least a spot on the board. I heard they have some availability. I also heard you wanted to change the world, but I think most can agree you’ve already done that. I guess you can always just do it in a different way the next time. We all know you’re capable of it. No matter what though, I can’t wait to see what other great things you have in store for the future, because greatness runs inside you.

Lastly, before your final game in your illustrious soccer career, I wanted to say thanks. Thanks for being a world class athlete. Thanks for having that “American mentality” and the drive to never quit, despite the odds. Thanks for accepting and embracing every role you’ve been asked to play. Thanks for motivating your teammates to succeed and giving them all the credit. Thanks for inspiring me, this nation, fans, and others throughout the years. Thanks for being true to yourself while in the spotlight and most importantly, thanks for being you, the GOAT, Abby Wambach.

Sincerely,

An Inspired Fan

 

 

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

Before the game last night, I knew I would be feeling some kind of emotion when it was over. It would either be pure elation or some sort of numbness. Honestly, a part of me felt like if any team in this tournament could beat the USWNT, it would be Germany. Germany had been playing awesome. The U.S.A. had been average with glimpses of awesome. For the first time during this tournament, I was unsure of the outcome. Needless to say, I shouldn’t have been so worried because last night when the USWNT played the number one team in the world, Germany, at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec, they won 2-0. The win secured their spot in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final on Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hell yes. They made it. One more win to go for World Cup glory.

The game last night was a roller coaster of sorts, but the USWNT was on top of the hills most often. The match started out in Germany’s favor for about the first few minutes or so. Germany controlled the play and attempted to create scoring opportunities. The unstoppable defense of the USWNT was able to thwart away any chances though. After that short spurt of German momentum, the red, white, and blue took over the possession and got chances in their attacking third. The chances they had were some of their best of the entire tournament too. Julie Johnston almost headed home a Megan Rapinoe corner kick in the 7th minute. Alex Morgan split two defenders and had a chance at the first goal in the 15th minute, but Germany’s goalkeeper Nadine Angerer came up with a huge stop on her shot. For the entire first half, the USWNT disallowed Germany to do what they’ve been so good at doing since their opening match, dictating the game through their skilled play and scoring ability. Again, however, the U.S. was unable to convert their chances and went to the locker rooms tied 0-0.

The break seemed to disrupt the flow of the game for the USWNT. After the teams took the field for the second half, Germany controlled early again. This time it seemed they had control for longer than they had in the first half. In fact, it seemed they were on the verge of breaking through the defensive wall, also known as the USWNT back line, but just when they had it cracked, momentum swung the other way. In the 59th minute, German forward Alexandra Popp broke through the back line and U.S. defender Julie Johnston hauled her down inside the 18 yard box, which drew a yellow card and a Germany penalty kick. Celia Sasic attempted the kick for Germany against U.S.A. goalkeeper, Hope Solo. Sasic missed the net. Had she not, Germany would have taken the lead because Solo dove to her left in the opposite direction of Sasic’s shot. Ten minutes later, a Germany defender was called for taking down Alex Morgan inside the penalty area and a PK was awarded to the USWNT. Carli Lloyd, who converted a penalty in the Round of 16, took the kick for the U.S. She scored. 1-0 U.S.A. They then took control for the last 20 minutes of the match. In the 75th minute, Kelley O’Hara, who started the quarterfinal in place of Rapinoe, came on for Tobin Heath. The switch was an important one because 9 minutes later O’Hara put up the insurance goal when she tapped in a Carli Lloyd pass from the endline. It was O’Hara’s first ever international goal (what a time to put up your first goal right?!). With only 6 minutes plus stoppage time left after the goal, the World Cup final was in their grasp. They closed out the game and earned the right to play for the trophy.

In an interesting strategic decision for this #1 versus #2 showdown, the USWNT came out in a 4-3-3 formation in favor of the standard 4-4-2 they had played in their other 5 matches. It proved to be a great tactical move. It opened up the midfield for the U.S., which allowed space for the midfielders to create opportunities going forward. The game also saw Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday back in the lineup after missing the quarterfinal for yellow card accumulation. Rapinoe played on the left side of Alex Morgan at the top of the 4-3-3. Holiday played the midfield along with Morgan Brian and Carli Lloyd.

The USWNT back line of Ali Krieger, Julie Johnston, Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Meghan Klingenberg continued their shutout streak, which is currently at 513 minutes. Hope Solo received her 5th consecutive shutout, 10th in World Cup play, and 89th overall in her career. The back line has proved time and time again to be the biggest difference maker for the USWNT in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. If the U.S.A. is destined to win Sunday night, the defense will be a guaranteed factor.

As I sit here, now, writing this, I can’t help but feel overjoyed for this team. I can’t believe how far they’ve come since Germany in 2011. I can’t believe how far the women’s game has come since then as well. If they win the World Cup, more progress will be made for soccer in America and for women’s soccer in America. We can only hope that the progress will impact women’s soccer in a more permanent way than in the past. This World Cup journey four years in the making is quickly coming to a close. One game remains for the USWNT. It’s the biggest one of all. It’s the Women’s World Cup final. See you Sunday night in Vancouver. It’s time. Let’s get it!

The Countdown Continues: USA vs. NZL Friendly

On Saturday, April 4th, the USWNT played New Zealand in a friendly match in front of a crowd of 35,817 at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, Busch Stadium, in St. Louis, MO. The match ended in a 4-0 victory for the women who placed first at the Algarve Cup a little under a month ago. The first goal came at the 14th minute from U.S. defender, Meghan Klingenberg, off a half-volleyed strike from just outside the penalty box after New Zealand attempted to clear an Ali Krieger cross. The 1-0 lead stood at the half after the U.S. controlled the possession and play, but failed to finish a ton of scoring chances. In the second half, the U.S. cracked their lead wide open in a 6 minute span beginning with a curling shot from 16 yards out by defender, Lori Chalupny in the 76th minute. Two minutes later Julie Johnston headed home a Lauren Holiday free kick to put the U.S. up 3-0. Then in the 81st minute after helping to create a New Zealand turnover, Morgan Brian knocked in a through ball from Sydney Leroux into the lower left corner of the net putting away the match for the U.S.

The match was a very impressive effort for the USWNT. At the Algarve it seemed they improved with each game, but were still lacking in making that final pass to create scoring opportunities. This time the scoring chances were there. The only thing missing was the actual scoring. A few shots in the friendly went off the crossbar, post, or missed the net entirely. In particular the finishing from Alex Morgan wasn’t there. It seems she still isn’t back to to her reliable form from the injury she incurred a few months ago. She’s getting there though, believe me. I have no doubt by June she’ll be finishing those chances.

Another note from the friendly was that surprisingly until Morgan Brian scored, the goals came from the U.S. defensive core. Props to the defense on scoring the goals and joining the attack in a game where they weren’t challenged much on the defensive end. It’s good to know the U.S. can get scoring from just about anyone on the pitch.

Megan Rapinoe played in her 100th cap and looked fantastic while doing it. She was endlessly creating on the left side and was a part of some great combination play with Klingenberg and Morgan (in general the combination play was the best I’ve seen from the U.S. women). One of the best missed scoring chances was off of a perfectly placed Megan Rapinoe bending cross that landed for a volley at the feet of Amy Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s shot went off the post, but had she put that away it would have been world class.

For the USWNT, everything finally looks to be coming together. The team is almost there. When they do reach their peak, it’ll hopefully be as planned. The send off series begins next month with three friendly matches before the Women’s World Cup begins in June. This week USWNT Head Coach, Jill Ellis, will be notifying the 23 players who made the world cup roster. The World Cup hype is about to get more real than ever and the pressure is surely mounting for the red, white, and blue. As the pieces fall into place though, this team finally looks like the group that will scratch, claw, compete, and leave it all on the table for that third star.