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I Believe That We Will Win…Again

It’s hard to believe that four years ago the USWNT won their third World Cup beating Japan 5-2. This summer they’re back on the world’s stage competing for their fourth world championship. The 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup team has many different faces than the ones that played four years prior, but it has a few you may know as well. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Tobin Heath are among the few returning players competing for the coveted World Cup trophy. Several new faces like Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and Mallory Pugh have joined the mix this time in addition to several other new, fresh faces. Whether new or old though, every player has one thing on their mind: winning the World Cup.

This post is late in the sense that the World Cup has been underway for about 2 weeks now. The Knockout Stage began this week and the U.S. survived just barely their Round of 16 matchup. After starting their World Cup journey with a commanding 13-0 victory against Thailand, the Gals pulled off a 2-1 win against Spain Monday to earn a spot in the Quarterfinals this Friday against home favorite, France. After the Women’s World Cup draw in December, it was pretty much a guarantee that to win the World Cup this summer the U.S. would have to go through the #2 ranked home country. Whether the U.S. Women win the entire tournament or not, this quarterfinal match is guaranteed to be one for the ages.

In the four years since the last World Cup, my life has changed entirely. Four years ago, I was enamored with women’s soccer, but I was also amidst a path of discovery in working towards goals for my future. I owe a lot of credit to women’s soccer and the USWNT players for inspiring me to believe in myself enough to chase my dreams. Now, here I am, living my own dreams, which means unfortunately I don’t dedicate as much energy to women’s soccer as I did four years ago. For that reason, this will probably be my first and last post about the tournament this summer. I promise I’m still watching as many games as I can and following the new Gals on their journey this summer, but I have a lot going on in my own world as well.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to be as into the tournament this year as I thought I would anyway. Over the last four years there were changes on the USWNT that I wasn’t a fan of. My favorite player, Ali Krieger, was basically blacklisted for the last two years with 98 caps to her name. It discouraged my interest in the USWNT. That changed in March. Krieger was called up to USWNT for two friendlies in April. It was her first time being invited to camp in the last 2 years. Then right after I returned from Coachella, the roster was announced. Krieger was on it. I couldn’t believe it. I was so stoked. I knew that I needed to follow the team more in depth this summer as a result. I even bought a new jersey with the Warrior’s name and number on the back, of course.

I know it’s crazy to say that one player made the difference on the USWNT for me. It’s a team sport after all. I started out being a fan of the team in 2011 before I learned anything about the individual players. But, it was the way that Krieger was treated that made me dislike what was happening to the USWNT.  She stopped receiving playing time when she was a part of the team, until she finally stopped getting called in to camp altogether. She was playing well at the time and she had 98 caps too. 2 shy of the 100 mark, an honor bestowed to many world-class players to ever wear the U.S. soccer crest. What happened to her was cruel and I didn’t like the direction the team was heading in because of it. It forced players like Whitney Engen and veteran Heather O’Reilly into retirement from the team when they still had the ability to play on the highest stage. I hated it. So I stopped paying attention. I also put my main focus on my own dreams, which was just as, if not more important.

But here we are. It’s 2019. Ali Krieger is playing in her third World Cup (she went a full 90 versus Chile). I’m working music festivals (I watched her play against Chile while working Bonnaroo). And the USWNT is chasing down the fourth star. I think it was meant to be even if the past 2 years sucked along the way. Plus, I probably needed another reason for Ali Krieger to inspire me. I really don’t know if the U.S. will win the World Cup this summer. I want to believe they will, but I really don’t have a feeling one way or another. I’m just along for the ride. I do know that even if they don’t win, 2019 already feels like a win to me in so many ways in the soccer world and beyond in my own life. All I want to do is keep winning. So yes, I do believe that we will win again, but I also believe that we already won. Here’s to 2019, being full of more sick times, huge wins, and BIG MOODS…LFG!

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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.

The Countdown Continues: European Friendlies

Over the last week and a half the USWNT has been over in Europe training. They also participated in two international friendlies against France and England. As of today there are 110 days until the start of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. But after two less than convincing performances this week, doubts continue to rise about a team long considered a heavy favorite to win this summer’s biggest tournament.

The USWNT played No.3 FIFA-ranked France last Sunday in Lorient in front of a crowd of 15,663. The team failed to put together a strong attack on offense and with some mishaps on defense went down 2-0 shortly into the second half. The France goals came within a minute of each other, as Eugenie Le Sommer headed a cross from Elodie Thomis into the left side of the goal at the 50th minute mark. Then in the 51st minute a bending cross by Jessica Houara found its way to the back netting by bouncing in off the left post. The USWNT had a few chances late in the game, but did not score. Most notably, upon entering the game Abby Wambach was awarded a penalty kick after going down in the box. She failed to convert as France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi made the diving save to her right. The U.S. ended up falling 2-0 to France.

Besides facing Brazil in December, France will most likely be the best team that the U.S. women face until the World Cup in June. It was a good test for them. It clearly pointed out weaknesses that they need to work on in the coming months. But still with a few less than favorable results in the past few months, the questions keep popping up about the strength of this team and whether or not they’ll be lifting a trophy by the beginning of July.

Yesterday’s match against England provided a slightly better outcome, but still demonstrated that the USWNT has plenty of work to do before June. The red, white, and blue opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a header goal by Alex Morgan off a cross from Lauren Holiday. It was Morgan’s 50th of her international career. The lone goal stood to be the deciding marker of the match in what looked to be a more improved performance by the U.S. squad. England seemed to be holding back for the first half of the game. The second half saw more offensive chances for them though. In the 56th minute, England would have tied the match after a strike from Fran Kirby was knocked off the crossbar by USWNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris (playing for the suspended Hope Solo which is another story in itself). The rebound of the save found the feet of England’s Jodie Taylor and she placed the ball in the back of the net. However, Taylor was ruled to be offside. From there, England failed to threaten the American defense until stoppage time when U.S. defender Ali Krieger headed a dangerous cross away to solidify the win for the United States.

Although improvements were made from the game against France and the United States seemed to maintain better possession and create more offensive opportunities, the score didn’t indicate such a dominant performance. And really, it wasn’t. After the Morgan goal, the USWNT looked the most comfortable they had been since going overseas. They created plenty of scoring chances in their attacking third until the end of the first half (the attack seemed to slow a bit for the final 45). The midfield looked much better than it did in the match against France. Ali Krieger, who played as a sub in the France match, started the game against England and seemed to be an added improvement in the U.S. defense. But, (and this is a big but) England isn’t France. France created so much more efficient counters on the United States. Their midfield proved to be more dominant than England (and the U.S. for that matter). Their defense handled the offensive attack that the U.S. tried to initiate. Even England’s overall size is smaller compared to France. So it makes sense that the U.S. would have performed a bit better. However, the game could have easily ended in a tie. So the outcome, even though it was a 1-0 win, could have been better for the USWNT, and is a good indication that there is still a lot of work to be done for a team that seemed destined for World Cup glory.

In two weeks the USWNT will begin the Algarve Tournament in Portugal where they face off against Norway (March 4th, 2 p.m. ET), Switzerland (March 6th, 12 p.m. ET), Iceland (March 9th, 1:30 p.m. ET), and another yet to be determined opponent (March 11th, Time TBD). Following the tournament, only 4 friendlies remain until June 8th when the U.S. opens their World Cup group play against Australia. So far, this ride to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup has been rocky, but I still plan on following this team every step of the way and updating on each triumph and downfall. Only time will tell what will happen in June. Will they achieve the greatness they have been searching for since 1999? I still believe. Do you?