USWNT

Music Saved 2016

2016 can be defined as being a shit ass year for Americans (maybe for other countries too but I can only go by U.S. standards). There were a few good moments, like the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years or the Pittsburgh Penguins winning their 4th Stanley Cup (It was good for me as a Pens fan), but for the most part many agree that 2016 sucked. We lost some truly great artists, story tellers, athletes, and human beings and it hasn’t stopped even in the days before the new year. As I sat down to write this, I found out that Hollywood legend Carrie Fisher passed away and then as I sat down to finish it two days later Carrie’s just as famous mother, Debbie Reynolds (her most substantial role, in my opinion, was Agatha Cromwell in the DCOM Halloweentown), had passed as well. Crazy. More importantly we lost progress, decency, and democracy from a shocking presidential election outcome. 2016 took so much from us and most of us are glad it’s almost over.

Last week I watched a YouTube video about the good in 2016 (because like I said there were a few good moments) and a statement was made that I agreed with wholeheartedly: “Music saved 2016.” It did, but for me especially. This year I embarked on an adventure into the music industry by working concerts, shows, and festivals all over the country. I learned new things, met amazing new people from all over the country, stepped outside my comfort zone, and had some incredible experiences especially over the summer. I’m entirely grateful for every single one and for the company that gave me a chance. This year I attended more live music events than ever. I saw some incredible bands and artists perform. I learned new music and fell in love all over again with bands I’ve listened to before. Music was everything to me this year. Because of that I wanted to share with you my favorite/most listened to music of 2016. Some of it might not have come out this year but I might have discovered it for the first time this year or rediscovered it, if you will. I’ll be including songs, artists, or albums as part of the list but each has a relevant meaning to my year of music.

1. “Holdin’ On” by Flume. This song was the song of the year for me. I discovered it shortly before I volunteered at the Sweetlife Festival in May, but the full impact of the song occurred the day of the festival. As you may already know from the post I did back in April, Flume is an electronic artist. This song is a hit from his first album which came out in 2012. He also released a new album this year, Skin, which had a few huge hits, like “Never Be Like You” ft. Kai and “Say It” ft. Tove Lo, earning Flume 2017 Grammy nominations. For me though, it was “Holdin’ On” that stood out the most. I feel like the song has more energy than his other stuff. Part of the song has this slowed down warp type of sound that leads into the refrain with a POW! At Sweetlife, my friend and I went to Flume’s set with no expectations. “Holdin’ On” stole the show that was marred by technical difficulties causing us to leave early (we were planning on leaving early anyway to not miss another set). After we left though, it was the song that played in my head the rest of the day. That day turned out to be one of, if not, the best day(s) of my whole year. The faulty set aided in our decision to buy tickets to see Flume perform 3 months later, which was also pretty sick but didn’t have the same impact as Sweetlife weekend and the first time I heard “Holdin’ On”.

2. LCD Soundsystem. 2016 saw the return of a band we thought was gone after 2011. Electronic dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem got back together in 2016 and played festivals all summer long. I was stoked by the news last year and jealous of everyone attending Coachella 2016 who would see them headline. After working at the Firefly Music Festival in mid-June, I rediscovered LCD Soundsystem because of the great people I worked with on the Dover Downs Speedway and Spotify Premium. We listened to LCD several times throughout the weekend and talked about the band, which earned my re-interest in the group who hails from NYC. Following Firefly, I started listening to LCD again. Then the universe came together and I was lucky enough to get a spot working at Lollapalooza in July, thus earning me the privilege of being able to see LCD Soundsystem perform on the final night of the Chicago festival. It was something else. I danced myself clean for the entirety of the set.

3. Sia. Sia’s been around for years, but she soared to the top of music charts with her 2014 album 1000 Forms of Fear. In the beginning of 2016, I fell in love with the 1000 Forms of Fear song “Elastic Heart”, only to hear the newly released single, “Cheap Thrills”, off Sia’s newest record This Is Acting a few weeks later. I loved “Cheap Thrills” even more than “Elastic Heart” and it became part of my nightly workout playlist. I even introduced the song to my then 4 year old cousin Hudson when he came to visit me in early March. He loved the song too. So much so that he corrected me for singing the wrong lyrics during a visit in May. “Cheap Thrills” progressively became a hit of 2016 and Sia’s newest album was a hit too (not as much as 1000 Forms of Fear, but still a good album nonetheless). She also played several music festivals including Coachella and Panorama (Coachella East) and toured the U.S. for the first time since 2011. Singing Sia songs with Hudson, “Cheap Thrills” in particular and now “The Greatest”, which was a newly released single in the fall and a track on the deluxe edition of This Is Acting, was a huge part of my year. Hudson and I live 3 hours apart but still managed to see each other at least once a month, so there was plenty of singing (we crush long distance relationship/friendship standards). I doubt we’re the only ones who were singing Sia a lot this year though. She slayed 2016.

4. “The Sound” by the 1975. Before 2016, I liked the 1975. I knew a few of their songs. Three to be exact. I liked each one. Then I heard “The Sound” and I forgot all my previous thoughts on the band. That song was it for me. The 1975 released a new record this year called I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. “The Sound” was released as a single before the record. I thought at that time if “The Sound” is any indication, then the new record will be stellar. It turned out to be pretty good. “Somebody Else” is great. “She’s American” and “Love Me” aren’t too bad either. Some may argue I Like It When You Sleep… is not as good as the debut self-titled. I might argue that too, but “The Sound” is in a league of its own. That song made me want to see The 1975 live and I did. Twice (at Sweetlife and Lollapalooza). Both times The 1975 put on a great set, but I bet you can take a guess what my favorite song played was.

5. “Seeing Stars” by BØRNS. “Seeing Stars” became an instant favorite song of mine after listening to it a few times. It’s a happy, good feeling type of song. It was exactly what I needed in the spring after going through some disappointing and shocking moments. It was my positive jam for a while. I even played it a few times driving to Sweetlife. Then two weeks later my friend and I purchased last minute tickets to see BØRNS perform at the Electric Factory. It was a great decision and a fun show even though there were a few off moments that night like a 30 minute wait at Taco Bell and a speeding ticket. I loved hearing my song of the spring live regardless.

6. “Gold Rays” by Vinyl Pinups. In early 2016, this song was MY. JAM. The only downfall was that I liked it in the dead of winter and it’s the perfect spring/summer song. I did listen to it on my workout playlist for several months though well into the spring. However in the summer, I was listening to other things and I didn’t play it as much as I would have liked. It’s one of my favorite songs of the year by far. It’s also a great feel-good song by a smaller-name band.

7. “T-Shirt Weather” by Circa Waves. Like “Gold Rays”, this was another perfect summer song that I fell in love with during the winter. It made me long for warm days in late January, early February 2016. I constantly imagined listening to this song while driving in the summer on a road trip with friends. Then like “Gold Rays” it was rarely played during the summer months. It’s another favorite of the year for sure.

8. Tegan and Sara. I’ve liked Tegan and Sara since college. I rediscovered them again in 2014 when I purchased Heartthrob. If it wasn’t for bonds over women’s soccer, I probably wouldn’t have fell into their web of smooth, catchy rock tunes again this fall, but I’m so thankful it happened anyway. I went to see Tegan and Sara live in early November with a friend, her roommate, and her roommate’s girlfriend. It was another last minute decision that ended up being even better than BØRNS. It was a night where everything felt right. I was exactly where I was supposed to be and I wished it would never end. It was so much fun. We even saw two shows at the same venue. How epic right?! Tegan and Sara were great live and almost everyone there could sing along to every song. It was because of that night that I gained a new appreciation for the song “The Con”. I listened to it with a greater affinity afterwards. Because of how insanely amazing that night was, Tegan and Sara are high on my list for the year, but they deserve it regardless. They’re incredible talent that has been around for over 17 years.

9. Adele. Adele ended my 2015 with a bang. Her new album 25 was released in November of last year. Right before the new year I scored tickets to her sold out World Tour for a show in early September. That show became a huge anticipation of 2016. I loved bringing it up any time Adele came up. Adele came up often too. She had a few singles that came out in 2016 and her album earned her several Grammy nominations for the 2017 awards show. As for the concert I saw in September, it was well worth the almost 9 month wait. It was incredible seeing her perform live. She’s got a killer voice and sang for 2 hours straight with no openers. There was some stand-up comedy in between songs of course. She’s hilarious if you didn’t already know. It was an epic 2016 music event and one I won’t soon forget.

10. Wild World, Bastille. In September 2016, Bastille released his sophomore album Wild World. After hearing 2-3 songs off the new album (one during the summer months and the others post album release), I knew I needed the band’s newest compilation of music. I don’t even regret buying it for $4-5 more than what I would have paid if I waited to get it on Black Friday. I couldn’t wait. It’s actually that good. So good that it’s my favorite new album of 2016. Bad Blood put Bastille’s name into the music world, but Wild World is just as good. I actually believe it’s underrated considering it hasn’t received as much hype as their debut album. “Send Them Off” is currently (still!) one of my favorite songs to listen to. “Good Grief” is amazing. “Warmth” is a solid jam too. I can’t say enough good things about Wild World. It’s my album of the year for sure.

11. Hayley Kiyoko. Remember when I said I saw two shows in one night in early November? Yes, one of them was Tegan and Sara. The other was Hayley Kiyoko. I mentioned it in my Tegan and Sara blog post but didn’t talk about it further. I found out about Hayley Kiyoko while doing some reading online last winter. The referenced song in the reading fit the story so well.  I obviously listened to it when I saw there was a song reference. I liked the song itself too. Throughout the year Hayley Kiyoko songs just kept wandering into my life here and there. I liked and downloaded every single one I listened to. The music is traditional pop but the themes are a little different. I’ll have to do a full blog post on Hayley some day and explain it further, but you know what I mean if you’ve heard her stuff. The fact that she’s not a mainstream artist despite the traditional pop sound makes her more appealing to me as well.

12. ARIZONA. I first heard ARIZONA last winter. It was a song called “Where I Want to Be”. It popped up on a twitter account I follow. I loved the song and it was a perfect fit for my workout playlist (I workout a lot if you couldn’t tell by how many times I’ve mentioned my workout playlist). Several times throughout the year I checked ARIZONA’s Spotify page for new music because of how much I liked “Where I Want to Be”. That lead to liking one or two more ARIZONA. Then the night I saw Tegan and Sara and Hayley Kiyoko in one night I was in for a surprise. My friend and I walked into the Hayley Kiyoko show shortly before it started. We got some drinks and the first band came on. While the band played their first song, I said to my friend that I liked the music but wasn’t a fan of the song’s melody. It reminded me of some electronic artists that I listened to. Then the second song started. I knew what song they were playing. I asked my friend who the opener was as I tried to remember what band played that song. Then it hit me. ARIZONA! I looked it up to double check. I was right and instantly stoked. I didn’t pay attention to who Hayley’s opener was, but it ended up being a band I liked. That moment was another reason for how epic that evening was.

13. Arctic Monkeys. It’s a shame I never heard of the Arctic Monkeys until 2013. It’s also I a shame that I didn’t appreciate them enough until 2016. I totally fell in love with them this year and began listening to more of their music. Hence writing a blog post about them just for the sake of writing about them. I’m also dying to see them live. So hey guys if you see this, please put out another record and tour again soon! Thanks! Cheers!

14. “Collide” by EVVY. This was another song of last winter. I really got into it during my trip to Baltimore/DC at the end of January/beginning of February. I took that trip because I worked at a Muse concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. It was the first music event I ever worked. I didn’t know what to expect for the show or for the rest of the year as far as my life choices were going. The song was calming and positive at the time. During my drive to my cousin’s apartment the night before the concert, to work the show the next day, and back to my cousin’s apartment after the concert, I listened to the song. A multitude of thoughts and feelings went through me during those drives. I was nervous, yet confident and then relieved, yet overjoyed. I reflected on my whole experience while listening to the song on the way home and knew that my choice to go after music was the right one.

15. “Capsize” by FRENSHIP. “Capsize” is another song I added to my workout playlist and my iPod in general after I heard it on my favorite soccer player’s monthly playlists. A large handful of my workout songs are electronic and this one was no exception. It also became the song that reminds me of the first multi-day festival I worked because I played it a lot at the time (it was Firefly, in case you were wondering). In fact, I introduced the song to a friend I made during the festival who is a huge electronic fan. She didn’t know the song at the time, but it apparently blew up afterwards. It ended up being a song I played throughout the summer months while driving, relaxing, and of course working out.

16. “Whole Heart” by Gryffin. The first time I heard this song was after a trip I took to see my favorite NWSL team in their first home playoff match. The team won the match and earned a spot in the Championship game. The week after the win, the club posted a “Thank You” video to the fans and this song played in the background along with highlights and video clips from the season. It made me amped for the final even though the song is a much slower electronic song than the norm. Then in another depressing 2016 moment for fans of the team I followed for 4 years (myself included), the opposing team scored a game tying goal in the final minute of stoppage time during the championship match. They opposing team went on to win in penalty kicks. I was heartbroken for the team. I hadn’t been as heartbroken over a sporting event since 2011. I didn’t even care as much when the USWNT got knocked out in the Olympic quarterfinal almost two months earlier (another bummer 2016 moment and I was working a festival at the time). It was a devastating blow. Listening to “Whole Heart” after the loss made me feel a tremendous amount of sadness because the song describes giving your whole heart to something, which the team did and came up short. I felt similar listening to this song after the 2016 Presidential Election especially with the hate that ensued post-results. With time, the song no longer feels as sad as it did in those moments and it still reminds me of the positive thoughts I had when I first heard it.

17. “home” by morgxn. Addicting. That’s the word that first comes to mind to describe this song. I heard it on Spotify in November and it’s been one of my favorites to listen to ever since. It’ll probably be one of my faves going into 2017 as well.

18. Sigala. At the same time I added “Capsize” to my music rotation, I added the song “Sweet Lovin'” by Sigala as well. It’s another song that I listened to on my way to Firefly. Sigala, in general, became part of a joke between me and a friend I met during the festival because she couldn’t pronounce the artist’s name correctly (it’s pronounced Sig-AH-lah not Sig-ah-LAH (stress on the second syllable) in case you were wondering). Sigala was the only artist she wanted to see perform during the festival since our schedules didn’t really allow for more than one performance each. She was able to attend Sigala’s set and I happened to catch “Sweet Lovin'” live too during the only time we both spent in the festival (I chose to see Florence and the Machine who played before Sigala though. Well worth it.). I would have just put the song “Sweet Lovin'” by Sigala on here, but that wasn’t the only Sigala song I got into this year. “Give Me Your Love” was another jam from the fall. It was the only Sigala song I heard since “Sweet Lovin'” that had the same kind of energy.

19. “Fever” by Roosevelt. I heard this song on the “Discover Weekly” Playlist on Spotify in mid-September. I liked it immediately upon hearing it. It reminded me of a nickname of a soccer player I like and got me pumped to attend that NWSL Playoff game that I mentioned before. It was my go-to song for several weeks in September and October.

20. “Starving” by Hailee Steinfeld ft. Zedd. I’m embarrassed this song is on my list, but it was a 2016 fave so I had to include it. It’s definitely been my biggest guilty pleasure song of the year even though I’ve only known it for the past few months. I can also do a mean cover of it on guitar. The Zedd version is by far better than the original. It adds electronic flare and more energy to an otherwise soft yet peppy love song.

21. “This Girl (Kungs vs. Cookin’ on 3 Burners) by Kungs & Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Last but not least, “This Girl”. My cousin played this song for me in late September on my trip to the soccer match. I stopped to visit Hudson for a day first. At dinner that day, my cousin played me this song. It was so familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out where I heard it. It took me 20-30 minutes before I realized I heard it on an instagram video and that it was the song stuck in my head a few weeks prior. It’s such an interesting song, but yet so so good. When I returned home from the trip, I immediately added the song to my workout playlist and it has been a mainstay ever since.

Bonus Music: “Hand Clap” by Fitz and the Tantrums, Mac DeMarco, “I Am A Nightmare” by Brand New, “Better Off” by Haim, “Dancing on Glass” by St. Lucia, “Roses” by The Chainsmokers ft. ROZES, “Cake By the Ocean” by DNCE (Yep, guilty pleasure #2)

So you can see from this list, 2016 wasn’t too bad if you just look at it from a music perspective. Yes I know we lost Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, but just check out all the other amazing music we did have, whether it’s on this list or not. Music is the good thing from 2016. It’s usually a good thing most years. It saved 2016, but let’s be real music saves everything.

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How to Watch Sports

If you frequent my blog on any level, you’d know that most of my posts focus on one concrete subject and involve facts surrounding that subject. The subjects are related to music, television or film entertainment, or women’s soccer because let’s be real, I don’t often write about other sports. What I want to write about this week is more subjective than usual, but it pertains to all sports and specifically watching sports.

There are two ways to watch sports: in-person or on live stream via a television or the internet. If you’ve ever been to a sporting event, you’d know the experience is much different than watching from your couch, bed, a bar, etc. Seeing a game or match play out right in front of you while taking in the sights and sounds is an experience like no other. If you’re at a team sporting event and you’re rooting for the home team, you’re probably not alone. There are most likely thousands of others cheering on the team with you. You can usually be as loud as you want. At some sporting events, they even encourage fans to scream or be loud. You might be able to do that from your home too, but it doesn’t have the same effect.

Another important difference is the view you have. On a live stream of the match you can only see what the camera sees. You might not be getting a view of all the players or the whole field. You don’t get to watch pregame warmups or post-game interactions either. That being said sometimes the camera has a great view and can offer close-ups of plays and athletes you wouldn’t be able to see from your spot in the stands. It might be why some people prefer to watch games or matches from home.

Another reason why some people might prefer to watch from home is weather. Weather conditions can have a huge impact on outdoor sports. It also impacts the spectators. It can be extremely hot or extremely cold. It can snow or rain. It can even cause delays. In outdoor sports, it’s not always a perfect day or night for a game. You have to prepare accordingly if you attend and some people just enjoy the comfort of their own home better.

There’s also the money factor, which rules a lot of things in our lives. It can be expensive to see a live sporting event, especially championships or major tournaments and that’s if you can even get tickets at face value. It can be a big factor in whether someone watches from home or not. Add in your personal schedule and then you’ve got another dilemma. Sometimes people don’t have a choice in how they watch sports.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see many live sporting events. I’ve been to football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games. I’ve attended soccer matches, a golf tournament, and a skateboarding competition. I have my fair share of preferences on the way to watch sports. Sometimes I like watching from home, but sometimes I’m caught up in a sport that I just want to experience live.

On Friday night, I attended my second NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) match. I decided to go because it was the first ever home playoff match for the team I’ve followed since the league’s inception in 2013, the Washington Spirit, and because I had available time in my schedule. I like the complex where the Spirit play. It’s a great venue to watch soccer (venue might be another reason people like to attend or not attend live sports too) and I wanted to make a trip there this season. Plus, it was a playoff match. As any sports fan knows, playoffs are the best and most exciting time of any season.

The weather last weekend was terrible throughout the mid-atlantic region. Thursday through Sunday brought tons of rain. I hate rain when I have to be out in it for an extended period of time. I was bummed when I saw what I would have to deal with at the match. Add in that the Spirit had a disappointing final two weeks of the regular season and I was wondering if I made the right call to attend the match. I already committed though so I knew I had to brave through the elements and whatever outcome the match brought.

Friday night’s semifinal match between the Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars was the best soccer match I’ve ever attended in my time of being a soccer fan. It misted the entire game, but it was cool enough that I was able to comfortably wear a hoodie with a light rain jacket the whole night and stay dry. The Spirit won in extra time when Franny Ordega scored a beautiful goal that resulted from a pure team effort in the 111th minute. Most importantly I saw my favorite soccer player score a goal in-person, in front of my own eyes.

Okay, I get it. You’re thinking it’s not a rare feat to see your favorite soccer player score a goal. It is when your favorite player is a defender though. Defenders just don’t score often. When they do, doves sing, according to Becky Sauerbrunn at least. It’s not a big secret by any means, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it on here before. My favorite soccer player is Ali Krieger. She’s a defender. More specifically, she’s a right outside back for the Spirit and for the USWNT. In her national team career, she’s scored 1 goal and a pretty important PK that lead to one of the biggest surges in women’s soccer since 1999 (I didn’t even see this one on livestream). Since her career with the Spirit began in 2013, she’s scored about 1 goal per season. That’s about 4 professional goals since I started paying attention to her. Out of those 4 goals, I’ve never seen any in-person. I missed 3 of them totally because I wasn’t able to watch those matches. On the goal I did see, I didn’t even realize she was the one who scored until the replay happened. Seeing her put one in the back of the net Friday night was everything. I wasn’t even sure how the sequence was started until I saw the replay later that night (I was both watching and chatting to a friend who also attended). It was beautiful header off a ball into the box by fellow defender and CANWNT player, Shelina Zadorsky, that started from a play beginning with a corner kick taken by Krieger herself. I just remember seeing the ball float in off a kick from about halfway between the goal and mid-field, meet Krieger’s head, and careen into the back netting.

It was one of my favorite live sports moments that I’ve seen in-person in a while. I’ve seen plenty of good ones over the years too like a game winning triple overtime goal and ones that clinched series’ victories. I’ve never seen a team win a championship in front of my eyes however. That’ll be for another time.  This one was special though. It was hard to come by given the situation and I won’t forget it. It made me realize how special it is to see a sporting event live. Standing in the mist or rain or whatever element was worth it, so was the travel distance, the price (it wasn’t too expensive), and the slight traffic. It all was. So I’m urging you. If you’re one of those people who like to watch from home, remember there are some irreplaceable moments in sports and seeing them in front of your own eyes every once in a while is what makes being a sports fan that more special. Put aside your preferences. Make time. Spend the money. It’s worth it to go to a game.

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!

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!

Breaking Records

The title of this post can be taken 2 different ways if you think about it. It could literally mean smashing vinyl records or it could mean surpassing a high achievement. With the whole theme of this blog though, you never know. For today, interpret it the second way.

Since Coachella 2016 has finally passed, it’s time to get back to the normal blog posts instead of just Coachella Band Previews (although I know how much everyone (me included) loves them). Over the weekend there was an epic achievement made by a new team in the women’s pro soccer league in this country, the NWSL (for more on the league check out my blog post from last year). This past year the NWSL announced the addition of a 10th team in the league, the Orlando Pride. The Pride, who are run by the same management as Orlando City SC of the MLS, had their inaugural home opener on Saturday night. The match attracted 23,403 fans to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL, which broke the prior NWSL attendance record of 21,144 set by the Portland Thorns in 2015.The former record was set during a post-World Cup “welcome back” match for the 2015 World Cup Champion USWNT players. The only significance of the match in Orlando was that it was the first home match in the club’s history. Nonetheless numbers like that are incredible. I mean think about it, 23,000+ fans for a non-international women’s pro soccer match. Most NHL arenas hold less fans than that. It’s proof that soccer is growing in America, and not only soccer, but women’s soccer.

Two weeks ago I had a thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if one day a women’s sport was more popular than a man’s?” (I, of course, meant a sport of the same nature i.e. women’s soccer vs. men’s soccer, not field hockey vs. football.) I even tweeted it. Wouldn’t it though? It would be an incredible feat for women. Since the dawn of time, women were always considered less than men, and that notion, although much more improved, is still a factor in many aspects of today’s society. It’s why the USWNT is currently in a legal battle with U.S. Soccer. It’s why many players in the NWSL have to live with host families or have second jobs. It’s why many businesses, corporations, etc. are managed by men. It’s why in the film industry many directors are men. It’s why women are objectified. It’s why in other cultures women are mistreated or abused, and none of it is fair or just. Sex or gender shouldn’t dictate a person being seen as less or making less money. It’s something we have no control over. Neither should sexual orientation or skin color because again we have no control over those things either, but I digress.

The point is even with the amount of progress made over time, inequality still exists, which means we, as a society, still need to grow. Growth is happening though. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening. This is why we need to continue to support equality and growth. Remarkable things can happen. I truly believe that one day a women’s sport will be more popular than the same man’s sport. Hopefully by then women will be making the same amount of money too. Equal pay for equal play, ya feel me? At some point, seeing 23,000+ fans of all ages and genders attend a women’s pro soccer match will be the norm. It won’t have to be incredible because it already will be. Do you get what I’m saying? Until then, support the NWSL and women’s soccer any way you can. Get out to a game. Sponsor a team. Spread the word. Impact the conversation. Because each small action makes a difference in the much bigger picture. More growth will happen. More equality will exist and more records will be broken.

Road To Rio: CONCACAF Qualifiers

Last year I chronicled the United States Women’s National Team’s 2015 Women’s World Cup journey from qualifiers in the fall of 2014 to July 5, 2015 where “The Gals” dominated Japan in a 5-2 victory to secure the U.S.’s first World Cup victory in 16 years. Fortunately for the USWNT, there’s another major tournament this summer, the 2016 Rio Olympics. Unlike in men’s soccer where the U-23 national teams compete in the games, the women send their senior national teams to battle for Olympic gold. You see, in soccer, the Olympics aren’t as important as the World Cup, which is the reason the men only send their U-23 squads. Of course, the men in general have more tournaments to compete in, and like in most sports, men have more opportunities financially and physically (but hopefully that begins to change). Nonetheless, women’s soccer has and will be a bright spot for the United States in the Olympics this summer as the U.S. punched their ticket to Rio Friday night with a 5-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago.

Like I said, the Olympics aren’t as big of a deal as the World Cup so I’m not going to hype this summer tournament like I did last year. Before the U.S. women won the World Cup, they hadn’t won it since 1999, whereas the U.S. has won gold at the past 3 Olympic games. However, that being said, no women’s team has ever won a World Cup and then won gold at the Olympics the following year. If the U.S. wins gold in Rio, they will be the first team to do it. So if you’re looking for any story lines, there’s that.

Since the World Cup victory though, the roster has changed greatly for the USWNT. Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny, Lauren Holiday, and Abby Wambach have all retired. Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez will be skipping the Olympics this summer due to the births of their first and second children, respectively. Then there’s Christie Rampone and Megan Rapinoe whose Olympic roster statuses are in question due to injury. Through 2015 Rampone dealt with nagging knee and back injuries that paved way for defender Julie Johnston to take center stage in Canada last summer. Since December, she has been out with a bone bruise in her left knee. Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL during training in December before a match between the USA and Trinidad & Tobago that was ultimately cancelled because of poor field conditions at Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium. Rapinoe had surgery back in December and has been in rehab mode since to hopefully be well enough to earn a spot on the Rio 2016 roster and play in the games. In total though, 8 out of 23 players from the WWC roster are either out for the Olympics or in question. The Olympics has a catch though. Only 18 players are allowed on the official roster (with 3 alternates available). Despite the smaller roster number, U.S. Coach Jill Ellis brought a few new players into the mix during January camp. She also opted for many fresh faces to compete in the qualifying tournament in favor of active and healthy veterans Heather O’Reilly and Whitney Engen (both part of the World Cup winning team) and there’s a few you should watch out for leading up to the Olympics.

17 year old Mallory Pugh earned her first senior national team call-up during January camp and was subsequently named to the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament roster. She got her first cap when the USA played the Republic of Ireland in a friendly on January 23rd in front of 23,000+ at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. She entered the game in the 58th minute for Alex Morgan who earned her 100th cap that day. In a passing of the torch moment, the future UCLA Bruin became the youngest player to debut for the USWNT since 2005. She also scored a goal during the 83rd minute to put the USA up 5-0. During qualifying, Pugh played in all 5 matches and settled into the level of play. Her speed and play-making ability sparked the U.S. offensive attack on several occasions. She even earned 3 assists throughout the tournament. By the end of the tournament, Pugh played as a starter. If she makes the Olympic roster, she’ll definitely be a name to watch out for in Rio.

Lindsey Horan is another name to pay attention to as time progresses. Horan, only 21 years of age, opted to forego college at women’s soccer powerhouse, UNC, to play professionally for the past 3 years in France for Paris-Saint Germain. She saw time with the USWNT during camps in the past and earned her first cap back in 2013 at the Algarve Cup. Playing her whole life as a forward, Horan has recently stepped into the defensive center mid spot left vacant by retiree Lauren Holiday. At first with Holiday’s, retirement I was a little concerned because of the tough shoes to fill, but I’ve been incredibly impressed with Horan’s play. She’s created a chemistry on the pitch with fellow center-mid Morgan Brian, who played her way into a starting role during the World Cup last summer. She’s also maintained possession, created offense, and quarterbacked the best team in the world throughout her time on the field. Not to mention, her 5’9 frame and goal-scoring/heading capabilities create an offense threat on the attack and set pieces. At this point I would be shocked if Horan didn’t make the Olympic roster because she seems to have the defensive center mid position on lock and as recent camp call-up Rose Lavelle would say, she’s “The Great Horan”.

Massachusetts born Stephanie McCaffrey and Samantha Mewis were also two new additions to the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament roster. Both players saw limited time during tournament play but made an impact on the national team leading up to Olympic qualifying. McCaffrey earned her first cap in October during the Victory Tour where she also notched her first goal during the final minute of stoppage time in the match against Brazil in Orlando. For the national team, most of McCaffrey’s appearances have been as a forward/mid on the wings, predominantly the right side. She makes great runs and expands the width of the offense, while aiding in the attack. Mewis has played a center mid role in her recent national team appearances. It seems like she’s been in a competition for that center mid field role along with Lindsey Horan and Morgan Brian. At 6’0 tall, Mewis has a height advantage much like Horan when it comes to set pieces, but Horan has been crushing any competition she has for the position, including Mewis. Unlike her fellow “masshole”, Steph McCaffrey, Mewis’s first cap came in December 2014, but during qualifying last week, she finally scored her first goal against Puerto Rico.

Defenders Jaelene Hinkle and Emily Sonnett made the qualifying tournament roster as well. Like McCaffrey and Mewis, both saw limited action in the tournament since the USWNT already has a strong defensive core with Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Meghan Klingenberg getting much of the defensive playing time. Both players did earn starts in the match against Puerto Rico, which saw a much different back line than in prior matches. Hinkle, an outside back, earned her first cap during the Victory Tour and has been a call-up ever since. With Chalupny retiring, the USWNT seems to be looking to fill a void left by the former outside back, which is where Hinkle fits into the mix. Sonnett also earned her first cap during the Victory Tour and was recently drafted first overall in the 2016 NWSL Draft to the Portland Thorns. It seems the center back made the Olympic qualifying roster in favor of Whitney Engen who has been in the national team system for a while and was on the 2015 WWC roster. She has a ways to go before she replaces Johnston and Sauerbrunn, but she gained experience during the tournament and played solid throughout.

Lastly, the  new additions to the tournament roster wouldn’t have been complete without the familiar face of Crystal Dunn. As the final cut from the 2015 WWC roster, the UNC grad seems to have finally guaranteed her place on the national team. Dunn’s ride on the team so far has been bumpy. She received her first cap in 2013 and primarily played in the outside back position. She experienced some injuries during 2014 which slightly set her back and was left off the World Cup roster in favor of several veterans. Her response was one of the most inspiring efforts of the past year. Instead of defense, she played in the forward position for her NWSL team, the Washington Spirit, during the 2015 season and lead the league in scoring with 15 goals earning her the 2015 NWSL Golden Boot and MVP awards. Dunn was called up to the national team as a mid/forward during the Victory Tour in September and had a goal and 2 assists in her first game back after being left off the World Cup roster. Since being left off the roster, Dunn has appeared in every match the USWNT has played since September and has scored 10 goals and 4 assists in that time. During qualifying, Dunn recorded a five goal performance against Puerto Rico becoming the third player to achieve that mark on the USWNT and winning her the Golden Boot Award for the tournament. As you can see, she’s back with fire and she’s here to stay. Like Horan, there’s no question in my mind about Dunn making the Olympic roster, so keep your eye out for her and an abundance of puns using her last name.

With the mix of old and new at the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament the USWNT not only guaranteed their spot at the Olympics but also won in the final 2-0 yesterday against a gritty Canadian team, who will also appear in Rio. The goals came from former PSG teammates Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath during the second half of play. Becky Sauerbrunn also received her 100th cap by playing in the match.

Unlike last year, I won’t be summarizing each match leading up to Rio, but I will be posting here and there with news and developments on the team, especially once the roster is released. In the following months USWNT fans can look forward to the She Believes Cup, which will take the place of the USWNT’s typical beginning of March trip to the Algarve Cup in Portugal. It starts next week. The She Believes Cup takes place Stateside and will feature matches against three of the world’s top ten teams, Germany (March 9th), France (March 6th), and England (March 3rd). It should be a great test for the USWNT leading up to Rio. Both France and Germany will be at the Olympics as well (England cannot compete in the Olympics because England competes under the name of Great Britain during the games which also includes Scotland and Wales, two countries with separate national women’s soccer teams). The USWNT also has a friendly scheduled for April 6th. The Olympic roster is expected to be announced in May. I’m sure there will be matches between then and the Olympics, which take place August 3-20, as well. The Road to Rio should be fun, new, and exciting so follow the World Champs on their journey to see if they can win the gold once again and become the first women’s national team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back to back.

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

 

 

The New Kids

It’s been 3 1/2 months since the USWNT won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup on July 5th. Since the win, the team’s popularity has exploded. The team walked the red carpet and attended award shows, had a ticker-tape parade in NYC, and even joined Taylor Swift on stage at one of her sold-out concerts. They began playing matches in their 10-game Victory Tour and had record number of sales for each one so far. They’ve become household names. More importantly, they’ve been using their recent success to grow the women’s game.

In the weeks that followed the World Cup win, several players on the 2015 roster announced their retirement from the game of soccer. One of the surprises from that short list was 2013 NWSL MVP Lauren Holiday, better known as Lauren Cheney (she changed her name after marrying NBA player Jrue Holiday). Holiday, only 27 years old and at the peak of her career, decided to step aside from the game after winning 2 Olympic Gold Medals (2008, 2012), an NWSL Championship (2014, she went on to win this year’s title this past month), a World Cup title (2015), and plenty of individuals accomplishments throughout her professional career. As of today she has 124 caps with the national team and has scored 24 goals, one of which was the game winner in the World Cup Final. Her last match will be on Sunday October 25th in Orlando as the USWNT takes on Brazil.

This post isn’t about Lauren Holiday’s retirement though. Shannon Boxx’s retirement is just as significant as Holiday’s and she’ll be playing her last game tomorrow in Seattle. This post involves Lauren Holiday. Because she will be hanging up her boots, it will also put an end to a special group many USWNT fans have known and loved: The New Kids.

The New Kids are comprised of Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez, and Tobin Heath. The trio joined the national team in 2008 when they were all 20 years old and under and trying to make the 2008 Olympic roster. It was at that time that U.S. Soccer did a feature on the three players dubbing them “The New Kids”.

Somewhere along the way since the forming of The New Kids, it is well known by hardcore USWNT that these three take the field together before every game. They stand out of bounds on the side of the pitch and then jump over the sideline to join the rest of the team for warm-ups. It’s The New Kids Jump. Sunday is the last time it will happen with all three of The New Kids (when one of The New Kids isn’t around for one reason or another, the other two still take the field this way). Besides the fact that Cheney will be missed because she is such an important piece to the current USWNT, this little, sometimes unnoticed ritual will be missed as well.

Rituals like this exist in all sports. There was Ray Lewis’s dancing and the tip of the cap from Derek Jeter. There’s the Lambeau Leap and the octopus on the ice during Red Wings games. The point is these little actions are special. They’re something extra fans look forward to seeing and probably players too. They become as much a part of the sport as catching or shooting or scoring is and they’re just as memorable as a championship winning goal, a buzzer beating three-pointer, or a walk-off home-run.

U.S. Soccer tried to replace The New Kids last year by introducing Julie Johnston, Morgan Brian, and Crystal Dunn as The “New” New Kids, but it didn’t stick the same way (probably because they don’t do the jump). So on Sunday, The (Original) New Kids will take their last jump as a trio (hopefully someone records it). After the match, Lauren Holiday will retire. She plans on starting a family and having new adventures. Eventually, Tobin Heath and Amy Rodriguez will play their final caps and join Cheney in retired life. Things change. People leave. Life doesn’t stop. But their legacy (and their jump!) will remain. They’re forever The New Kids.

Link to the U.S. Soccer introduction to The New Kids.

Link to The New Kids revisited.

Link to The “New” New Kids.

Tobin Heath, Amy Rodriguez, and Lauren Holiday wave to the crowd during the USWNT ticker-tape parade in NYC on July 10, 2015. (Morgan Brian also pictured.)

Tobin Heath, Amy Rodriguez, and Lauren Holiday wave to the crowd during the USWNT ticker-tape parade in NYC on July 10, 2015. (Morgan Brian also pictured.)