women’s world cup

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

Last night, the United States Women’s National Team played Nigeria in their final match of the Group Stage at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In front of 52,193 spectators at a sold out BC Place in Vancouver, BC, the red, white, and blue (or white, black, and volt) sealed first place in Group D with a 1-0 over the Super Eagles. The U.S. limited the dangerously quick Nigerian attack to only 7 shots, 2 shots on goal through the duration of the match. Their ball possession was better than it had been in the first two matches. They also seemed to be creating a few more scoring chances, but they had trouble finishing, which stuck with the recurring theme of the last few months. Their lone goal in the match came from, surprisingly, the foot (not the head) of Abby Wambach when she directed a Megan Rapinoe corner kick into the back netting right before the end of the first half (45th minute).

This game saw a few lineup changes from the first two games. The most notable one being that Alex Morgan started at forward alongside Abby Wambach. It was Morgan’s first World Cup start. Even though she was sidelined with an injury since April and played 23 minutes plus stoppage time through the first two matches, she made a noticeable impact on the game. Morgan has a natural instinct to find and create opportunities. She has great chemistry with Wambach and she has incredible finishing capability. She was denied on a few scoring chances by Nigeria’s keeper Precious Dede, including one golden opportunity off a well placed low cross by right outside back Ali Krieger in the 62nd minute. She was an offensive threat until she was subbed out in the 66th minute. Although she didn’t make an impact on the score sheet last night, it was evident why she is an essential piece to the USWNT and their offensive attack. To be successful in this tournament, they will need her.

Another change from the last two matches was that center midfielders, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday, swapped roles. Holiday who sat back in a defensive central midfielder position played in a more attacking role versus Nigeria, while Lloyd, who took charge of the attacking role against Australia and Sweden, played the defensive position. The change seemed to help Holiday who played better than she had in the first two matches.

Once again the USWNT back line kept up their solid play and continued to be a strong asset to the team. All four defenders as well as goalkeeper Hope Solo have played every minute of the tournament so far. The former starting center back, Christie Rampone, also saw action during this match. She entered the game in the 80th minute for Tobin Heath making her the oldest player to ever appear in a World Cup match. She played at the left outside back position while Meghan Klingenberg stepped into the left midfield spot.

With last night’s win, the U.S. will play in the Round of 16 on Monday in Edmonton, AB against the third place winner from either group B, E, or F, which will be determined after play finishes today. From now on, every game for the USWNT becomes a lot more interesting. They enter the Knockout Stage of the tournament meaning each match is win and move on or lose and go home. Also unlike the Group Stage where games can end in a tie, the Knockout Stage will feature extra time, which is another 30 minutes added on to the game if the game is tied after 90 plus stoppage time. If the match is still tied after 120 minutes plus stoppage time, it will go to a best of five shootout where a winner will inevitably be determined (if there’s still a tie after five players from each team shoot, then the shootout goes to sudden death). The matches from here on out become more intense and exciting than ever (plus nerve-racking for fans). Stars will shine, goals will be scored, shots will be saved, tears will be shed, and at the end of it all the last team remaining will crowned champions of the world. The pressure is on for the USWNT and it should be a fun ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Countdown Continues: Send Off Series Game 3 USA vs. KOR

ONE….

Yesterday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey the USWNT faced off in the final match of their send-off series against fellow Women’s World Cup competitor Korea Republic. The game ended in a 0-0 draw as both teams were unable to convert any of their chances. With the World Cup beginning in Canada in less than a week, this match should have been a preview of what to expect when the U.S. takes on Australia in their first game of the group stage on June 8th. It wasn’t. The U.S. might have taken the 2 steps forward, 1 step back approach in this game. Their passes and attempts weren’t connecting as well as usual. Since the end of the Algarve Cup in March, it seemed like everything was coming together. Yesterday it looked like they regressed slightly. That’s not to say this performance was awful. It wasn’t. It might have just been an off day. Everyone has those. It’s better it happens now than in a do or die match during the tournament.

There were some bright spots in the match such as the scoring chances that resulted from an occasional combination play and the defensive effort to stop Korea’s attack. Also Hope Solo made a diving stop during second half stoppage time after not being challenged all that much during the match. The save allowed her to secure another shut-out to add to her growing U.S. record. Overall though, the U.S. attack wasn’t as threatening as it had been the last few games. Korea’s technically sound game may have had something to do with it. They limited the U.S. to only 15 shots, 5 of which were on frame, and 3 corner kicks the entire match. Compared to the 29 shots with 13 on goal and 7 corner kicks in the Mexico match 2 weeks ago, it was a big difference.

This blog post might seem a little less in depth than usual. I credit that to the fact that I was unable to focus on the match and take notes like I typically do. However, that was only because I was fortunate enough to see the match live. I made the trek to New Jersey yesterday afternoon to catch the final send-off match. It was a great atmosphere with the amount of people there to watch the team, but honestly it was boring to watch at times. The play seemed pretty back and forth. There were few real scoring chances. Korea seemed to be on the ground a lot resulting in a bunch of U.S. fouls. I also feel like I missed certain chunks of the second half because I moved my seat to sit with my friend and the people he was with in the supporter’s section (it was so fun standing). It’s a totally different experience for me watching live than watching at home, which I’m sure can be said for anyone watching any sport. Watching on TV, I tend to be more focused on the actual game and the action happening where the ball is. Watching live, I tend to focus on certain players. I look at the bench from time to time. There might be something going on around me. Basically there’s more distraction. I end up noticing less than usual. At the same time, getting to see anything live is always special. It’s kind of a trade-off, but I’m glad I went to the match.

Despite the outcome of the match though, this team will be ready. I know it. There’s nothing to fear or worry about. The World Cup will bring out the best of the best. It’s the greatest tournament that these women will play in. I doubt they will let this opportunity pass them by (especially those that lost in 2011). This is officially my last post of “The Countdown Continues” series I started to countdown til the World Cup. It’s been great recapping and writing about this team in the lead-up to Canada 2015. I can’t wait do the same during the tournament with a 2015 Women’s World Cup blog series. Hopefully there’s spectacular accomplishments and highlights to write about from this incredible group of 23 women on the USWNT. I believe. Do you? See you in 8 days.

FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy. Hopefully it will be in the hands of the USWNT members on July 5th.

FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy. Hopefully it will be in the hands of the USWNT members on July 5th.

A view of the pitch from my seat at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

A view of the pitch from my seat at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

Thanking the supporters after the match.

Thanking the supporters after the match.

The Countdown Continues: Send Off Series Game 2 USA vs. MEX

TWO….

Finish. It’s what the United States Women’s National Team needed to do to secure a 5-1 win against continental rival Mexico Sunday night at Stub Hub Center in Los Angeles, CA in front of a sold-out crowd of 27,000. After entering the locker room at the half with the score tied 1-1, some may have started to worry. The USWNT controlled most of the game. They had the possession. They had the confidence. They had the playmaking. They had an incredible amount of chances and missed opportunities including a header off the crossbar, a wide open net with Mexican keeper, Cecilia Santiago, out of position and a sequence of blocked shots in the 14th minute that left fans scratching their heads after no goal came from it (it was an unreal effort by Santiago and her defense to not let any shots get through). They stepped off the gas slightly for a few minutes and had a few lapses in decision making. It lead to a Mexican goal off a free kick from a dangerous area left of the 18 yard box. The only U.S. goal came in the 28th minute off a great run from Sydney Leroux who converted a Megan Rapinoe through ball from a sharp left angle. In the first half, the USWNT had almost everything. All they needed to do was finish. When they came back out for the next forty-five, that’s what they did.

The attack started promptly in the opening minute when halftime sub Abby Wambach reached a deflected ball and passed it back to fellow halftime sub Lori Chalupny who sent the ball past a diving Santiago near post for the game’s second tally. In the 58th minute Mexican defender Arianna Romero tried to clear a U.S. corner that deflected off her outstretched hand resulting in a penalty. Wambach converted the ensuing PK to give the U.S. a 3-1 edge. The fourth goal came three minutes later off another great run by Leroux who took a touch around Santiago and sent a shot from the right side into the back netting. 4-1 USA. No big deal. It made the 1-1 score at the half seem laughable, but they weren’t finished yet. In what was the play of the entire match, Tobin Heath, who entered the game for Lauren Holiday at the 62nd minute mark, used a sick, ankle-breaking cut move to leave a Mexican defender in the dust near the end line and sent a cross to the far post where Wambach finished it with her head. It happened in the 72nd minute. Even though the goal was Abby’s for the taking, the move by Heath brought fans to their feet. Heath made the whole play happen. It was an incredible show of talent and skill by the midfielder. 5-1 USA. Finished.

This match was exciting from the start. Despite the halftime score, the USA had the opportunities. In the second half they were able to convert those opportunities. It was a thrilling performance by a talent group of soccer players. I could argue that the USWNT is the most exciting soccer team to watch out of any soccer team in the entire world, men’s and women’s teams combined. I think that’s what captivated me back in 2011. The women’s game was so exciting. Just the other day before the match, I was reflecting on how I like watching  women’s professional soccer now (especially the USWNT) and how I distinctly remember at one point in my life thinking soccer was the only professional major team sport I’d never get into. Of course at the time I think I may have been flicking through the channels on TV and caught a glimpse of men’s game. So in a way, I was partially right. I’m really not into men’s soccer. I just didn’t realize I would/could fall for the women’s game.

As the start of the 2015 Women’s World Cup rapidly approaches (19 days say whaaaat?!), another player from the U.S. squad to watch out for is Sydney Leroux. After a slow start to the year because of an injury and lack of playing time, Leroux made it known in last evening’s match that she’ll be an attacking threat for the United States this summer in Canada. Her speed, tenacity, and skill as a forward make her a weapon for the U.S. Not to mention, she’s half Canadian and will no doubt be the recipient of some taunting by Canadian fans, who consider her a traitor to the nation. Leroux’s mother is Canadian and her father is American which gave her the privilege to play for the U.S. Soccer program through her youth and professional career despite being born in Canada. I’m sure she’ll use whatever harassment she receives next month to motivate her to the fullest because that’s the kind of determined player and person she is. She really is a force to be reckoned with. Then again, the United States is loaded with them. They have everything they need to go all the way to lift the coveted World Cup trophy. All they need to do is finish.

(Link to the Tobin Heath move to set up the 5th goal.)

The Countdown Continues: Send Off Series Game 1 USA vs. IRL

THREE….

Sunday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA the USWNT squared off against Ireland in the first game of a three game send off series before the 2015 Women’s World Cup begins on June 6th (June 8th for the USWNT). They secured a 3-0 victory in a dominant performance over the Irish women with goals from Abby Wambach (2) and Julie Johnston. The team was without forward Alex Morgan who was resting her minor injury, a bone bruise in her left knee. Defender Ali Krieger was back in the lineup after being out for a month with a mild concussion she sustained during the first game of the NWSL season while playing with her club, the Washington Spirit, on April 10th. She was also sporting a trendy headband aimed to help prevent any further head trauma.

Compared to the last friendly a little over a month ago, the team had a slow start as far as finishing goes, but possessed the ball incredibly well in the first half. Christen Press created numerous opportunities for herself to put one in the back of the net. Forwards Wambach  and Amy Rodriguez also had some chances at putting shots in the goal, which Wambach eventually converted. The work of Meghan Klingenberg on the left flank and Krieger on the right flank helped to create scoring opportunities as well. The USWNT played a large portion of the first half in their attacking third. It wasn’t until the 42nd minute that they made a dent in the scoreboard though. An Ireland defender tried to clear a Megan Rapinoe corner kick that hit her own teammate, who was guarding the back post, in the face. The shot to the face subsequently prevented an own goal for Ireland. However, after bouncing off the face of the Irish defender, the ball landed at the feet of Press who delivered a pass to Wambach to finish the play. Wambach put in another goal in the 45th minute when Carli Lloyd sent a cross to her at the far post. In patented Abby fashion, she finished it with a header as the U.S.A. took a 2-0 lead to the locker room.

The second half saw plenty of subs for the USWNT as Lori Chalupny, Morgan Brian, and Sydney Leroux entered at the half for Krieger, Rapinoe, and Rodriguez. Kelley O’Hara, Heather O’Reilly, and Shannon Boxx came on later in the half. About 10 minutes into the second half, defender Julie Johnston flicked home a Lauren Holiday corner kick just inside the near post. It was Johnston’s third international goal and her third in the last three matches. The USWNT failed to convert any more chances in the rest of the time remaining despite some quality opportunities they had. Ireland goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke came up with some stellar saves. Starting U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo did not face any shots in the game nor did she have a single touch on the ball. It was a purely dominant effort by the ladies in red, white, and blue (but mostly different shades of blue with a little white and a trace of red mixed in) especially when it came to possessing the ball and controlling the game.

Of note in the first match of the send off series was that this was the very first time in the history of the game that the players of the USWNT were accompanied on the field by their mothers who flew in courtesy of Fox Sports to surprise the team for Mother’s Day. It was a special moment for the players and their moms and will be a lasting memory for years to come.

As I watched the game today, it felt like the team was a bit off. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say they regressed from where they were a month ago because they controlled the game. The only difference was the beautiful one-two touch passing exhibited during the New Zealand friendly was less evident. The finishing wasn’t there either which continued as a theme from the last match. These two things are minor though. It’s difficult to be perfect every game, but if any team can be near perfection it’s the USWNT. Fortunately they have 2 more games as a group to get to that level. The next one is in a week, May 17th 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT in Carson, CA (coverage on FoxSports 1), but time is of the essence. 28 days remain until Game 1 of the group stage versus Australia. The players are anxious. The excitement is mounting. The hype is real. Two more to go until the fun begins.

The National Women’s Soccer League

When I started this blog, my very first post was about the NWSL championship last season between FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign FC. As you know, if you’ve been following since then, I’m pretty into women’s soccer, but I’ve never gone in depth about this league I’ve been following for the last 2 years, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Since I started this blog at the end of last season though, I haven’t had the chance. It was the off-season. There have been other soccer things going on (like World Cup stuff with the USWNT..my first soccer love). You get the picture. While I was at Coachella two weeks ago (can’t believe it’s already been that long), the NWSL kicked off (no pun intended) it’s third season with a matchup between the Washington Spirit and the Houston Dash. With the start of a new season, it’s the perfect time to write about the league (since I finally settled down after my epic Coachella weekend of course).

The NWSL began in 2013 as the United States top professional soccer league for women. The Women’s Professional Soccer league (WPS) formerly held that title from 2007 until it folded in 2012. When developing the NWSL, the idea was to create a stable professional league for women in the U.S. that could withstand the factors that lead to the downfall of other top women’s pro leagues before it (WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2000-2003)). With the involvement of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), the NWSL seemed to start with a better foundation than the other leagues.

At it’s start in 2013 the league was comprised of eight teams, the Boston Breakers, the Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, the Washington Spirit, and the Western New York Flash. National team players from the USSF, CSA, and FMF were allocated to all eight teams in an even distribution to prevent teams from being stacked with talent, and thus making the league more competitive and exciting to watch. Also, since players from the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams were required to play in the NWSL, their respective national team programs paid their salaries, which allowed for some breathing room in the money department for the league so to speak (it still works this way).

Like other professional sports markets, the NWSL has a draft every year giving teams an opportunity to add top college talent to their squads. USWNT mid-fielder Morgan Brian was number one overall at this year’s draft. She was drafted by the Houston Dash, who was added to the league last year as its first expansion team. There are currently other markets looking to join the NWSL, but I’m guessing with the World Cup this year it was difficult for more expansions to occur in the 2015 season. Also because of the World Cup this summer, the league will be taking a break during the World Cup group stage. Since the league is comprised of players from not only the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams, but national teams such as England, Germany, Australia, etc. many of the league’s players will be competing in the tournament (so the NWSL will be missing a bunch of players on their normal rosters). If a national team fails to make it past the group stage, players who play on that respective team will return to their NWSL teams. To compensate for the World Cup break, the league will finish in late September compared to the last week of August as it has done the past two seasons. I’m guessing it may follow a similar format for the Olympics next summer.

Around the time the league began is when I started to really follow women’s soccer, the USWNT in particular (got into it a bit in 2011 during the World Cup but after the 2012 Olympics is when my interest began to peak). When I read about the U.S. allocations in January of 2013 is when I first discovered the league and what they were trying to do. I had no idea which team I would end up rooting for or if I would even be into any team. I mean it obviously wasn’t going to be at the level of skill I was used to watching with the USWNT. After some other circumstances that occurred during that time though (which I may get into at another point), I decided to follow the Washington Spirit. I’ve been following them since.

With the 2015 season beginning a mere two weeks ago, it’s the perfect time to see what the league has to offer. It’s a fresh start. There’s been new off-season additions, trades, and draft prospects added to the rosters. New kits (uniforms for those who don’t speak soccer) have debuted for clubs (the Spirit’s are dope!). Currently the national team players are taking part in some games before they have to report for their respective pre-World Cup camps. At this time, it’s almost like a World Cup preview of players. If you’re wondering how you can watch the NWSL matches, you can check out almost all the games on Youtube (they’re streamed). If a game isn’t on Youtube, that’s probably because it’s being aired on television. Yes, some games air on TV. Tonight the Boston Breakers have their home opener vs. the Houston Dash at 5 p.m., and my beloved Washington Spirit visit Sky Blue FC at 6 p.m. If you’re reading this at another time, considering the Breakers-Dash match is about to start, check out the NWSL website for a list of the league schedule, teams, and other information. The interest for women’s soccer in the United States continues to grow. With the help of the NWSL, hopefully the growth will be lasting.

The Countdown Continues: USWNT23

With 53 days until the official start of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, U.S. Soccer released the official 23 woman roster for the tournament. The list didn’t contain any surprises as all the players on the roster were with the squad for the Algarve Cup in March, the friendlies in February in Europe, and the friendly in St. Louis 2 weeks ago (with a few exceptions for injuries and the incident with Hope Solo). The roster is as follows:

Goalkeepers

Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC), Ashlyn Harris (Washington Spirit), Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers)

Defenders

Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars), Whitney Engen (Western NY Flash), Julie Johnston (Chicago Red Stars), Meghan Klingenberg (Houston Dash), Ali Krieger (Washington Spirit), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City)

Midfielders

Shannon Boxx (Chicago Red Stars), Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), Heather O’Reilly (FC Kansas City), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC)

Forwards

Sydney Leroux (Western NY Flash), Alex Morgan (Portland Thorns FC), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Abby Wambach (unattached)

For keepers Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher and players Whitney Engen, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Morgan Brian, Sydney Leroux, and Christen Press, it will be their first time competing in the tournament. Ali Krieger, Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Tobin Heath, Lauren Holiday, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Amy Rodriguez were part of the 2011 squad and will be competing in their second consecutive tournament. Lori Chalupny who was left off the 2011 team will also be competing in her second tournament as she was part of the 2007 Women’s World Cup team. It will be the third consecutive World Cup for Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Heather O’Reilly, and fourth for veterans Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx. Christie Rampone who was part of the famed 1999 World Cup team will make her fifth consecutive roster appearance. The USWNT begins their 3 game send off series on Sunday May 10th vs. the Republic of Ireland. They follow up with games May 17th vs. Mexico and May 30th vs. Korea Repbulic. Then it all begins. The countdown is coming to a close so stay tuned for more with the final preparations for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

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.

The Countdown Continues: Algarve Cup 2015 Final Recap

After going 2-0-1 in group play, the United States Women’s National Team faced off against France in the final of the 2015 Algarve Cup in Portugal yesterday. It was a rematch for both teams who played each other about a month ago in Lorient, France when France came out on top with a 2-0 win. The final at the Algarve was just the opposite as the USWNT sailed to a 2-0 victory. The U.S. came out strong and confident maintaining possession much better than they had a month prior. That mentality and play translated to an early goal as Julie Johnston converted a header off of a Lauren Holiday free kick in the 7th minute. It was Johnston’s first of her international career. The early goal allowed for the momentum to be in the USWNT’s favor for much of the first half. Their second goal came right before the break at the 41st minute mark when Christen Press displayed an incredible individual effort by slicing through the French defense and firing a low shot into the back netting from just outside the 18. In the second half France possessed the ball better but the U.S. closed the door on the few opportunities they had including a PK in the 81st minute. It was awarded to France after Meghan Klingenberg was whistled for taking down Marie-Laure Delie in the box. Hope Solo read the kick the whole way. She dove to her right and knocked away one of France’s best opportunities to score. As the clock wound down, France failed to mount a comeback and the USWNT walked away from the tournament as the 2015 Algarve Cup Champions.

Overall I believe this was the best performance of the tournament for the USWNT especially against a formidable opponent like France. The game was intense and physical the whole way through. It was something you’d expect from two top teams. Unfortunately I don’t think France played with the same amount of confidence they did a month ago. It was either that or the U.S. just stopped any early momentum in France’s favor.

In my opinion every player on the pitch did well in the final. Sure there’s always room for improvement and it’s not like they played a perfect match (it can never be perfect), but the effort was there for everyone as this team had one goal in mind (to win the Algarve Cup) and came away with it. Hope Solo put up her strongest game in net so far considering her shaky start exactly a week ago. She was challenged more in this match than she had been during the rest of the tournament, but she passed with flying colors. Julie Johnston, who I think had a decent first match last Wednesday and a sub-par second match on Friday, played a solid defensive game in the final. She came out strong, but scoring that opening goal gave her an abundance of confidence going forward as she played her best match of the tournament.

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn who played her 4th consecutive complete game had an excellent performance. Becky was called upon from the get-go to play a huge role when Christie Rampone, who was getting back to match fitness after an injury suffered in the January camp, and Whitney Engen, who had a hamstring injury, were left out for the entirety of the tournament. In the last year Rampone, Engen, and Sauerbrunn had been rotating as central defenders. In the 4 years since the last Women’s World Cup, Becky Sauerbrunn’s growth as a player has been immense. She was named Defender of the Year in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) for the last 2 years (the NWSL has only been in existence for 2 years) and was part of the FC Kansas City squad that came away with the NWSL title this past September. With longtime USWNT centerback Christie Rampone hitting the age of 40 this summer during the World Cup, Sauerbrunn proved she’s ready to step up and be a leader for this team in Canada. She’s a player that this team needs to be successful this summer. With her consistently solid play, she’ll no doubt provide that strong defensive role for her team.

I thought the one weak point of this match for the USWNT was during the final 10 minutes of play and 3 minutes of stoppage time. It seemed as though they sat back much more, gave away possessions, and let France control the play. I know 90 minutes is a long time and there were some tired legs out there, but had France scored in those final minutes, momentum would have shifted. As a longtime hockey fan, I’ve constantly heard how a 2 goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, and I’ve seen why on plenty of occasions. I know soccer is a completely different game (although there are some similarities), but 10 minutes plus stoppage time is enough time to put away 2 goals. Fortunately it seemed like France’s efforts to score were a bit lackluster. In an elimination match in June that’s sure to change. So along with that change, I would also hope the team responds by controlling the play and limiting France’s possession as the clock winds down.

Finally before I wrap this up. I wanted to bring up something I’ve noticed from watching the USWNT play since the coaching change last April when Jill Ellis took over for Tom Sermanni. I mentioned bringing this up in the last blog post after talking about Meghan Klingenberg making a statement for herself to be the starting left back in the World Cup. Both Klingenberg and Press have been getting a lot more minutes within the last year as well as Whitney Engen. Also within the last year Ashlyn Harris has replaced Nicole Barnhart and newly-retired Jill Lloyden as Hope Solo’s back-up. Don’t get me wrong, I believe these players have worked hard to be in those positions, but it seems peculiar that the minutes for these players really started to pick-up since Ellis took over. The thing is though along with Ellis, Tony Gustavsson came in as an assistant coach. Gustavsson coached Klingenberg and Press when they played for Tyresö FF of Sweden (the team folded last year shortly after their appearance in the UEFA Women’s Champion’s League Final) . Klingenberg played there from 2012-2014. Press played from early 2013-2014. Gustavsson was the coach from 2012-2014. He also brought in Engen, Harris, and Ali Krieger in late 2013 to help the squad during their Champion’s League run. He was an assistant with the USWNT in 2012, but at the time Pia Sundhage was the head coach. It seems since the coaching change Gustavsson has definitely had an influence on the team. It might be the case that the playing time for some players, Press and Klingenberg in particular, has increased due to the fact that Gustavsson has some pull on the U.S. bench.

Like I said, Press and Klingenberg are both fantastic players. They’ve gotten better and deserve to play for the USWNT. Ashlyn Harris is an extremely hard worker and it’s rewarding to see her play as the number two goalkeeper for this team after being left off the last World Cup roster because she “needed to develop more” and not making the Olympic roster due to injury. However, it’s just interesting to see how politics may play a slight role in all of it. I guess it happens in every sport. I could be totally wrong too. Maybe Ellis has seen something in all these players for a while now and they’re finally getting their chance to shine.

No matter what the case is though, I hope they’re ready for the World Cup. I hope the whole team is ready from the players to the coaches and everyone in between. Because now that the Algarve Cup is over, a little less than 3 months remain until the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins. There’s 4 matches left and the USWNT still hasn’t reached their peak. If the Algarve Cup was any indication though, the team is definitely improving. By June I expect to see a group of players ready to battle at the highest level in one of the greatest tournaments in the world for the ultimate prize. It isn’t easy to become world champions, but I would count on the United States Women’s National Team to put up one hell of a fight to get that crown.

Here are the highlights from yesterday’s final at the Algarve:

Johnston Goal

Press Goal

Solo PK Save