Thursday, July 14, 2011

US Women triumph, face Japan in finals

Following the American women has been amazing this year. Just a true enjoyment with a lot of great storylines. At any level of Men's or Women's soccer, I have only once seen as stellar a cross as Megan Rapinoe swung into Wambach in the 122nd minute against Brazil (and that was Virginia's Clint Mathis against Indiana in the 1994 College Cup). And I've never seen that play resolved so dramatically with such high stakes. And then against France, in the World Cup semi-final, coach Pia Sundhage makes two second-half substitutions that pay off brilliantly and change the entire complexion of the match. Also, a true rarity to see subs have such an effect in a world cup game.

I did get to watch the second half versus France on my lunch break at work, so I can make some observations. Despite each having a couple of misplays, Wambach and Solo are all-world stalwarts. They've carried the US, and give the other players a wide margin for error. I thought Rapinoe & Morgan should've come in earlier, but holding them off until France ran themselves down a little (and had seemingly gained control of the match after tying it up) ended up working out incredibly well. The game swung cleanly to the US after Rapinoe came in and was effectively over after Morgan's counter-attack (sprung from a slightly deflected pass from Rapinoe), and France could do little to get themselves back into the match in the last 10 minutes.

Cheney had a nice game with a classy finish on the first goal, and beautiful bender of a corner to Wambach on the Game-winning corner. Also, she seemed to play a lot better off of Rapinoe than Lloyd, but maybe Morgan & Rapinoe's speed just gave her more room to work with.

Megan Rapinoe did the tough work of calming down the US midfield and zipping past the French defenders on counter-attacks, stretching out the field and giving the US room to work with. Her pairing with the shifted Cheney makes for a very effective midfield, but her fresh legs helped her also retain possession against the French, who had run circles around Carli Lloyd, et al. I saw one hustle play where she flew to an overplayed ball and knocked it down to a teammate that otherwise would've been a French throw-in.

Alex Morgan looked big, fast, and physical against the French. A bit like Abby Wambach in 2007. That said, she could've had a hat-trick with a bit of luck in the second half with a bit more placement on that follow (where I think she was ruled offside) and then simply a great save from the keeper nullified that beauty of header from Wambach to free her. She redeemed herself with the perfect timing and placement on that chip to the far corner. With all of the praise for Wambach & recriminations for the French goalie, the one thing I think everyone missed in Wambach's game-winning header was Alex Morgan busting free from her defenders and "posting up" the goalie, both slowing keeper down and blocking her vision of the cross until it was too late. A perfect intangible assist on the play.

The US will have another tough match-up with international darlings Japan, who are giving a nation recovering from incredible tragedy a great feel-good story. Even more problematic is Japan's ball-control style which is not dissimilar from the French style that gave the US fits for the majority of the match. On the other foot, Japan is likely to have even more trouble covering the US air attacks, but if they can shut down the flanks... well, it will be an interesting match.

Go USA!!!


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