It's a sad day for women's professional sport in the USA, but crippling news for women's professional soccer in this country. After two failed leagues in ten years, I'm not sure if another one will arise anytime soon.
When a politician suspends his or her campaign, it effectively means the end of the campaign. Even if it is restarted, all of the momentum generated has been lost and almost impossible to recover. Sports league operations are no different, and especially soccer leagues in the USA. So the news today that Women's Professional Soccer has suspended operations for the 2012 season is very bad.
Stanford and Duke advanced to Sunday's national championship game of the NCAA Women's College Cup with three-goal victories in both semifinals on Friday night. Stanford defeated Florida State 3-0 in the first match, and Duke ran out 4-1 victors over Wake Forest.
This year's College Cup was located at Kennesaw State University's new soccer-specific stadium, about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Atlanta. I attended Friday's matches, and it is a compact, comfortable, and clean facility. It would be wonderful to have many more facilities such as these in the lower divisions of American soccer.
The semifinals set up like this: Wake Forest will play Duke, and Stanford will meet Florida State. (The order of the matches has not been set as of this post.) Stanford has been the #1-ranked team all season, but one could argue that Florida State is the hottest women's team in the country at the moment. The other semifinal will also be a high-wattage match between sides that finished first and fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. (For the record, Florida State finished fifth, but caught fire in the ACC tournament.)
This year's Women's College Cup will be in Kennesaw, GA, about 30 minutes northwest of Atlanta. I bought tickets to all of the matches and I hope to see a lot of people there.
Japan are the newest World Champions of women's football after defeating the USA 3-1 on penalties after a 2-2 extra time draw in the Women's World Cup final. It was the best World Cup final that I have ever seen in either gender, and a fantastic advertisement for the women's version of the game. It was a just reward for a team devoted to an attractive style of play, and a morale boost for a country that experienced a horrific natural disaster four months before.
I knew that Japan would try to win by playing an attractive style, but I was not expecting the US women to play their best and most attractive match of the tournament. They should have scored a goal within 30 seconds had Lauren Cheney cut the ball back for Abby Wambach charging down the center of the penalty area. That opening segment set the tone for a dominant first half by the Americans in which they hit the woodwork twice, skimmed over the crossbar at least three times, and went narrowly wide on several more occasions. Their defensive wing-backs cut off Japanese channels on the flanks and their midfielders (especially O'Reilly) did a great job of not allowing Japan to buildup in the center of the field. Despite all this, Japan were the more pleased with the 0-0 halftime score.
The addition of Alex Morgan at the start of the second half, a forced substitution because of the injury to Cheney, was almost a match-winning decision. (ESPN's Jeff Carlisle gave her a 9 rating, and if the USA had won the match she would have been named best on field.) Morgan was more dynamic up top and a constant threat to Japan's defensive line, and it was not a surprise that she would open the scoring when a long ball from Wambach found her in a one-on-one situation with the Japanese centerback. She overpowered her challenger and slotted the ball past the Japan 'keeper Kaihori. That goal should have been enough to give the USA the title, but a botched defensive clearance after a Sawa cross allowed Miyama to pounce and equalize with ten minutes remaining. Extra time loomed.
Extra time failed to break the deadlock, but not for lack of trying. The USA retook the lead with a minute to go in the first extra time period, and this time it was Morgan who supplied the cross for -- who else? -- Abby Wambach to score from -- what else? -- a powerful header. Japan pored on the pressure in the closing minutes, and after a dangerous chance from Kinga was cleared away for a corner, they grabbed an equalizer when Sawa redirected the corner kick (with some deflection by Wambach) into the net. Once again Japan showed that it is possible to overcome a lack of height in set-piece opportunities with superior positioning and movement. Penalties loomed.
Much will be said and written about the Americans' performance in the penalty kick shootout. Maybe the first five shouldn't have been selected. Maybe the pressure didn't make them after all. For a second time in the tournament, the team that equalized in the extra time period went on to win the penalty kick tiebreaker. The momentum was with the USA in the quarterfinal; yesterday that momentum was with Japan.
It has been said in the past that possession-oriented football -- the "Tiki-Taka" style -- is pleasing to the neutral supporter but falls short when it comes time to win championships. So it is worth noting that the current world champions at the national team level in both genders and the current UEFA Champions League holders are devotees of this style. Not only can possession football win the hearts of neutrals, it can also raise silver and gold. Here's hoping that trend continues at Brazil in 2014 and in Canada in 2015.
The USA-Brazil Women's World Cup quarterfinal matchfit all of the archetypes of the American story: never giving up despite multiple adverse situations, last-minute dramatics, lots of heroes, and someone named Hope. I felt that Brazil would be the favored team yesterday, and perhaps they would have won had that early own-goal not occurred. But give full credit to the US ladies for their determination and their self-belief despite a sending-off and at least two controversial decisions that went against them. And what more can you say about Abbe Wambach and her strike to level the match on the last kick of the game?
The most dramatic extra-time World Cup game since Uruguay vs. Ghana last year is history. Now the USA will face a French side with arguably the best midfield of the four semifinalists (I'll let Jenna have the definitive word on that one), but without one of their starting defenders. There's a lot more that should be said, but the game says all that needs to be said, to be honest. What a dramatic performance.
The USA women's national team lost their final group match to Sweden 2-1, the first time that the USA have lost a group stage match at a Women's World Cup. I was not able to watch the match, but Jenna Pel at the consistently excellent All White Kit did and has some very perceptive comments on the match. The USA now drop into a high-wattage quarterfinal against Brazil, but they have fewer obstacles to the final than they would have had if they had won the group. But first they have to get past Brazil, and Brazil will almost certainly be favored on Sunday.
Strikers - Amy Rodríguez, Lauren Cheney, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach
I am struck by how old this US team is, especially in the back line. Mitts and Rampone will be 33 and 36, respectively, by the time of the opening match of the WWC, and LePeilbet will be 29. Overall five US ladies will be over 30, while just four are under 25 years of age (three more are exactly 25). By way of contrast, half of the German national team players are under 25, but to be sure, two of them are reserve goalkeepers and another two have less than five international appearances.
No Leslie Osborne on the national team, and no Sydney Leroux either. I know that Osborne was coming back from an injury, but she has been playing WPS matches this season. Leroux is young and has to battle for a spot in the forward depth chart, but after her exploits in junior international level, what exactly does she have to do to earn a spot on the senior team? Yes, she is the future, but the future is now as far as US women's soccer is concerned.
FIFA has announced the referees list for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup. There are three Americans on the list -- one long-time referee (Kari Seitz) and two assistant referees -- as well as three Mexicans and one each from Canada, El Salvador, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Here's the list:
Kari Seitz (USA) Carol Anne Chenard (Canada) Quetzalli Alvarado Godíñez (Mexico)