By Matt Ream

While soccer is making good strides in popularity among the major sports in the US, women’s soccer (let alone women’s sports) tends to be ignored in favor of the “better” sex. Few people in the past have realized when a women’s soccer event is underway, but ESPN has done a great job publicizing this year’s version of the event. And a great version it has been; with goals galore, excellent attacking play, and even some controversial moments to boot.

In the wake of recent poor results by United States Soccer’s men’s teams in the Gold Cup and the U-17 World Cup, I decided to turn my attention to the Women’s World Cup in Germany in support of US Soccer. Drunk with anger, depression, and denial, the US women have provided a refreshing change of pace from the sad showing of our men’s teams.

For those of you who are unaware, the US was drawn into a group with North Korea, Colombia, and Sweden. Of those three teams, only Sweden has had success in the past with some results in the World Cup and the European Championship. With two group games down, the US women have garnered full points, winning 2-0 against North Korea and 3-0 against Colombia.

Led by coach Pia Sundhage, the Americans have slowly evolved from a direct, English style of play into more of a passing and possession oriented strategy, albeit with some struggles. While both of their games so far have been against teams that are not world powers on the women’s stage, the US has not been as dominant as their recent competitive record might suggest (368-50-55 since 1985, 65-6-4 under Sundhage).

In the United States’ match against North Korea, it wasn’t until the 54th minute that the US managed to break through. Until that time, Korea had found some success in attacking the US left side, finding space in behind Lauren Cheney and isolating Amy LePeilbet. Kim Su-Gyong, only sixteen years old, and Song Jong-Sun, a 30 year-old veteran, gave LePeilbet fits until the US managed to control the game. Hope Solo, whose controversial remarks in the wake of the semifinal loss to Brazil in 2007 created tension in the US camp, has seemingly mended any residual bad feelings with her teammates. And it was a good thing, too, as she made several plays to keep her team in the game.

Eight minutes after the break, the program’s active leading goalscorer, Abby Wambach, uncharacteristically drifted into space on the left side of the field to meet a long ball by Carli Lloyd. Finding time on the ball, she looked up and sent in a cross, which Cheney converted with a placed header. Wambach has been drifting wide a lot in this tournament, perhaps because of the success she had in the build up to this goal.

The goal that sealed the win for the US came off of a scramble from a corner kick, when the Korean defense failed to properly clear the ball. Cheney sent in a lofted corner that was partially deflected wide to the other side of the pitch where defender Ali Krieger, who recently plied her trade in the Frauen-Bundesliga, sent the ball back in. The cross deflected off the crossbar and after a sloppy scramble, fell to central defender Rachel Buehler, whose sliding shot slipped into the corner of the net.

Although the United States earned all three points in this match, it was not easy, with a few troubling things of note:

  • Many players, Wambach, Cheney, and Amy Rodriquez, were guilty of wasteful finishing. The US had 19 shots, 12 of which were on goal, but only two goals. A number of the shots on goal were directly at the goalkeeper.
  • As mentioned before, LePeilbet struggled defensively and was not as effective going forward as a result.
  • The central midfield duo of Lloyd and Shannon Boxx had trouble possessing the ball against an athletic and quick Korean midfield.
  • North Korea is not one of the dominant teams on the women’s stage and they managed to put the US on the back foot for a surprising percentage of the game.

In their second match, the US started things off sooner, with a tremendous knuckling shot from Heather O’Reilly. In the 12th minute, O’Reilly ran onto a poor touch from the Colombian midfield and with space to shoot from about 25 yards, looked up and hit a blinder that dipped over the Colombian goalkeeper and into the side netting. Later in the first half, Colombia had a goal by Katerin Castro disallowed because the referee correctly judged her to be in an offside position when the ball was played through to her. Although the US had quite a few shots in the first half, they did not score again until the second half.

The second half began with a strategic substitution from Sundhage, who took out the struggling Rodriguez and replaced her with dynamic midfielder Megan Rapinoe. This allowed Cheney to move up top where she had so much success at UCLA. The move instantly paid dividends, as Rapinoe found Cheney with her back to goal with a long throw in. As Cheney turned and dribbled parallel to goal, she pulled her defender with her, leaving a gap in Colombia’s defense. Rapinoe made a surging run through the vacated space, and Cheney put her through with a quick turn and pass. Rapinoe only needed one touch to set herself up for a 17-yard rocket to the upper corner of the net. She celebrated in style, running to the corner of the field to pick up a microphone and sing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

The final goal was from Lloyd and can be attributed to a goalkeeping blunder more than anything else. After losing the ball on a sloppy touch, Lloyd regained it from an equally poor Colombian touch and struck it as hard as she could from about 30 yards out. The Colombian keeper seemed surprised by the shot and although she did not have to move to block it, she pushed it into the net instead of out.

Of note in this game:

  • The US was once again unable to find the net on the majority of their shots, finishing the game with a whopping 27 shots and nine shots on goal.
  • Wambach was unable to get on the scoresheet for the second game running in this tournament. Although she is the all-time leading active goalscorer for the US, she has only scored once in 2011. She did not get credited for anything; Wambach made a smart run during the play to distract a defender and give Rapinoe space to shoot. Her general movement and hold up play during the tournament has been positive so far.
  • The midfield looked far better during this game than against North Korea, as Shannon Boxx made way in the starting lineup for Lori Lindsey. Rapinoe was a great halftime change by Sundhage as she was dynamic on and off the ball.

After four games played in Group C, the US and Sweden have both qualified for the quarterfinals. As it stands heading into the crucial final day of group play, the US is in first place in the group with a plus five goal difference. Sweden only has a plus two goal difference, and thus can only win the group with a win over the US. The US will win the group with a tie or a win.

As an American soccer fan, I strongly encourage my fellow countrymen (and women) to tune into the game tomorrow. Our women play a very exciting brand of soccer, ripe with attacking and scoring chances. And I for one need anything I can get to recover from the Gold Cup/U-17 World Cup hangover.

The two teams will play each other today (July 6th) at 11:30AM Pacific Standard Time. The game can be seen on ESPN, ESPN3.com, or Galavision.

Matt Ream is the older, wiser, and better looking brother of TheSackLunch co-founder Evan Ream. He occasionally contributes to TSL when he isn’t too busy getting his MA in Kinesiology at CSU Long Beach, coaching youth soccer, or reading. He can be reached at mtream@gmail.com or @flyingoose.

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