Tag Archives: Women’s World Cup

The Day of Finals

July 7, 2019 presented a rare confluence of futbol championship events.  In the morning (US time), the 2019 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and the Netherlands took place in France.  In the afternoon, the Copa America final featured host country Brazil versus Peru.  In the evening, the U.S. men’s team faced off against Mexico in the Gold Cup final in Chicago.  The U.S. women’s team rightfully considered themselves disrespected by the North and South American soccer federations for scheduling their finals on the same day the World Cup came to a conclusion.  Nonetheless, it was a great day to be a soccer fan.


The United States cruised through the group stage scoring an astounding 18 goals while giving up none.    The Netherlands didn’t have it quite so easy in their group, but still came away with three convincing wins.   The American found tougher games in the knockout rounds, but won by a 2-1 score in each round–the Round of 16, the Quarterfinals, and the Semifinals–on their way to the finals.  The Dutch gave up a goal in their 2-1 Round of 16 win, but threw shutouts in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.  This was only the second World Cup that the Netherlands had qualified for, but they served notice of their abilities by winning the European championship two years ago.

From the start, the U.S. dominated the game.   They continually pushed the attack, fired shots, and earned corners as the game was largely played in the final third.  The Dutch showed resilience on their back line though and turned away attack after attack by the  Americans.  For the first time in the tournament, the U.S. failed to score in the first 15 minutes of the game and the game was still scoreless at the half.

The American lethal front line of Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Tobin Heath continued their relentless assault into the second half and earned a penalty kick 15 minutes in when a Dutch defender kicked too high in an attempt to prevent Morgan from receiving a pass inside the box.  Rapinoe buried the penalty kick as she has done all tournament.  The Dutch defense seemed rattled at that point and less than 10 minutes later, that discombobulation cost them.  U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle took a pass near the mid-line, dribbled straight down the center of the field, made a simple juke move at the top of the box that turned the defender the wrong way and then rocketed a left-footer past the goalie into the right corner of the goal.  Even with the two goal lead, the U.S. continued to press the attack, something many squads fail to do when they build a lead.  The Dutch got their best chances as time ran down, but could not convert.

The 2-0 win gave the U.S. their fourth World Cup title–their second in a row–two more than any other national squad.  Rapinoe won both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards.  With the emergence of the 24-year-old Lavelle, who won the Bronze Ball award, the future of the U.S. team continues to look very bright.  Much of the Dutch squad will still be in their primes in four years, so look for them to be a force at the 2023 World Cup.

Given the American womens’ dominance at the highest levels, it is high time that the U.S. soccer federation paid the women the same as the men.  The womens’ team scores better results, draws bigger crowds, and gets better TV ratings.  It’s time they get PAID!


In a rarity, the Copa America final matched two teams that came out of the same group.  In the group stage, Brazil punished Peru 5-0, but La Blanquirroja managed to advance out of the groups with a tie against Venezuela and a win over Bolivia.  Peru then won Quarterfinals and Semifinals games against Uruguay (penalty kicks) and Chile, respectively, that they really had no business winning, but for a stout defense that turned away numerous shots and making the most of the few chances their offense received.  Seleção fought through some minor bumps in the road, notably a tie against Venezuela in the group and a penalty kick win against Paraguay in the Quarterfinals, two national squads that Brazil should have dominated.  In a hard fought game, Brazil turned away Argentina 2-0 in the Semifinals, disappointing Leo Messi on the world stage yet again.

in the Final the Peruvians surprisingly came out swinging at the start, repeatedly pushing into the Brazilian box, but could not finish.  At the 15-minute mark, a Brazilian run down the right sideline produced a long cross into the box where Peru’s defense had collapsed inward, leaving Everton alone on the back side.  He ran onto the cross and rammed home the first goal of the game.  Just before half-time, Paulo Guerrero delivered the equalizer for Peru on a penalty kick after a pass in the box bounced off the arm of a falling Brazilian defender.  Minutes later, in extra time, Peru’s defense again failed, leaving Gabriel Jesus with too much space at the top of the box which he converted into a 2-1 halftime lead for Brazil.

Brazil continued to dominate the ball in the second half, but neither team was able to get much in the way of shots on goal.  However,  as Jesus tooketh, he also gaveth away, doing Peru a favor and earning his second yellow card of the game by delivering an elbow to the back of an opposing player’s head while jumping for a high ball.  Brazil had to play a man down for the final 20 and Peru nearly tied it up again on a long shot by Edison Flores.  However, Brazil maintained its attack and got an insurance goal on a questionably earned penalty kick just before extra time.  With the 3-1 victory, Brazil won its first Copa America championship since 2007.


Mexico and the United States have long dominated the CONCACAF Gold Cup with 7 and 6 championships, respectively.  Canada is the only other national squad to have won a Gold Cup.  So it came as no surprise that El Tri and the Americans found themselves facing off in yet another Gold Cup Final.  Both squads rumbled through their groups without much problem scoring many goals in the process.  For the U.S., always known for their conservative game, this attacking approach was refreshing.  Both team faced tougher games in the knockout rounds, but survived to reach the championship game.

The Americans did not abandon Coach Gregg Berhalter’s attacking style, creating two great early opportunities for Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore that could not be converted.  The Mexicans played a more patient passing approach, but the stiff U.S. back line prevented any troubling penetrations in the final third.  At the end of the half, the stats say Mexico had more possession and shots, but the U.S. clearly created the more dangerous opportunities, though they were unable to finish them.

An early corner in the 2nd half nearly put the Americans on the board.  A header off the Pulisic corner was saved by a defender’s header on the goal line at the near post.  A follow-up shot went off a defender’s back.  As the half progressed though, Mexico’s attack kept building, earning corners and putting shots on goal.  Momentum had clearly shifted and the Mexicans finally cashed in on a push up the middle where Raul Jimenez put through a beautiful back heel pass to Jonathan dos Santos at the top of the box.  Dos Santos then placed a left-footer into the top left corner of the net that U.S. goalie Zach Steffen could only watch.  The United States staged a furious rally in the final 20 minutes, but despite some great opportunities, they could not find the equalizer.

The Americans should feel good about their showing in this tournament.  They still need to find a Clint Dempsey-like finisher, but the attacking style suits the make-up of the team.  Budding stars like Pulisic, Weston McKinnie, and Reggie Cannon, all 20 or 21 years old portends a bright future for the USMNT.  Mexico’s bend but don’t break approach survived this time, but many of their attackers are 25 and under, so they will get better with experience too.  Hopefully both squads continue to get better so that CONCACAF can put forward a better presence at the World Cup.


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US Women’s Loss Not A Choke, Just An Upset

I’m glad to see that the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final had captured the attention of a worldwide audience in general and a large captivated audience of Americans in particular who ordinarily would give any fùtbòl, let alone the brand played by women, none to scant attention. Quite frankly, though, it is offensive if anybody characterizes the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s penalty kick loss to Japan, a national side that had never beaten the Americans in 25 tries, as anything worse than a major upset.


Did the USWNT miss early – and often – opportunities to score and put the game away by halftime? Yes they did. Did they give away two late leads, either one of which would have won them the World Cup? Absolutely. Did they fail miserably at taking their penalty kicks, a skill they clearly had mastered in previous international competitions? Sure.


Does any one of these reasons by themselves, or a combination of all three, qualify as a choke? HELL NO!…


…And if you think it does, then you clearly don’t know anything about the game of fùtbòl.


The USWNT took 15 shots in the first half, 7 in the first 15 minutes – but only one on target. So while they did a great job of keeping possession, keeping Japan from having any attacking opportunities in the USA final third, getting forward and attacking, and keeping the pressure on Japan by pinning them in their own end, the USA weren’t taking quality shots on goal.


The USA did have leads late in both the second half and extra time. The important distinction is that none of those leads were by any more than one goal! ONE GOAL! Alex Morgan scored with 21 minutes left in regular time, and Abby Wamback scored with 16 minutes left in extra time.


Before I go any further, let me define what I think a choke is. To me a choke is this: You’ve been killing them all game long, just dominating; the other team/player can’t score to save their lives because your defense is just suffocating; the other team/player can’t defend and are just helpless in the face of your offensive onslaught; you’ve have what appears to be this huge lead and you are so far ahead with so little time late that even if the other team/player made a token surge it just won’t be enough; and you have got this in the bag. Then, with only minutes left to play, for whatever inexplicable reason, you fall apart; you make mistakes both on offense and defense – then more – then still more, and now you can’t stop the bleeding; so then you begin to get too cautious, but as the other team now starts mounting this late charge, you’re taking a lot of these late blows that just minutes earlier and for a vast majority of the game would have stood no chance of landing; and now the other team/player is scoring at will, and by now nothing you do offensively or defensively works. Then, with only seconds left or no time at all, you look up and see that the other team/player has either caught up or has the lead or has won – and the only thing that you can do is wonder WTF just happened and why is the trophy that should be going home with you walking out with somebody else…


Now does that sound like what happened on Sunday?


The USWNT did play a good game, but they made mistakes early and often, so while they clearly were the better side, they certainly weren’t dominating. Does a one-goal lead with 21 minutes left, or a one-goal lead with 16 minutes left, sound like an insurmountable lead? In basketball is a 5-point lead with a minute to play safe? In football is a 3-point lead with 2 minutes to play safe? In baseball is a one-run lead in the bottom of the 9th safe? In tennis is a 6 games to 5 lead in the 5th set safe? In fùtbòl a one-goal lead at any time is the equivalent of all four.


We are talking about the game of fùtbòl, where a majority of games at the top levels end 0-0 or 1-0 – and that score line doesn’t mean that both teams were not attacking. In the 2004 European Championship Final, Portugal took 15 shots, 8 on target, while Greece attempted only one shot the entire game. Portugal attacked furiously, while both sides played unbelievably suffocating defense, throughout the entire game. Final score: 1-0 – Greece.


This is not an anomaly; it is common to the game. One score changes everything, so a one-goal lead just can never be considered a dominating lead at any time in a fùtbòl game, early, late, or even as time is expiring.


Sure, the penalty shootout is the one aspect of the game that the USWNT has historically excelled at. But there’s a reason fùtbòl teams try to avoid that: Because it’s not as easy as it looks. After running up and down a 120-yard field ceaselessly for 120 minutes, oftentimes in suffocating heat, even the best-conditioned world-class fùtbòlers with jelly for legs that they can’t stop from cramping up find penalty kicks a chore. At best the penalty shootout is a crap shoot, a toss-up. Deciding fùtbòl games on penalty kicks is the great leveler; it’s the one aspect of the game where the semi-regular substitute on a club side has a 50-50 chance against the greatest goalkeeper in the world, and has fresher legs than his legendary counterpart on the other team. Even the demigods and legends of the game have missed them. The legends of the 1999 USWNT (Hamm, Chastain, Foudy) have missed them; they just didn’t miss in the final (Mia Hamm missed one early in that tournament).


Need Proof?


On the same day that the USWNT lost to Japan in a penalty shootout they’ve since been getting eviscerated for, the two best national sides in the world at taking penalty kicks, Argentina and Brazil, lost in the quarterfinals of the Copa America, the South American championship – by penalty shootouts after 120 minutes.


The same people who were criticizing the USWNT as chokers after this Sunday’s final were the same people who (1) exclaimed the team’s greatness after winning the 1999 World Cup via penalty shootout, (2) again exclaimed the team’s greatness after winning their quarterfinal penalty shootout against Brazil only a week ago, all while (3) hypocritically vilifying the game for years because it determines its winners by something so pathetically weak as a penalty shootout after regular and extra time. Those people didn’t know what they were talking about all these years, and they certainly don’t know what they are talking about now.


I agree that we shouldn’t coddle women just because they are women. Women want to be treated as full and equal citizens in society, so we should treat them like we would their male counterparts. If this was, say, the Los Angeles Lakers, who laid a goose egg on the Dallas Mavericks, then I’d say the same thing. Fact is, the Lakers neither choked nor were upset. The just plain stunk.


Look, upsets happen. It’s part of what makes sports so special. Sure, the USWNT was the better and more talented team, and they had never lost to Japan in 25 tries. But mathematically that alone is an anomaly. If you play somebody you’ve beaten the pulp out of enough, the law of averages says at some point they will eventually catch up, get better and learn how to beat you. How is it that you can make the claim before Sunday that this was not the same Japan side that had not beaten the USA in 25 tries, then be shocked and critical when it turns out they really weren’t? It’s as if you are blaming the USA more for losing than giving credit to Japan for winning.


I didn’t see this result coming any more than anybody else. But the mere fact that, going into Sunday’s final, that Japan had beaten the two-time defending world champions and the #2-ranked team in the world in Germany AND the #5-ranked team in the world in Sweden, should have been enough of an indication that Japan, in that moment and for whatever reason, was serious world-class competition and were coming to win a championship. It’s just as clear that, 23-0-2 record against them notwithstanding, the USWNT didn’t take them lightly.


Something else we should learn to get used to: In women’s fùtbòl the world is catching up. There are no easy national women’s sides anymore. American women ruled the world of fùtbòl for well over a decade, but now even they aren’t the ’27 Yankees anymore despite their #1 world ranking (which they will keep after this World Cup). We all recognize the current Yankees as the best team in baseball with the most money to get the best players anytime they want, but even they have to work at winning the World Series. Same for the USWNT. It was easy when this tournament started for women in 1991 but it sure as hell isn’t now. Maybe there aren’t any players on the national side on the level of Hamm or Chastain of Foudy or Akers or Scurry, but believe me even they in their prime would have a harder time winning hardware in 2011 than they did in 1999.


So to Bryant Gumbel, Jamele Hill, and Jim Rome, I ask you this: Did the 69’ Baltimore Colts choke? Did the 80’ USSR Hockey Team choke? Did Sonny Liston choke in 64’? Did the ’07 New England Patriots choke? Did the ’60 New York Yankees choke? Did Mike Tyson choke in ’90? Did the ’76-’77 Philadelphia 76ers choke? Or did they all just run into a motivated opponent who, in their respective moments, raised their level of play, refused to lose and wanted it more?


It wasn’t a choke. It was an upset.