For those that don’t know – and I suspect most of you here may not – I spend most of the winter with my alter-ego writing about men’s college basketball for the Mid-majority. When creator and all-around fantastic writer Kyle Whelliston had two “mid majors” reach the Final Four (Butler and VCU) in 2011, he had to deal with all the hype surrounding the Final Four: stories about stories, angles upon angles upon subangles, and just minutia that has nothing to do with basketball, “sportz” as he would call it.
Finally, when semifinal Saturday was actually upon us, Kyle wrote his preview headline as follows: “There’s a Basketball Game Today at 6:09 PM ET”.
Well, with Hope Solo wittingly or unwittingly (or a little of both) dominating the headlines once again in the Olympic soccer world, there really was a soccer game today at 12:15 PM ET.
Alas, it wasn’t much of a soccer game. As expected, the United States dominated from start to finish against outclassed North Korea. It may have been somewhat surprising that the U.S. didn’t put up a bigger total than 1-0, but they missed some good chances and didn’t quite have the intensity they did against France. Why would they, really? They did the job they had to do, no one got hurt, got the full nine points, and have a fantastic draw all the way to the finals.
Solo barely had to do anything, therefore Brandi Chastain didn’t have to talk about her (although it seemed as though Arlo White was trying a bit too hard to be complimentary of Hope). There were no punches, no hideous refereeing calls, really a yawnfest, to be honest.
But if there was ever a good time for a snoozer, the last group game of a tournament in which you’ve already progressed is certainly it.
And it doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things. Like these:
1) Regardless of score, it’s hard to read much into today
This probably goes for other results more than this one, but this was a little bit of a strange game all around. The U.S. was holding a one-goal lead and North Korea only needed to get lucky once to score and advance, yet North Korea barely went forward in the second half, leaving the Americans a little confused. Kelley O’Hara went forward a few times, Carli Lloyd kind of did, but – correctly – the U.S. didn’t want to go nuts and give North Korea a chance to equalize. Yet, they sat back and the U.S. almost had to go forward, somewhat reluctantly. They may feel slightly disappointed it didn’t end up 3-0 or 4-0, but that disappointment will never matter if they come home with a gold medal. And they did nothing today to hurt themselves in that pursuit.
2) There was some frustration from Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan
Nothing too bad, but you can see that a few things are bothering them. Cheney’s frustrations were relieved by a great pass that led to the U.S. goal, but her booking was senseless and – with another referee – could have been a sending off. Cheney is not really in her natural position, but has seemed to get better as the tournament progressed. She does need to stay in control, though, especially against a physical New Zealand team. As for Morgan, she probably feels like she should be scoring more goals, which is actually a good thing that she thinks two games without a goal is frustration-worthy. But, like Cheney, she needs to stay in control, not let referees’ calls get to her, just keep working and the goals will come. She hit the post once today, and the U.S. goal was classic Alex Morgan, a perfectly timed run off the ball and a brilliant pass to Abby Wambach. So things will be fine Alex and Lauren, don’t worry.
3) It’s a different team without Megan Rapinoe right now
Not a huge shock that Rapinoe went off at halftime (I advocated for some rest to be given in this one), but I was a bit surprised at how disjointed the U.S. attack got with her not on the field. Heather O’Reilly is going to give you what she’s given what seems like forever to the USWNT: a huge heart, unparalleled workrate, and an extra defender. But without Rapinoe’s service the U.S. attack dried up and Wambach and Morgan went hungry. It seems like the best route to break down a team like New Zealand in the quarterfinals who seems ready to sit back and counter is the Rapinoe to Wambach combo that you might have seen work a time or two in the last couple of years.
4) The defense looks pretty good
I have to say, any criticism of Rachel Buehler lately has to be either in the past (like last year’s World Cup) or in the future (a fear that form might return in a big spot in the knockout round). She’s been excellent, and Amy LePeilbet has been nearly flawless wherever she’s been deployed. Kelley O’Hara hasn’t been tested too much, but has been just fine, and the weakest link has been Christie Rampone, who had all kinds of trouble in that first half against France. But since then, she’s been fine, showing some fantastic distribution to go with her defending today. No one knows the future (not even you), but there’s little to complain about with the defense so far. Sorry, Hope, I’ll try next game.
5) Jenny Palmqvist is the world’s best women’s referee
Look, you’re never going to agree with every call an official makes, but not only does Palmqvist have the right disposition in the middle, she made the calls she had to make to control the game, including an early yellow card on North Korea for a bad tackle. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. She also didn’t go overboard on Lauren Cheney for her minor kick, giving her a yellow, which was fine. When there were a couple of pseudo simulations (more like embellishments), Palmqvist didn’t even acknowledge them. Granted, this wasn’t the toughest game in the world and she didn’t have too many tough calls, but I would think she’s a favorite to get the final if Sweden is not involved.
6) Goodbye, North Korea
I mentioned in the tournament preview that I’ll miss North Korea on the world stage because of their bizarreness and the fact that they do a remarkable job for the population of their country (25,000,000). If you take away the politics of the situation, of course. But when you win the U-20 World Cup in 2006, by a score of 5-0 no less, and then have only one player on your 2012 Olympic team from that squad, it’s hard to take you seriously. I know there are many cultural factors involved, but it’s time for someone else to get a turn in 2015. I’m looking at you, Vietnam. I’m not kidding, you watch.
7) New Zealand won’t roll over
I’ll have a preview up on Thursday and a review of New Zealand’s win over Cameroon tomorrow, but it’s a tricky matchup for the United States, someone one won’t be afraid of them and are used to sitting in and defending for long periods of time. Of course, just because you have heart and workrate doesn’t necessarily prepare you for ….
I still don’t think anyone is stopping Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan
Yes, Morgan was frustrated today (and a little against Colombia), but you watch a game – even a match like today where they struggled a bit – and they’re just dangerous almost every time the ball goes toward the box. Either Wambach flicks it to Morgan, or the ball is played into space and Morgan is galloping toward it with a scared defender trying to touch it out of bounds (and give the U.S. another corner kick that you have to defend). Then there is Rapinoe’s crosses, etc., and I don’t care how prepared New Zealand is, good luck keeping them off the board for 90 minutes.
9) Everybody’s played
Becky Sauerbrunn – who started the World Cup semifinal when Rachel Buehler was suspended after her red card against Brazil – was the last field player to get into a match. Obviously, we haven’t seen Nicole Barnhart in goal, but that’s understandable. The Sauerbrunn vs. Buehler debate is pointless because Pia has made her choice and you just don’t go changing center backs in the middle of a tournament unless something is really, really wrong, and it’s not here. I also think we’ve probably seen the last of Shannon Boxx at this tournament unless the U.S. has a lead and Pia feels the need to go back to the Lloyd-Boxx pairing to close up shop. But we shall see.
10) Last women standing
Pia Sundhage and Hope Powell (Great Britain) were the only two female coaches in the field of 12 for women’s soccer, take that for what you will. And their teams are the only two to be perfect in group play, meaning female coaches are 6-0-0 and male coaches are 9-15-6. Pretty random, but pretty interesting.
Hope Solo as a North Korean
I originally wanted to start this column with imagining what Hope Solo’s life would be like had she been born in North Korea, but that idea ran out of steam quickly. Kind of funny though, no? Short hair and all, most likely?
No one cares about Manchester United and Old Trafford
Full disclosure, I’m a Chelsea fan.
Possession was 63-37 in favor of the United States, which was about right, they had most of the ball. There were only 17 fouls total, which means it was much cleaner than the Colombia game, but you probably knew that already.
- Due to real life (it’s camp season, people), couldn’t get all the other recaps done, which is unfortunate, because the action in the other games was certainly more significant than what happened here. But you’ll get those tomorrow and hopefully the quarterfinal previews Thursday, so keep checking here on AWK.