One of the problems we find with young players in this country is that they just don’t see enough soccer. Therefore, not only do they not fall in love with the game the way I (and I’m assuming you) did, but they miss out on nuances that can sometimes be the difference between a good player and a great one. Little head fake there to let the ball run across your body here, movement off the ball creating space for others there.
So, a fellow coach had a great idea for his 11-year old girls. Give them a “homework” packet that they can complete by watching the Olympic soccer tournament. Not too hard, just enough to watch a few minutes at a time, and with a whole channel devoted to Olympic soccer for two weeks, how hard could that be?
One of the parents arranged for the girls to get together for the only group game that made sense (i.e. a weekend): against Colombia at noon. The other coach couldn’t go so I did today, which led to a site you hope you see more often, a bunch of girls together watching and cheering their heroes on the screen.
An area of the “homework” was entitled “Physical Play”, with the idea being that the game at higher levels is much more physical than young players (and their parents) often imagine, how often body position and using your body helps both attacking and defending.
And as the two girls in front of me had the little booklet out to the “Physical Play”, it happened. Abby Wambach was laying on the ground, after play was stopped, the camera focused in on her with a shiner on her eye already, and Abby telling the Greek ref, “Do you see my eye?”
Many times during games the girls heat me say, “That’s not a foul” when two players come together, an answer that is twofold: most times it isn’t a foul, but even if it is, you want them to respect the referee’s calls.
In this case, though, it was a pretty easy answer: “Coach Ray, wasn’t that a foul?”
“Yup. That’s definitely a foul.”
Here’s what we learned from the U.S. and Colombia on Matchday 2:
1) Abby Wambach can take a punch
We kind of already knew that, didn’t we? Although Wambach’s injury was very real, as was the punch, I’m going to go ahead and say I think it was blown out of proportion. Slightly. I tried to watch the play about a dozen times, and if you slow it down, Wambach sees Lady Andrade coming and tries to initiate contact, presumably to try to pick her off so the U.S. attack – a bright one – will have a little less resistance going forward. For whatever reason, Andrade seems stunned by this and after the original contact, her arm flies through the air and her right hand connects with Wambach’s face.
Evidence working against Andrade here is that an open hand probably wouldn’t have caused the damage her fist did. And I saw no contrition afterward to indicate that it was an accident. Heck, Colombia didn’t even kick the ball out of bounds to stop play.
So I have no doubt that had it been seen, it should have been a red card. But to rank as one of all-time “cheapshots” is a little harsh.
2) You can’t have a double standard when it comes to physical play
Wambach will go down as one of the best players of all-time (she hit 140 international goals today), and a lot of that has come from a physical, brutal style that defenders just can’t deal with. There’s nothing wrong with that, I would say the same about Didier Drogba, one of my favorite players of all time. But just as Drogba was always on the ground or trying to gain an edge by throwing his body in the way, Wambach is constantly using her arms and body to get position and then make the opponent pay, as she did today on the second U.S. goal.
How do you stop her? Well, Kate Markgraf and Brandi Chastain on separate broadcasts today (I wonder when Chastain signed up to broadcast games this summer, she knew how much she would be in the spotlight) talked about stopping key players and they both mentioned “being physical”, Markgraf adding that if you have to kick her (she was talking about Alex Morgan) a couple of times early to get her attention, that was alright.
Now Markgraf was not talking about hurting anyone, and by “kicking”, she just meant getting a foot in to let a talented forward know you’re there. If you’ve played, you know it’s done everywhere, especially – as Colombia was – when you’re in a situation where you’re outmatched talent-wise and need to not allow time on the ball to a team with more skill than you have.
Again, Andrade’s “punch” was outside of this stuff, and she deserved to be ejected. However, the physical nature that Colombia came out playing should not have been a surprise.
It was actually the Americans who were much more aggressive in the first 20-25 minutes of the game, and therefore ended up with more fouls in the match (see below).
3) The Americans might be better off turning it into a “physical” battle
It wouldn’t make Barcelona or Spain happy, but it would appear (for reasons I’ve written about ), that the Americans’ best road to another gold medal is a direct one. Wambach is just about unstoppable in the air, and Alex Morgan looks like her perfect complement in this regard, as she can run around and pick up second and flicked on balls to cause immediate danger. You watched the way Japan was able to knock the ball around today, and the United States just can’t do that as they’re currently constituted. And that’s OK. There’s enough shaky defending and goalkeeping out there in this tournament to make it work.
4) It wasn’t a great performance overall from the U.S.
I saw some reports of a “comprehensive” victory, and after they broke the Colombians’ resistance and took advantage of their poor physical fitness (talked about after their first game), but for a long time, the Americans had trouble breaking down one of the poorest teams in the tournament. In fact, Megan Rapinoe’s goal came off a turnover and really should have been saved by Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda (it went right over her hands). After that, the U.S. did play well in the rest of the first half, but for a while, Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney were on top of each other, Heather Mitts looked tentative, and we didn’t see nearly enough of Alex Morgan.
Really, that’s OK, you wouldn’t expect the U.S. to come out of the gate flying after the big win over France, and new players are going to take some time to get adjusted. But let’s not call it an awesome performance. They did the job they had to do, but that kind of effort may not get it done in the semifinals or gold medal match.
5) That said, Colombia had a good gameplan
Ricardo Rozo was going to do everything in his power to make things difficult for the U.S., including the physical play, but they were also a lot more organized than they were against North Korea, and had Wambach blanketed every time there was a set piece or a chance to cross the ball. The physical play really seemed to bother Morgan more than Wambach, who thrives on that sort of thing (apart from everything else, Wambach was very good today, even with the attention being paid to her). Colombia even her a few chances, one that came very close to breaking through just before the U.S. scored. We saw the individual skill that Colombia possesses, if they can ever harness it into good team play.
6) Pia has some tough decisions with the lineup
Lloyd was not as good in a holding midfield role in this game, although the U.S. wasn’t under too much pressure. Cheney played better in the second half. There is a lot of Heather O’Reilly support among the fans, but I’m not sure she earned a spot today with her performance. Obviously, Megan Rapinoe isn’t going anywhere at this point, so we’ll see. The other difficult part is whether to rest people against North Korea. They could win the group with a loss, but if France puts a big number on Colombia, who knows? I expect we’ll see a lot of changes Tuesday.
7) The world needs more Megan Rapinoes
When she scored, everyone that knows the U.S. was waiting to see what she would do. Some expected something ostentatious, but – like everything else she seems to have done recently – it was perfect. Happy Birthday, Ali, and we miss you. It was interesting to see Rapinoe get involved in the shenanigans physically in the second half with a couple of needless fouls just to make a point. But the point was made.
8) Don’t anger the U.S.
Kind of led into this with the last statement about Rapinoe. As I said, Colombia was doing very well up until about the point where Wambach went down, and then the Americans kicked it into another gear and the rest is history. The French scored two goals, and we know what happened to them. Maybe that’s why the U.S. has so much trouble with Japan recently, are they just too nice? Someone dig up some dirt before the final.
9) Lady Andrade actually was a very good player today
She was Colombia’s best and showed skills that we didn’t even see from the Americans (that impressed the young girls as well). Unfortunately, she’ll be remembered for the incident with Wambach. She did give an excuse after the game, for what it’s worth.
10) Goalkeeping again
Again, not trying to be mean, but if some of these teams had decent goalkeeping, it might make it easier for them to defend. It’s not just Colombia, it’s 75 percent of the teams in the tournament (and in the World Cup). It will be a factor at some point in the knockout rounds, trust me.
The Hope Solo situation
I don’t want to go too nuts on this (although I reserve the right to address it more later if the situation warrants), it is a lot of the same stuff I talked about last year in the Eni Aluko-Kate Markgraf Twitter blow-up at the World Cup. I sat here for a while trying to figure out what the motivations were for Hope Solo to go on Twitter and address something that very few people seem to know, except a possible old school-new school USWNT spat, which seems as silly as it sounds. I’m all for free speech and I’m all for trying to find ways to motivate yourself and your team when it might be tough to do so (like in the next two games, for instance).
I’m certainly not ready to go all Jason Whitlock on you, but the level to which Hope Solo – as one of the most prominent female athletes in the country – can’t accept criticism, is silly. And she always seems to bring others into the controversy with her, whether it’s opposing fans, opposing teams, or in this case broadcasters. But sometimes you just have to take the high road. At least once. Just try it, Hope. Because now, instead of hearing about Megan Rapinoe or Carli Lloyd or how great and classy the U.S. women’s soccer team is, we get to hear – once again – about Hope Solo. It gets really tired really fast, no matter how great a goalkeeper she is.
I guess these are the comments about Rachel Buehler to which Solo is referring. Quite frankly, I think she’s spot on about Buehler. I also hope Buehler leads the U.S. to a gold medal. That’s hard for some people (athletes) to get a grip on, I know, and I’ll leave it at that for now.
The foul count in today’s game was U.S. 18, Colombia 11 for the record. And, miraculously, not a single yellow card was shown.
Grant Wahl reported that Yoreli Rincon’s father claimed she was being benched because she played in Brazil this season, apparently against the national team’s wishes. But, although I’m sure she has a bright future, she only started one game at the World Cup last year, so maybe Rozo just doesn’t think she’s good enough to help Colombia right now. Slightly strange to see her not appear at all in the first two games, though.
* Due to the length of this post, we’re going to save the other five games for tomorrow. Check in sometime tomorrow evening, there was some interesting stuff elsewhere, too.