Monday, August 25, 2008

USA Women Win Back The Gold, And An Olympic Wrap Up

The Final and a tournament wrap up by du Nord's Women's Soccer Major Tournament Correspondent Adam.

In a fairytale ending to their Olympic tournament, the underdog US team saved its gutsiest performance for last, beating Brazil 1-0 to win its second straight gold medal.

Here are some final thoughts about the tournament.

1. US Can Score without Abby

When Abby Wambach hit the ground with a broken leg in the last warm-up game prior to the Olympics, it seemed the USA’s chances at gold crashed too. Without Wambach, who would score the team’s goals? In the end, seven different players stepped up and led the US team to a tournament leading 12 goals. Angela Hucles, who played in every game but would have seen markedly less time had Wambach been healthy, led the team with 4 goals. Midfielders Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly each had two goals, while Lindsay Tarpley, Amy Rodriguez, Lori Chalupny, and Natasha Kai each had a goal apiece. Will Abby recognize the team when she returns?

2. Defensive Improvements

After its shaky start against Norway, the US defense redeemed itself with a stellar shut-out against Brazil in the final. Hope Solo made several key saves to keep Brazil off the scoreboard; perhaps the most notable came in the 72nd minute when Marta slipped past two US defenders and hit a point blank shot on goal. Solo, already diving to the far post, reached her arm back toward the near post to deny Brazil’s star player.

The US backline also played well in the final. Kate Markgraf, Christie Rampone, Heather Mitts, and Lori Chalupny constantly aided one another in doubling and tackling the Brazilians. When Marta or Cristiane got past one defender, there was always another US player ready to knock the ball away or block a shot. For all of Brazil’s offensive flair, the US defense effectively shut them down.

While the Brazilians enjoyed most of the possession, the US backline tried admirably to keep the ball on the ground and pass through the midfield better than it had throughout the entire tournament. The final saw two different game plans at work: Brazil stressed offensive aggression, while the US worked on solid, compact team defense. In the end, the US strategy was successful.

3. USA Building for Future

Before the Olympics, US coach Pia Sundhage’s position wasn’t guaranteed. If the team failed to medal, many people thought US Soccer would fire the former Swedish international player. Now that Pia led the team to a gold medal—through all the adversity of last summer’s World Cup disappointment, losing three players to injury, and losing the first game of the Olympics to Norway—she has been offered an extension on her contract. And that couldn’t be better news for US women’s soccer.

Leading up to the Olympics, Pia only had 8 months to begin to introduce a new possession/passing style to a US team that relied heavily on long ball soccer. The team certainly didn’t embrace Pia’s style completely, but the improvements over last year’s World Cup performance were obvious. It’ll be exciting to see what Pia can do now in the three years before the next major women’s tournament, the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

It was also exciting to see the young players on the roster step up for the USA. Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Cheney, two young strikers still playing in college, gained valuable experience at the Olympics. Rodriguez had countless opportunities to score, including one at the end of regulation in the final against Brazil. She lacks composure in front of goal, but that’s certainly something she can fix. Originally an alternate, Lauren Cheney took the injured Wambach’s place on the roster and played well each time she stepped on the field. Her ability to possess the ball led to Lloyd’s game-winning goal against Brazil.

With this gold medal victory, the US team might have finally ended the countless comparisons it receives to the Mia Hamm generation. Hopefully the newer players will have a chance to leave their own mark on the game. And, with a new league scheduled to start in the US in 2009, the US should have a wider pool of players to choose from in order to continue to be one of the best teams in women’s international soccer.

4. The Rest of the World

Germany, the reigning world champions, looked tired and uninspired throughout the tournament. They didn’t exactly play poorly (they still won bronze), but they lacked their usual precision in front of goal. And, as the core of the team ages, it will be interesting to see if players hanging on for one last hoorah will be detrimental to the team’s chance of winning at home in the 2011 World Cup.

Brazil showed it is still the team to beat. Marta, Cristiane, Daniela, Formiga, and the rest of the Brazilian squad showcased their lauded flair and creativity. Cristiane led the tournament with 5 goals and scored arguably the best goal of the tournament on a bicycle kick against Nigeria.

Japan surprised many people by making it to the final four. Their quick, precise passing game was fun to watch and, when they were successful at finding the back of the net, deadly. The team’s 5-1 demolition of Norway was a sign that if the Japanese figure out how to become more ruthless in front of goal, they’ll be a strong contender in the future.

Overall, this was one of the most exciting competitions in women’s international soccer. Consider that in last year’s World Cup, Germany blew out Argentina 11-0 in the tournament’s first game. A year later, Argentina never lost by more than two goals. It’s clear that women’s soccer all over the world is continuing to improve. It’s a shame that the next major tournament isn’t until 2011.


Anonymous joe said...

I think I enjoy watching the women almost more than the men. The talent is fine, and the game is not as dirty. The US did play great defense in that gold medal match... something teams like the Galaxy and even USMNT seem to have issues with.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Neal said...

spot on joe, women play futbol fantastico

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Neal said...

Adam, thanks for your commentary on the womens games and competitions both the World Cup, and Olympics. You really add something positive to du Nord.

9:57 PM  

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