Monday, July 25, 2011

Just Because

Missing the World Cup? I am. Here's a little gratuitous Wambach arm porn, with the added bonus of two Ali Krieger cameos. Don't say I've never done anything for you, abby wambach girlfriend searchers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Edited to Add

Thoughts on the Cup will surely be bubbling up to the surface for the next week or so. Kudos to Christie Rampone and Amy LePeilbet. Despite Rampone's unfortunate shaky second or two yesterday, she is a complete fucking rock on the back line, Lyme disease and all. Scooting her over to the left center back position took some heat off LePeilbet and allowed LP to be mostly competent and occasionally nifty as an attacking outside back against both France and Japan. Kudos to Becky Sauerbrunn for stepping in against France and turning in a thoroughly professional job in a semifinal after seeing the field for exactly zero minutes in the previous tournament games. Oh, Ali Krieger. She had a rough game, hitting a couple of uncharacteristically bad passes that stood out mainly because they were so inconsistent with her otherwise completely solid and reliable play throughout the tournament. She also dropped her mark a few times, although nothing untoward came of it. I do not put the first Japan goal on her at all. The ball was blasted at her from six feet away, dead in front of the goal; it hit her foot at a poor position for a one-touch clearance, directly under her hip, and with an onrushing attacker she didn't have time to touch it to a better position to get a full-strength swing at it. Hard luck.

Kudos to Rapinoe, or, as one of my friends kept mangling it during the game, Ra-pony. She may have been slightly more effective in the later games as a supersub coming on with fresh legs to torment tired defenses than as a starter in the opening games, but yesterday she was a solid left midfielder, even if she may have run herself into the ground by the end. I wonder if occasionally switching sides with HAO would have confused the Japan defense a little, a la the switching in the France match, but the team's overall inability to finish probably makes it moot. Kudos to Cheney, playing 44 decent minutes on a torqued ankle. If she hadn't been hurt, maybe the outcome would have been different. Ah, soccer.

Not-kudos to announcers (both ESPN and Fox Soccer) who still don't seem to get that offside is judged on the position of the attacker's body parts with which it is legal to score. The graphic with the line drawn across the field at the defender's feet is a useful start, but if the attacker's head, chest, or ass is forward of the defender's head/chest/ass/knee/anything but the arm, the attacker is offside. And the high and slightly oblique camera shot used for those graphics cannot physically show the relative positions of anything but the feet. In other words, your feet might be even with the defender's, but if you're leaning forward with your upper body or or just your head even a little bit past the defender, you're off. So some of the "controversial" offside calls (Ohno yesterday, Schelin Saturday) may not have looked controversial at all, if the camera were at field level directly in line with the assistant referee. Also, it's "offside." Not "offsides." Kate and Julie, I'm looking at you.

Much more to come, I'm sure.

Oh Noes

As Carli Lloyd walked to the mark, following an exhausted Shannon Boxx's hospital-ball shot to the keeper's foot, I groaned and said she's gonna sky it over the bar. The ref blew the whistle, Lloyd sent the ball roughly two miles over the bar, and that was pretty much that. Tobin Heath's miss became just a footnote at that point.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the match was the Rashomon experience of hearing Ian Darke and Julie Foudy praise Boxx and Lloyd up and down while everyone in the room with me wondered aloud what game they were watching. Opinion is similarly divided on the Big Soccer boards, where half the commenters think the pair were an efficient engine that shut down the Japan attack and made the US attack go, and the other half saw them consistently lose the ball, make poor decisions, and waste possession after possession by sending shots into the cheap seats from 40 yards out. Would you care to guess which camp I'm in?

The only consolation I find--other than Japan playing a clean, crisp game dedicated to buoying the heart of their country, of course--is that the loss was a total team effort. The US failed to finish about a thousand good chances in front of the net, had an ineffective central midfield, and showed more than a few moments of ghastly defensive panic. The first Japsn goal came off a quick sequence of Rampone making a terrible decision on a pass, Buehler going to ground and sending a rocket directly across the goalmouth, which unfortunately went only two yards before slamming into Krieger, whose panicked clearance went directly to Miyama, who slammed the ball home, one, two, three. And on the coaching side of things, while the decision to start Cheney over Rodriguez was sound, the decision to bring on speedy and tricksy but undisciplined Heath at the end of a tight match that demanded possession and protection of a fragile one-goal lead was baffling and, ultimately, costly. Heath promptly turned the ball over by dribbling into three defenders, and shortly thereafter turned it over again, leading to the fatal Japan corner. Meanwhile, Lori Lindsey languished on the bench and Lloyd stayed in. Japan never quit, and they won, and the world rightly cheered for them.

Well, the other consolation is that the US barely squeaked into the tournament in the first place, and was never favored to win it once they were in, and somehow made it to the championship match anyway. They gave us the gift of the Brazil game, which will go down as one of the two finest team efforts in US history in any sport, right up there with the 1980 hockey team beating the Russians. And Abby Wambach and Hope Solo were perfect pictures of grace and sportsmanship in defeat. Wambach got a goal, Solo saved a penalty, the the team went down, and both said exactly the right things in the postgame interviews.

So close, so tantalizingly, agonizingly close.

The Olympics are coming. We have some work to do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Game. Day.

I went to bed early last night. Yes, to make today come faster. Just like a ten-year-old on Christmas Eve. And instead of carols in my head it's been that fucking glorious but maddening Megan Rapinoe song on a constant loop, there when I drifted off and oh yeah, riiiiight there when I woke up. Can't get it out.


You already have my starting lineup wish list, and much like the Christmas wish list that always includes a jetpack, I don't expect a 4-3-3 with no extra Lloyds to be waiting under the tree. Given the inviolable 4-3-Lloyd-2, I'm just hoping that the central midfield either has an uncharacteristically solid game against Japan's precision possession, or that Pia concedes and subs in the midfield we finished with against France, but before they get dissected too bad.

Things I did not expect:

1. Wambach's sudden resurgence. It couldn't have happened at a better time. But if the group game strategy of shooting from 30 yards out is simply going to morph back into vintage 2009 fling-it-up-and-hope-Abby-gets-it, that won't be so great. Be that as it may, the winning goal will come off her noggin. It just can't end any other way now.

2. A-Rod's disappearance. I thought last season's move away from Boston and DiCicco had finally unlocked her confidence and let her turn into the forward we thought she'd be. But this entire Cup has been spent running very fast and then losing the ball or winging it closer to the cheap seats than to the goal. Balls finally quit coming her way. When it's apparent that the team doesn't trust one of the two strike options with a pass, it's time to change.

3. Ali Krieger. Damn. Just damn. Krieger has been the most consistent and dependable person on the field for the entire tournament. Her decision to spend an entire season out of contract in order to work on her game and land a spot with the nats looks brilliant now, for her and for us.

4. The Wambach-Solo lovefest. If those two can roll around on the grass and then walk off with their arms around each other, it's way past time for everyone to stop talking about 2007. The photo of the two of them post-Brazil is the new Webster's picture accompanying the entry for Getting Over It.

5. ESPN. Fucking killer coverage, guys. This was not an afterthought grudgingly produced with interns and stashed away on Classic or U. Flagship channels, actual analysis, and a blessed bare minimum of human interest stories--and even those have a soccer angle first rather than treacle. It's all about the football.

6. Germany. Before the Cup started, I had read that nobody really cared about it there, at least not to anything remotely approaching the extent of the passion surrounding the men's Cup they hosted. But the stadiums have been pleasantly full, TV ratings are sky-high (even after Germany was eliminated), and everything I have read since reports outstanding enthusiasm across the country. A lot of people watching for the first time are impressed by the level of play. Shit, I'm blown away by the overall quality and I'm one of the die-hards.

My prediction for today? US 3-1.

Addendum: Glad Sweden took third. I liked watching both teams play, but Bompy's crap move to provoke Oqvist into a red card tipped it for me.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Turn and Burn the Defender and Hit a Solid Cross Out to the Far Stick

Science is melting my brain this afternoon, as it often does when I'm on the cusp of finally figuring out a long-term problem. So yay for that, but a body needs occasional breaks to churn out words that are not related to the adoption of projectile point design canons over large geographic spaces 2500 years ago.

My favorite uncle has gone on some super-cleansy diet ordered by his endocrinologist, or something, and for four more weeks must eschew caffeine, alcohol, pork (a Muslin endocrinologist? I do not know), grains,
salt, black pepper (whuh??), sugar, nuts, and anything refined or otherwise flavorful. I would have to be thisclose to death for that to sound like a good option. What's that you say? I need to eat unseasoned steamed kale and chicken for the next month? And drink herbal tea? Do you have any unprocessed, gluten-free bullets I might be able to eat? Because that sounds seriously fucking intolerable. He's lost 16 pounds in two weeks, which wouldn't hurt me one bit, except that the daily rage index would probably push my blood pressure into such dangerously high elevations as to outweigh the health benefits of swearing off chocolate chips, coffee, and hoppy hoppy IPAs.

Here's something happier than that:

And with the Megan Rapinoe Song playing in my head nonstop, it's back to the science.

Current Events

In ths final run-up to the World Cup championship match on Sunday, one more thing that I've been thinking to myself since this whole thing started.

We need to collectively forget about 1999. The best thing that can happen for the WNT is for everyone to stop talking about 1999, stop flashing back to 1999, stop introducing Brandi Chastain as the winning goal-scorer and bra-flasher, stop replaying The Kick, stop wistfully saying you miss Mia, stop comparing the two teams, all of it. That team did great things, and no one who watched that match will ever forget it. Okay, done. This is 2011, and it's a completely different world in women's soccer now.

Go out and win in 2011. The end.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A couple of things heading into the semifinal tomorrow.

1. Ian Darke tweeted yesterday that the US team is still on cloud nine, but needs to come down now and focus. Come to think of it, I probably need to come down and focus. The game is already the stuff of legends--the US Soccer online store put all their replica jerseys on sale yesterday for 122 minutes--and was so emotionally wringing and cathartic and totally fucking triumphant that it felt like the championship. The team are the darlings of the US again and a large portion of Germany, but there is still a game left to play, and hopefully one more after that. When the semifinal feels like the denouement instead of the penultimate chapter, well, that could be a harder hurdle than Marta to overcome.

2. Speaking of the Twitter, or, as my fellow Wonketteers are wont to call it, the Twatter, it's an indispensable tool for following the Cup. Subtle nuances, blaring in your face statements, fun tidbits and photos you won't get from the official coverage, all in 140 characters. It's where I first heard about Hope Powell losing the plot, as they say, along with the astonished and indignant reactions from players around the world.

3. Speaking of Hope Powell, O_o. Granted, I have never played or coached at any level remotely approaching international soccer, but I have played for most of my life (including college and high-level club) and done a fair amount of coaching, and there's no way you go into the World Cup knockout round with a KFTM plan that involves asking for volunteers 60 seconds before the kicks start. And then, when you end up losing, you don't turn away from players who finished the match on one good leg and the fumes of poor substitution decisions and call them cowards. You just don't.
And she wants to be technical director for the entire FA? Yowza.

4. I hear Sauerbrunn will be starting for Buehler. I've always liked her, but worry about the zero minutes she's logged so far in the finals. Maybe sliding LePeilbet over to her natural center back position and starting Cox on the left wing would be better? Or Boxx at center back, with Lindsey in the middle? Whatever, they're gonna need some wheels to deal with Thiney and Thomis.

5. World Cup breakfast again tomorrow. Please please please soccer gods, let there be one more this weekend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

No Words

I am on my back, on the living room floor, pounding the hardwood with my fists, tears running down my face, and I am laughing. The US has just beaten Brazil in the most wrenching, draining, tornado-in-the heart rollercoaster wreck with bombs thrown in soccer match you will ever see.

The web is full of recaps, so I won't reinvent the wheel here. Jesus Christ. I was completely with Sundhage and Wambach at the end there. There truly were no words. Just laughing and howling and being drenched with tears and sweat and disbelief and joy, the outcome still so improbable and tenuous even after the fact that I was afraid to watch the replays for fear that somehow it might turn out differently the second or third time through. There were no words.

But I do have three words now, plus a followup. The three words are: thank you, Erika.

Thank you for your ever-so-artful dive, with an added technical merit score given for walking away from play and furtively checking over your shoulder to make sure the ball was safely out of bounds before crumpling to the ground like you'd been hit with an elephant dart. Thank you for rolling around and twitching for a full two and half minutes before being stretchered off, because that was conveniently ten full seconds more than the US needed to score the tying goal. And thank you for definitively proving that such odious cheating theatrics not only lose you the respect of your opponents and every person watching from the stands, but also lose you the match as well.

Fuck off, Brazil. You have the most technically and physically gifted player on the planet and a supporting cast that can dribble circles around most of the US defense, but instead of beating us with your superior skills and instincts, you chose to bring the most repellant aspect of the men's game into your own and tried to cheat your way to a victory. That is not "gamesmanship." It is cowardice. The only person among the 26,000 in attendance who fell for your bullshit diving and screaming was the referee, so it almost worked. But in the end it didn't matter. You lost. Try playing straight-up football next time, because you're actually quite good at that.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Heavens to Betsy

What a fuck of a match. The solution is simple, of course, because I'm not the actual US manager. Play a 4-3-3 with Cox starting at left back, a midfield of Rapinoe-Cheney-O'Reilly (or Cheney-Lindsey-Rapinoe if HAO's still injured), and a front line of Rodriguez-Wambach-Morgan. Done and done. As opposed to one and done, which the US will be against Brazil if Pia insists on sticking with the tried-and-true 4-4-2 built around a dual smart but aging/young but stupid central midfield.


This is shaping up to be the torch-passing World Cup. Germany, England, and the US have watched, distressed, as their long-term marquee stars have shown their age and faded back into the woodwork. Birgit Prinz, Germany's all-time goals leader, now moving slowly and then being unceremoniously benched in the 54th two games ago and left there for the last one. Kelly Smith, England's best player ever, exhibiting a downward effectiveness curve culminating in being pulled in the 63rd in England's last squeaker. Abby Wambach, top scorer by a mile among currently active US players, nagged by a bad Achilles and failing to finish in just about every way imaginable short of a sniper atop the stands picking off the ball on its way to goal (finally managing to be in the right spot for the ball to carom off a defender's head onto Wombat's shoulder and thence into the goal, allowing the US to lose by only one instead of two). Time is relentless and cruel.

Meanwhile, Ali Krieger is my MVP for being far and away the most consistent player on the field for the US. Player most likely to crawl into a hole and never come out? At this point, Kelly O'Hara, poor child. God, what a debut. Fun to watch? Anonma from Equatorial Guinea for flash, Lisa De Vanna for incredible bursts of speed and the delicious suspense of wondering when she's going to finally punch somebody. Easy on the eyes? Krieger wins that all day long.

Two days off for recovery now. Bring on current events, I suppose.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Can the US Play With Two Keepers Now?

Two things. First, kudos to Equatorial Guinea for that revolutionary two-keeper alignment. And here we all wondered why the actual keeper came out in a kit that was only one hue removed from the field players. Were I Hungarian referee Gyonegyi Gaal, I would have dispensed with the curt "sorry, y'all" apology and simply walked off the pitch at halftime, leaving my reffy clothes in a sad pile on the touchline, never to call a game and quite possibly never to watch a game again. It was just that bad.

Tomorrow is a rest day, which unfortunately coincides with the one day I could actually sit at home and watch four matches. But no. That happens on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I get to write archaeology stuff at the same time now.

Second, squeeeeeeeee.

Nespresso Pixie. Dear god, I did not need this, but now that I have it, I cannot live without it.

In other news, it was 118 in Phoenix yesterday, so Sheriff Joe grudgingly allowed the tent city inmates to have ice bags to sit on and possibly bury themselves under so that five-to-ten for marijuana possession doesn't become a capital crime.

It's fucking hot here.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Sorry, Peeps. It's World Cup for the Next Two Weeks

Did you watch the mugging yesterday in Frankfurt? The referee unfortunately lost control of the Germany-Nigeria match roughly ten minutes in, and it was downhill from there. Germany were lucky to escape with a one-goal win and no serious injuries. Nigeria were lucky to escape with only one yellow and not the several yellows and straight red that were warranted. Birgit Prinz had no fun at all in her hometown stadium and finally found the bench after an hour of having the holy hell beaten out of her. Does Lira Bajramaj possibly start in her place against France?

Christine Sinclair must really be looking forward to Canada's date with the hackiest straight girls on the planet. Speaking of Sinclair, well, holy shit, Sinclair. Canada never found their rhythm against France and the ball eventually and inevitably found Sinclair's already broken face, a blast from two yards away sending her to the ground with a bloodied forehead. She managed some lovely combination play very late in the match, but Canada never threatened. On the Bleu side of the ball, Sex Machine Abily shook off the opening-match blahs and showed her usual fine form. France overall played a lovely technical game and earned the big goal differential reward. Germany's back line may have trouble contending with France's speed, particularly if supersub Elodie Thomis sees significant minutes, and the Deutsche midfield needs to find somebody who can connect on passes into the attacking third reliably. Damn Barbie was just off against Nigeria, leaving Germany without much of a threat from the wing, and Garefrekes was almost as invisible. Somewhere in a German hotel room, Sonia Bompastor is licking her chops. Allez Bompy!

In US news, the grand Boxx experience may be mercifully drawing to a close. I love Boxx, I love Notre Dame women. But at 33, she doesn't have the wheels or gas tank to be a World Cup holding midfielder any more, and was a liability on the field rather than an asset. Bring on Lori Lindsay and hope she rekindles some of the old magic with Wambach. Also, NEEDS MOAR ALEX MORGAN.

In real US news, fucking hell. Abortion is history in Kansas, Ohio's going nuts, and the DSK maid is being run through the grinder. I am going back to soccer.