Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Live from Edmonton -- Round of 16 -- USA v Colombia

Repeat after me, "A win is a win, no matter how ugly."

While true, it does not bode well moving forward. I (as well as most of the soccer critics in the world) remain deeply concerned about the USA's chances moving forward if they continue to play the way they've been playing.

On the positive side: the US played more posession-oriented ball and looked comfortable knocking the ball around the backfield. And what a backfield: the combination of Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg, and Solo has been nothing short of spectacular. Just rock solid defense. And Sauerbrunn's ability to slide tackle the ball away from an attacking player without commiting a foul is exceptional -- every game she's had at least one of those, and each time it is executed flawlessly -- thank goodness!

Rapinoe continued to be the offensive spark of the US side. Morgan and Wambach continue to look like they actually know each other on the field.

Now the negatives for which the US is being criticized: the midfield is totally ineffective. Holiday seemed to be a bit more involved than I've seen in past games, but her involvement, while important, is often defensive -- switching the side of the attack, interacting with the defenders, etc. I don't see her setting up forwards and being a playmaker. And once again, Carli Lloyd is largely absent. Yes, she stepped up to take a PK and put us up 2-0, but other than one nice shot on goal in the second half, I could have missed her presence on the field.

Well, that's all likely to change on Friday, since among other "interesting" things that happened during this game, both Holiday and Rapinoe earned yellow cards -- their second of the tournament, which means both will sit out the next match (against China). If every cloud has a silver lining, the silver lining is that the USA might be forced into a more dynamic, attacking midfield, and that would be wonderful.

So, let's see -- what actually happened? Well, the game started out well - the USA looked alive, stripped the ball away almost immediately and even got an early goal, called offsides against Wambach (didn't look it to me, but I will admit that I did not have the right angle on the play). But as it was in the opening few minutes, one might have thought that the US was back in form. But alas, it was not meant to be.

As I said earlier, the USA did retain possession - in the back third. But once again, they could not consistently break through the Colombian midfield. And some of the ball skills and fast break quick passes up the field by Colombia were breathtaking. In terms of, "wow" factor, that is, "Wow those women look great!" the Colombians had it and the US did not. Yes, the US had a bit more possession and yes they looked more threatening, but in terms of putting together strings of passes and moving the ball up and down the field, the Colombians had it and the US did not.

Now before going on too long about how awesome the Colombians were, it seemed that the excelled in one other less praise-worthy area -- they seemed to be diving ... a lot. There was some funny play they tried on their corners where one of their players would just dive into the ground -- literally. It wasn't even subtle. I suppose one could imagine she was removing herself from the play, but it looked more like she was trying to get a foul called in the box. But from our vantage point (which was actually quite good), it appeared that any time a US player touched a Colombian player, she was inclined to hit the ground and the ref was inclined to buy it and award the foul. Many of those were right outside the box, which was some cause for concern, but the two yellow cards to Rapinoe and Holiday are clearly the bigger concern. At the same time, it seemed that Colombia got a lot of free reign to push the Americans around. It was disheartening to watch.

Anyway, the teams left for half time at 0-0 - which felt like a defeat for the US and a pretty decent outcome for the Colombians. The crowd was actually quite well-balanced in terms of fan support, which was a welcome change after the lopsidedness of the Nigeria game.

The second half got off to a rather exciting start. Rapinoe set Alex Morgan loose on the left side for a 1v1 with the goalie (that would be the second string goalie, since the first string goalie was sitting this game out having gotten in card trouble). Alex had beaten the goalie, but the goalie tried to stop her, committing a foul, which is an automatic red card. The stadium went wild -- there was no question of what the call on the goalie had to be -- the rules are 100% clear on this -- a foul committed to stop a goal is an automatic red card. So, Colombia was about to lose their 2nd string goalie and play down a player the rest of the game. The only question was whether the foul happened inside or outside of the box. The ref called it inside the box!

Colombia subbed a field player for their third-string goalie, and Wambach stepped up to take the PK -- an assured goal, except ... she missed! This was so not what the USA fans (nor team) had in mind.

OK, even with a Wambach miss, you would think that with 10 players and a 3rd string goalie, the US might have enjoyed a bit of a goalfest. Well, that wasn't meant to be. Fortunately, just a few minutes later, Morgan did succeed in releasing a nice shot on goal that the goalie managed to deflect, but not enough to keep it out of the goal -- she got a light touch on it and redirected it upwards, but it hit the cross bar and fell into the goal. USA 1-0!

OK, now with a lead, that's when you expect the US to relax a little and start putting together some of that talent we keep talking about. Nope -- instead Colombia went on the attack -- and they looked good. But alas, the US back line shut them down ... repeatedly. The fouls started coming faster and more furiously -- on both sides, but usually called against the USA (sorry, that's what it looked like from the stands). But then, Rapinoe broke free and got tripped right in the box. Again, it was a call that left the ref little choice -- this time, Lloyd stepped up to take the kick and placed it perfectly. USA 2-0.

Shortly thereafter, coach Ellis clearly decided to start getting some experience with the lineup that was going to meet China on Friday. First, she pulled Wambach, pushed Holiday up top and placed Morgan Brian in the midfield. Next, Rapinoe came out, replaced by Christen Press. While I had not been impressed with either Press or Brian in the game against Sweden, both seemed to make an immediate and positive impact on the game. Brian is a nice ball handler, albeit somewhat predictable -- she receives the ball and spins. The spin is beautiful, but she needs to mix it up more. Press had some threatening moves and some beautiful sneaky passes to the front line, that would have been spectacular had there been a front line who understood what she was doing.

So that's how we ended the game -- 2-0 and a lot of work between now and Friday when I will complete my pentathalon of Women's World Cup soccer by blogging from Ottawa.

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