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!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Long Kiss Goodbye

It was the beginning of the end -- my daughter's high school graduation, my last Harvard commencement as a faculty member, and it was my 35th reunion. Unsurprisingly, it was a jumble of emotion.

I was repeatedly asked "how it felt" to march in my last commencement ... but wait -- I get to come back for reunions and march as an alum, so perhaps not my last, but yeah, it was a special one. I was struck by two things in particular: the 25th reunion class were my students!? How could that possibly be? I found it significantly more shocking that I had 25th reunion students than that I was celebrating my 35th reunion. And then there was the national anthem. As I stood listening, I realized that quite possibly, the next national anthem I hear at a Commencement will be O Canada. Sobering. (I spent the afternoon learning the words, in English; the French words will come later.) [My daughter's high school graduation preceded Harvard's and I don't think they played the national anthem, anyway.]

A jumble.

The Harvard Crimson and I have not always been BFFs, but of late, we've had a good relationship. Last year, the commencement issue included a profile of my colleague, former Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis. It seemed fitting -- Harry is the heart and soul of computer science at Harvard; he was the Dean of the College; of course they would do a profile piece about him after he'd announced his upcoming retirement (they also did a wonderful piece about him and his wife, Marlyn McGrath Lewis, this year). But it came as a bit of a shock when managing editor, Hannah Natanson, asked if they could do a profile of me for the Commencement issue. I'm sure there is no bias when I say it's the best thing that I've seen the Crimson do. I had a blast working with the reporters, who managed to unearth an impressive array of characters from my past (not all of whom appeared in the final copy, but to whom I am still extraordinarily grateful). I was happy to see that my habit of speaking up was spun in a positive light and that it was referenced by most who wrote; it is, perhaps, the most important thing I've done at Harvard. But most of all,  I am deeply humbled by the piece they produced and the kind words that my friends and colleagues offered. (And while I normally hate watching and listening to myself in video, the video piece, which I missed the first several times, was lovely.)

A jumble.

Our memorial service -- 8:30 AM on Friday morning. We all showed up. In a class of roughly 1600, we've lost 57 classmates. Some were my friends: bandie Larry Millet, fellow Computer Scientists David Brownell, my twin (we share a birthday) and inspirational mathematician, Matthew Bovell. But unsurprisingly, my thoughts turned to Alex, and I found myself silenced and in tears during the final verse of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Alex should have been graduating. I heard from both his parents in the days leading up to graduation. My heart continues to break for them every time I think of him.

We lost another member of the class of 2018, Luke Tang, during the fall of 2015. While I did not know Luke, I remember that a group of his friends were taking CS61 from me that semester. I still remember where they used to sit in the room and how I wanted to, somehow, be able to ease their pain in the days and weeks after we lost Luke. Until I started writing this blog, I didn't realize the light that came out of this darkness. I've not yet seen the documentary, but I want to. And I want to know why every faculty member hasn't seen this; why it's not discussed; why we continue to keep these stories in the dark.

A jumble.

The SEAS Commencement Reception -- a chance to meet the families of some of my wonderful students. Lots of proud families and many wonderful pictures with my students, my colleagues, their families.

Reunion receptions. Classmates I haven't seen since Freshman year; classmates I've never met; classmates I see regularly. It's all a blur.

A commencement address to the students completing their Master's degrees in Information Technology fields. At the encouragement of the students in my online business analytics program (HBAP) with HBS, I talk about courage, perseverance, and gender equality. I later give that talk to the HBAP cohort at their immersion.

Reunion panels and talks -- the raw, honesty brings us together in a way that four years at Harvard never did. It took thirty-five years of life to create class cohesion so palpable that nearly all of us used the same words afterwards to describe what an amazing reunion it had been.

A jumble.

Then commencement and reunion are over, and it's officially summer.  Israel, Michael Rabin. Weekly lunches with my group. Birthday cakes. Many, many coffee, breakfast, and lunch dates with friends and colleagues. The Harvard club of Rochester, an awkward coming home of sorts, but a fabulous group of people. Marlyn and Harry, the two who have been with me since before I was admitted to  Harvard and until now, celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Teagan takes me to see Dirty Dancing. Soccer. A going away party with the chucks. DE Shaw Research; MongoDB World. More lunches with my students. More soccer. Usenix annual tech. DC. DARPA deliverables. Late nights and long weekends leading up to DARPA deliverables. More lunches with students. The Eagles. An outing to Kimball Farms with the Oracle crew. Dinners with friends. Soccer. USWNT in Hartford. The quintessential NYC experience: waiting in line for six hours in a torrential downpour for Hamilton tickets; success! ISAT in Wood's Hole. My students begin departing -- to home, to Africa, to NYC. Students slowly return to campus. My last week; Teagan's first. Heat. Humidity. More heat. Boxes. Drinks with colleagues. More boxes. Pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Pictures from a life time ago.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Live from Lyon: USA v Netherlands

In a bit of a departure from prior entries, allow me to indulge a bit in trying to explain my fascination with the Women's World Cup. Alternately, you can think of this post as, "What the Women's World Cup Means to Me."

I grew up in a pretty anti-sports household. In my family, education was what mattered. Entertainment could be found in board or card games; ironically, even reading for pleasure wasn't particularly emphasized. My brothers, or at least one of them, wrestled. One played pool. I bowled (that would be 10-pin, thank you very much). Title IX was a law by the time I was 11, but it wasn't a reality. I swam competitively for a bit in middle school, but if truth be told, my most athletic pursuit was, I kid you not, cheerleading!

As you might imagine, spectator sports were also not a big thing. As a typical horse-crazed girl I did watch the triple crown every year, read every black stallion book on the planet multiple times, and sometimes fantasized about being a jockey, but um, well, they were all male.

Fast forward to my young professional life. In 1985, two years out of college and working for a tech company (Stratus), a bunch of twenty-somethings started playing pickup soccer at work. I joined for the social aspect, but something about the game and the skill of some of the other women on the field attracted me, so in the fall of 1985 I went looking for a women's soccer team, and I was lucky enough to find the Charles River Women's soccer club, now known as, "The Chucks."

I was never great at soccer, but I loved it. I loved being part of a team, watching how coordinated play could turn individuals into a functioning unit. Three years later, when I moved to Berkeley for grad school, I set out to find a team and ultimately started the Berkeley Bruisers with Nancy Geimer (who I met at tryouts for another team in the area). I could write at great length about the Bruisers, but suffice it to say that while one of a tiny number of women in graduate school, the Bruisers gave me a group of diverse, talented, and athletic female friends and two non-computer science male friends -- coaches Jim and Andy!

Fast forward to 1999. The Women's World Cup is in the US! (Who even knew there was such a thing as a women's world cup???) I bought tickets for the games in Foxboro. To this day, I still remember the wave of emotion that swept over me as the US women took the field. I got it. These were people like me doing something I loved. And they did it at a level I'd never seen before. Suddenly, I understood spectator sports in a way I never had.

I watched the 1999 final from the comfort of my living room with my 18 month-old beer-swigging son, who dubbed the sport "mommy ball." He'd been coming to games from the time he was four months old (there being little soccer in New England between December and April). For a good year or two afterward, the only television my son watched was the 1999 world cup final and then, because my husband couldn't bear one more viewing, VHS tapes from the '91, '95, and '99 world cups. By the time he was five, my son knew every goal ever scored by the US in a world cup. And I had fallen for Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett (who I had actually seen play as a student at Berkeley), Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain (who, BTW, sat in the row in front of me on my flight from Lyon to Munich).

WUSA happened, and I have to confess, I kind of missed it. I was a mom with two small kids and a desperately-seeking-tenure professor. In 2003, when the women's world cup returned to the US, due to the SARS outbreak in China, I decided that I was going to see the final in person. By sheer dumb luck (and a wonderful travel agent), my son and I ended up in the hotel where the German, Swedish, and Canadian teams were staying. It was the weekend of a lifetime. We hung out in the lobby with players, got autographs, cheered on both Germany and Sweden before and after their matches, and came home with Silke Rottenberg's Goalie Gloves.

When WUSA folded, I felt that I had failed. If I, a soccer playing, 99er-loving fan, hadn't been attending games, is it no wonder the league didn't make it? (I will lay some of the blame on WUSA marketing as well.) So, when the WPS was created, I become a devoted fan -- I had season tickets to the Boston Breakers every year. I actively bid for Project Pink team jerseys, and I started traveling to see the USWNT.

I took both kids to the 2004 farewell match for Mia, Joy, and Brandi. I went to Cincinnati on crutches to see Kristine Lilly's last international goal. And thanks to the encouragement of former Chucks' goalie, Becks Ruck, I started attending the Women's World Cup.

2007 Game in Hartford
In 2011, my son, Becks, and I did the first round USA games, training around Germany, hanging out at the traveling ESPN. And we got to chat with Abby Wambach.

2011 Women's World Cup: Dresden

In 2012, I had the incredible honor to be on a panel with Kristine Lilly. 

In 2013, I wrote a tribute to the USWNT.

In 2015, I did the entire Women's World Cup in Canada: more games than I can remember, but all catalogued here.

And, as you know, if you've read this far, I just finished my 2019 French Odyssey. This one turned out to be about so much more than soccer -- it was about gender equality, inclusion, equal pay, and so much more. When is the last time that A) the chant from the crowd at a final sporting event was, "Equal Pay." and B) the leaders of the organization sponsoring the event were uniformly and unanimously boo'd? (And as you know, my feelings about the FIFA museum were pretty negative.) Megan Rapinoe is the new face of women's soccer, equality, gay rights, inclusion, you name it!

If you have not read any of the news coming out of the tournament -- your assigned reading is just three articles -- any three from any of a gazillion reputable news sources. Just search for "USWNT wins World Cup." Each one brings something different, but the message is consistent and unmistakable -- this wasn't just about winning a soccer tournament, this was about changing the world.

And without further ado, the final: USA vs the Netherlands

Although relative newcomers to the Women's World Cup (this was only their second appearance), the Netherlands are the reigning European champs and the USA are the reigning world champions -- sounds like a great match. Our seats in the very uppermost row, smack center behind the Dutch goal in the first half, provided a surprisingly good view of the field.

The US began its game as it has this entire tournament -- putting pressure on the opponent's defense -- zippy runs up the right side by Megan Rapinoe; dazzling footwork by Rose Lavalle; crosses from Tobin Heath. However, the Dutch were able to do what no other team had done this tournament: hold the US scoreless - for 15 minutes; 30 minutes; the whole first half; sixty minutes! It was a hotly contested match -- the US kept the ball in its attacking half for most of that time, but the Dutch looked threatening regularly, and it certainly wasn't a calm and comfortable game, by any stretch. And then, in the 61st minute, the VAR suggested a look at a tackle inside the Dutch box, and sure enough, contact between Stefanie van der Gragt and Alex Morgan was deemed penalty-worthy. And there she stood, Megan Rapinoe, at the penalty spot for the third time, and for the third time, she nailed it.

1-0 USA.

As if to say, "We didn't need the PK to win this match," eight minutes later Rose Lavalle did what Rose Lavalle does and single-handedly sliced and diced the Dutch defense to lay in a rocket of a shot.

2-0 USA!

And then, unlike in earlier knock out round games, the USA did not sink back into a defensive posture but continued pushing and dazzling. There were at least three different attacks that looked like certain goals, but Dutch keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, who unsurprisingly won the Golden Glove award (best goal keeping), was superb, using every part of her body to block the stream of shots. The onslaught continued until the final ten minutes, when even this devoted fan kind of wanted to boo the time-wasting behavior of the US.

But then it was all over and the USA had done it -- retained their crown, become the second team (after Germany) to win back to back world cups, and earned their fourth star.

The Dutch team had earned the respect of the entire crowd and it was heartwarming to see the entire stadium honor them as they did their lap around the stadium. There was great rejoicing, celebration, and ultimately, the US team receiving the World Cup trophy, being showered with glitter, and celebrated with fireworks. (Smugmug link with password wwc2019final)

And not just one selfie this time, but a collage of meet-ups with all my "World Cup" buddies.

The Olson Family Becks -- my stalwart World Cup Buddy
Beth Martens and Family Former Bruisers: Nancy Geimer and Chris Vance

A few backstories seem required. I opened this year's tournament with Mike and Teresa Olson in Paris. We met up several times in Paris as we each dashed off to do different side trips and then all met again at Lyon with their whole family (kids and partners), and we celebrated the victory afterwards with them and Teresa's sister's family.

Becks was a Charles River teammate (and awesome goalie) who started me off on my World Cup Odysseys in 2011 -- I remain grateful!

Chris and Nancy were Berkeley Bruisers and in 2011, we had made no prior arrangements to get together. Becks and I got to the game in Dresden early and were pretty much sitting alone in an entire section when two women happened to be in the seats immediately behind us -- they were Nancy and Chris! Since then, we've tried to meet up at some point during our respective World Cup journeys.

And, in 2015, I discovered that teammate Beth Martens was in Vancouver with her family, and we enjoyed a pre-final boat trip down the Indian Arm together. Although this photo was taken at the airport, we did meet up outside the stadium.

And that's a wrap on the 2019 Women's World Cup. If you are fortunate enough to have a local NWSL team -- support them! Keep your eyes on the press about the USWNT equal pay lawsuit. Tell FIFA gender discrimination isn't good business.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Live from Regusse: It's the Lower Verdon Gorges

As if we weren't gluttons enough for punishment yesterday. Today we set out for a more mellow hike, The Lower Verdon Gorges walk. This was only about a 20 minute drive from the house (a request from me) and went along an old canal and the lower part of the Verdon Gorge and then rapidly climbed up to the top of an impressive wall and then along the top and eventually a fairly slow descent. All told, just a bit over 2.5 hours and way less impressive statistics: 18,000 steps, 7 miles and only 63 floors

The most spectacular thing about this walk is how vividly you can see the color of the water.

At the end of the hike, we ended up high enough to see the gorge as well as the dam, just a bit off to the right, not to mention the picturesque village across the hill.

After we finished our hike (18,000 steps; 7 miles; 63 floors all in 2 hours 45 minutes), we took a double kayak up through the gorge where we had hiked. It was aimply stunning (as well as wonderfully cooling).

And then, of course, we came back to the house so we could watch the consolation match: Sweden versus England. Sweden looked the more powerful and intimidating the first half and took a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes; England then came back like gangbusters with a gorgeous goal in the 31st minute and what looked to be a second goal only minutes later. But in a deja vu moment, the ref motioned the VAR signed, reviewed the play and determined (correctly, IMHO) that there had been a handball. This must have been devastating after what happened in the US game (goal disallowed due to an offsides by a hairbreadth margin).

The second half looked eerily like many of the recent US games, with Sweden compacting back into a 5-person defensive line and simply taking a pummeling. However, as the US has done, Sweden held fast and the 2-1 score held until the end. Tough break for England, happy day for Lindahl (keeper) who is probably playing in her last world cup.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Live from Regusse: It's the Blanc Martel Trail

No soccer today, you'd think it would be a day of rest? Alors!

Yesterday, we drove from Lyon down to the beautiful small town of Regusse, in the heart of Provence. Becks found us a fantastic two bedroom AirBnb with a luxurious bathroom, a washer and dryer, a swimming pool, and the most delightful hosts imaginable. They made it feel like a combination of a real BnB as well as being guests in someone's home. Highly recommended!

Anyway, Becks had identified, and our hosts confirmed, that the hike to do was the Blanc Martel Trail through the Verdon Gorge. Here is a snapshot of what we did:

Basically, we hiked down a deep deep gorge, went up  and down a lot (more than I expected) and the hiked back up. Total stats: 4.5 hours 28,000 steps, 11.8 miles, and 149 "ascending flights."

Here are some photos of the view from various elevations:

View down the gorge from about half way up.down.
View of the river from almost the bottom
Looking down the gorge from somewhere near the top
At the end, we went through a long tunnel and this was one of the lookouts Vertical view of the lake leading into the gorge
On the drive home, we stopped at the lookout to see the lake

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Live from Lyon: Netherlands vs Sweden

Wednesday's disappointing contest failed to match up to the entertainment, the quality or the intense atmosphere that was seen in Tuesday's gripping tie between England and three-time champions the USA.

That kind of sums it up!

The good news is that we did not have the annoying fans behind us. The bad news is that's because it would have been impossible -- you see, we were in the very last row -- underneath the big screen, which turned out to be kind of cool, because it was such a distinctive location that the Olsons could spot us from across the stadium! Those teeny tiny  people down there are actually soccer players!

So, maybe it was the late night on Tuesday (we should have just walked from the station, but after getting food and realizing the metro was shut down, we tried an Uber who couldn't find us and then finally stood in line for a taxi -- it was a very late night), or maybe it was the hike we took up to the Basilica which sits atop a somewhat large hill.

In any case, it could have been my low energy, but I thought it was a pretty dull game. And we might just have left during the first over time period when the Netherlands scored its first (and what turned out to be the only) goal of the match.

You see the game was 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes. Now, the USA-China Women's World Cup final was also 0-0 after 90 minutes (and still after 120), but that was an exhilarating match to watch; this one was not. I thought Sweden looked more threatening, although the statistics would show that the Netherlands had more possession, more shots, and better passing accuracy.

We almost left after the end of regulation time, but decided to stay for one of the overtimes, and we were privy to the lovely goal scored by the Netherlands. While on the tram back to the city, we watched the final minutes tick down to the final 1-0 score.

So now we're off to Regusse for some hiking and R&R, before returning to Lyon for the final on Sunday!  (No, we won't be attending the consolation match, but hope to be watching it from the comfort of our lovely AirBnb.)

And, the post wouldn't be complete without the obligatory game selfie.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Live from Lyon: USA versus England

It was certainly a game worthy of a semi-final!

We were in the nosebleed section: directly underneath one of the enormous screens in the corner of the stadium. It did provide a beautiful view of the field, but those players did look quite tiny!

And then there were the fans behind us -- one Engand fan and one American Fan. Mr. English had one of those loud booming voices that droned in my head for hours after the match. Now, I'm all for supporting your team, but this guy was a running commentary telling every player on the field what they should be doing -- loudly, in my ear. As if they could hear him!? My favorite moment came when the ref called for a VAR review and he started complaining about it, not realizing that it could mean England was about to get a PK. The only thing worse than a loud and annoying fan is one who doesn't actually understand what's going on.

Then there was Ms. America, who cheered as if she were best buds and teammates with every American on the team. She had cute nicknames for every US player and she too felt that they needed coaching from the uppermost portions of the stadium.

OK, enough whining -- it was the Women's World Cup Semifinal and the USA were taking on a very tough English side. Both teams were missing key players. For the USA, Rapinoe, who was the only player to have scored any goals in the last two games, was sidelined with a hamstring injury. For England, their awesome starting keeper, Karen Bardsley, was also sidelined. Tough break for both teams.

The US got off to a pretty strong start -- perhaps their best in the knockout stage. They were moving the ball well, maintaining possession, and looking threatening. And sure enough, in what has been a hallmark of this tournament, the US struck early: in the 10th minute, Christen Press (the Rapinoe sub), headed in a beautiful cross from Kelly O'Hara, set up from a gorgeous Tobin Heath pass that Rose Lavelle dummied to let it run into the corner. It was a spectacularly beautiful build up and finish.

At that moment, it looked like it was going to be the USA team of yore -- easily handling a feisty opponent, but that was a drastic underestimate of the Lionesses (who can not love a team called the Lionesses???). Only nine minutes later, their golden-boot contender, Ellen White, executed an equally beautiful goal. Somehow she sneaked into the middle of the defense to collect a well-placed cross from Mead and send it smashing into the goal. Uh oh, perhaps England had other ideas than a romp in the park for the US ...

The game quickly became an intense back and forth, full field game. And then, after a fast-paced thirty minutes, it was Alex Morgan's turn to finish with a beautiful header, served up from outside by Lindsay Horan (reappearing in the starting lineup after having been omitted for the past two games). And it was 2-1 that the USA and England closed out the half.

The second half got even more exciting. In I believe the following order:
  • England appeared to tie up the game in the 70th minute with another Ellen White goal But the Americans were saved by the VAR, when White was ruled offsides. The vast majority of the 53,000 in attendance gave a collective sigh of relief.
  • The next VAR decision in the 82nd minute, was not so good for the US -- after some commotion in the US box that left Naeher (goalie) sprawled on the goal line, the VAR alerted the ref to a potential foul ... and sure enough, further review turned into a PK for England! And this is where Naeher earned her entire paycheck for the year -- she went to her right and managed to collect Steph Houghton's PK! It was still 2-1.
  • I think this was more than England could handle. The game took at a turn for the more aggressive (and terrifying as England pummeled the US goal and its 5-man back line that magically happened after the offside goal-- or in the words of the NYT, " That scare [the offside no-goal] was the Bat Signal for a five-player back line.") Finally, in the 86th minute, a frustrated Millie Bright went in cleats up on Alex Morgan, earning her second yellow card, which means a red, which means an ejection (p17), and England was down to ten players.
And of course, today's selfie with longtime WWC partner, Becks Ruck.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Live from Valenciennes: Italy versus the Netherlands

Have I mentioned lately that we're having a heatwave?  As in record breaking temperatures in Paris and a balmy 92 degrees (32+) here in Valenciennes. And we thought the Paris quarter final was hot -- that was at 9:00 PM.  For some reason whose logic totally escapes me, today's quarterfinals are at 3:00 PM and 6:30 PM instead of the prior 5:30 and 900 PM games. It certainly  wasn't cool at those times, but it was way  better than it was in the mid-afternoon and later in the day you can harbor some fantasy that the sun will go down and you won't be sitting in direct sunlight for 3-4 hours.

Enough whining. Today's seats would have been wonderful on any  other day -- 5 rows back at about the 35; the only problem on  this particular day  is that we had absolutely not the tiniest bit of shade. On top of that, the seats in Stade du Hainaut are A) red patent leather (skin searing), B) separated by metal (skin branding), C) high (nose level). Just traps the heat in ever so much more!

The first quarter of the game saw a rather fiesty Italy looking like it really  was the Cinderella team of the tournament, who would defeat the mighty Netherlands. And even into the second quarter, Italy still looked quite strong and had the better chances. At halftime, it was a tight 0-0 match and those of us broiling in the sun, raced for the shade and breeze inside the stadium.

Unfortunately  for the Italians, the second half was much different. Perhaps it was the heat, perhaps it was exhaustion, but Italy of the second half was not the Italy of the first half. They missed passes they'd been making the first half and essentially collapsed into a defensive posture, which just invited the Dutch onslaught even more. You could see their frustration -- the four yellow cards might give you a hint of that. And then the inevitable -- in the 70th minute, Vivianne Miedema did it -- a glancing header off a gorgeous cross. It was textbook perfect. This seemed to demoralize Italy, who continued stalwart defense against the reinvigorated attackers. And so reinvigorated were they, that in the 80th minute, in an almost identical repeat, Stefanie van der Gragt headed in an equally well-placed ball, the result of yet another foul.

I wouldn't be lying if I said there was some relief in the stadium that we might not have to bake for an additional thirty minutes. After this game, there was no lingering in the stands for me -- it was out as quickly  as possible and into the shade!

We joined the parade of orange heading back from the stadium, with a slight detour to pick up the key for Vaas' airBnb. Following the fans turned out to be a great idea as it deposited us right in the fan zone which boasted an enormous display where they would be showing the Germany/Sweden quarterfinal. Thanks to Vaas' eagle eye, we scored ourselves a table in the shade with reasonable screen visibility. There was a large part of Swedish fans next to us, so we found ourselves cheering for Sweden.

With food, beverage, and shade available, it was a lovely afternoon in Valenciennes (which I have to confess is my least favorite city this trip). The game was also another hard fought quarterfinal battle. Germany are the seasoned Women's World Cup veterans -- the only team to have won back to back World Cups. Sweden are the USA nemesis who knocked them out in the Olympics quarterfinal three years  ago. You  might also remember Sweden from the the USA"s last group play game, which some claim Sweden sandbagged to get into the easier side of the bracket.

And so the game began, with Germany exerting their presence and dominating play. It looked like it was going to be a long day for Sweden. It only took until the 16th minute for Germany to go up 1-0 for a picture perfect pass to the feet of Lina Magull, who volleyed it in. This did not deter Sweden who continued to put increasing pressure on the German defense until only six minutes later, when a German misjudged header gave Sofia Jakobssen a clear shot that she neatly placed inside the far post.  Suddenly it was 1-1, and Germany had conceded their first goal of the tournament, and it was game on.

This was a new experience for Germany  -- being scored upon! Suddenly,  it seemed that Sweden forgot that Germany was the Women's World Cup powerhouse; they became relentless and looked repeatedly threatening, but the score remained 1-1 until halftime. After halftime, Sweden looked increasingly  like a team destined for the semi-finals, and it didn't take long: in the 48th minute, German keeper Almuth Schult scored a stunning save off of a Fridolino Rolofo header, but the ball dropped to the feet of Stina Blackstenius we slammed it into the goal.  2-1 Sweden!

Sweden continued to dominate most of the rest of the half and in the final few minutes held off a full court press and several dangerous German shots, but alas, Sweden emerged with is 2-1 victory a ticket to the semi-finals!

As the game wrapped up,  the fan zone came alive with a pyrotechnic display  including fireworks (in broad daylight ...), music, and a fire display.

The Italian fans seem to not have let a loss get in the way of their good time, and since the stadium had been too brutal for the required selfie, we took it outside in the fan zone.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Live from Paris: It's USA versus France in the Quarterfinal

It was hot. The European heatwave continued and the temperature was supposed to be over 90 at game time (that's 32+ for most of the world). The heat, however, did not dampen the enthusiasm of either the American or French fans who had come to see the match of the tournament. While the Americans were certainly invading Paris again, it was not quite as obvious since the French colors are red, white, and blue. Thus, both the streets and the stadium were a cacophony of red, white, and blue, american flags, french flags, glitter, deely boppers, and more.

Anticipating the crowd getting in, we went for the early entrance. The row I thought said O (the letter) was actually 0 (the number). So there we were, not in the front row (that was 00) but one row off the field, level with the 6-yard line of what would turn out to be France's goal for the first half. Yet a new perspective!

And, who should appear for warmups? No, we didn't get the USA this time, we got France!

I'm really  quite conflicted about the game. By now, you probably all know the outcome, but it was a pretty tense game to watch. It started out all right -- after all, within the first three minutes of play, Megan Rapinoe converted a free kick from a less than stellar angle into what can only  be described as an unbelievably  awesome and somewhat lucky goal. (Video of this goal, compliments of Vaas.) 

So, that was pretty, but what about the rest of the game? It looked a bit like role reversal to me. The US could not connect on passes, instead, laying them at the feet of the French onslaught. France maintained possession (when have you ever seen a USWNT game where the US struggled to maintain 40% possession).

I can only  imagine how frustrating the game was for France. They did practically everything right -- the maintained possession, they launched threatening attacks up the wings, they placed long balls at the feet of their speedy  forwards, and yet, the one thing they  couldn't do was put the ball in the net. Nope. The USA, who spent a huge fraction of the game defending, which, according to one NYT article, was their game plan all along. And then, in the 65' minute, we saw that flash of USWNT brilliance, with a Tobin Heath cross from the right, finished by Rapinoe, clinching her brace for the night.

The 2-0 lead was whittled back to 2-1 off a gorgeous French set piece that found Wendi Renard (yes, that's the 6'2" Wendi Renard) with a perfect header into the goal. This 2-1 lead made for a very tense 15 minutes with French relentless attacking, the US giving up  too many free kicks for my feeble heart, and a continued possession game for France.

Usually, the game stats support the outcome, but not this time. The US emerged with a victory in a game where France had over 60% possession, with 78% passing accuracy to the USA's 64%, and took 20 shots to the USA's 10. But at the end of the day, perhaps France's 5 shots on goal to the USA's 8 (that's an 80% on-goal percentage for the USA to a 25% on for France) justifies the 2-1 final score.
And we'll end this one with some video footage of the stands, along with the standard game selfie with Vaas Anand (one of our awesome UBC grad students, spending the summer at MPI-SWS in Saarbrucken).

And, in other news, in the first Quarterfinal, England beat Norway 3-0, so next up are the Lionesses on June 2! Stay tuned,

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Live from Reims: USA-Spain

And it was back to Reims! The good news is that I booked a 2-day stay; the bad news is that had I stayed one more night in Le Havre, I could have seen France vs Brazil in person. That was poor planning on my part (right along with not realizing that I should have scheduled a day in Reims to visit champagne houses and that I should have gotten a rental car in Le Havre, so I could have visited the D-Day beaches).

Anyway, after one last walk to Le Geant and the L'enfant, a two hour lay over in Gare de L'est (because I'm paranoid abobut missing trains), I found myself in Reims, the evening before the USA/Spain match and right on time to view France versus Brazil in our (air conditioned) hotel lounge. Did I mention that Europe decided to have a heatwave this week? It was a rather hot trip to Reims and even hotter for the next few days.

So there I found myself in the Novotel lounge with three Bay Area families traveling together (they all had daughters who play on the same club soccer team). They were a wonderful bunch of people who adopted me, fed me, offered me drinks and McFlurries, and shared in the France/Brazil game. I had not planned on the late night that a tie game would produce, but there you have it. It was a hard fought game and the final outcome was really unclear. France looked a bit less scary as our potential quarter final opponent (more on this later), and Brazil was heart broken. Final result: France 2, Brazil 1.

Earlier in the day, England earned themselves a quarterfinal berth with a 3-0 win over Cameroon, in what appears to have been a pretty ugly and contentious game. I was on trains and missed that.

So, with most of a day to kill in Reims, I set out for the Cathedral. I'm a sucker for cathedrals, and I've seen many of them, including several visits to Notre Dame de Paris. A paper on Chartres in college left me wanting to become an architect (as in real buildings, not computer systems), until I realized that there probably wasn't too much demand for gothic cathedrals these days. But, none of this prepared me for the breathtaking first glimpse of Notre Dame De Reims as I entered the plaza in front of it.
For most of the trip, I've avoided taking too many pictures of things for which there are many superior pictures one can find online, bubt I couldn't contain myself: the overall majesty of the place, the stained glass, the gargoyles, the incredible porticos and statuary all left me helpless. Amazingly, while roaming around inside the cathedral, the daily service was taking place, and I was relieved that the (predominantly) American tourists were properly quiet and respectful. (As in other cities in which the US played, it looked like the Americans had invaded.)
There were so many that I have made them available via SmugMug with the password 'cathedral' (it seems that since I have a password on the site, I have to have one on the gallery).

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon wandering the city, following the recommended tourist trail, stocking up on bandaids and batteries, and then finally, grabbing lunch in my air-conditioned room and hydrating before the game in the 92/33 degree temperature, where water is forbidden at the entrance and expensive in the stadium.
I headed out around 4:30 and soon found myself amongst the literal parade of Americans headed to the stadium.

This game, I was joined by Win Treese the first half (with whom I remembered the gratuitous selfie) and Marie the second half (with whom I forgot the gratuitous selfie).

It would be an understatement to say that this was not our best game. We looked, well, just bad. Our passes were all just too long, we weren't moving the ball around effectively. And Spain looked good -- not quite like France in the opening match, but they were moving well, hitting their own players on long balls (which we could not do to save our lives), and beating us to the ball more frequently than I've ever seen.

And then, in the 7th minute, a Spain foul in the box paved the way for a 1-0 USA lead as Megan Rapinoe calmly put a penalty away. The USA lead was short-lived. A mere two minutes later, with the USA backfield, once again passing around just a bit too close to our box for my taste at which point Naeher sent a weak pass to Sauerbraun, who, in a rare event, misplayed a ball to the feet of an oncoming Spanish forward, who blasted one right past Naeher. It was a frustrating goal -- the USA had already had several close encounters with precisely the same play, because they kept insisting on bouncing passes off of onrushing forwards, which in my humble opinion, is a badTM thing.
And then we settled into a long slog. The USA did keep Spain away from the goal a lot of the time (and the stats revealed a slight advantage in possession time for the USA), but we could not mount a credible attack. Mewis was effective in midfield, until she hit the attacking third, at which time, she could not seem to keep the ball on frame and/or without overshooting her target (which was a common theme among the team). Lavalle looked good, personally, but did not get the ball enough and seemed frustrated about not having any targets. Julie Ertz was consistent in the air and looked pretty much like her normal self. But, in my mind, as with the Sweden game, Crystal Dunn was the hero. She outran her forward, took way too many headers for someone her height (how does she do that?), and seemed to be involved in every scary play that the USA managed to stop.

Not only did we go into halftime with that uneasy tie, but we returned from halftime with the lineup unchanged, and continued in that uneasy tie until 76th minute at which point ... no we did not score a beautiful goal. But, Spain fell prey to another foul in the box, and after a length VAR review, in a repeat of the 7th minute, Rapinoe put it away.

Most baffling, Ellis made no substitutions until the 85th minute when a fresh Lloyd replaced a less than wonderfully effective Morgan. Later, at the 89th minute, in what can only be viewed as an attempt to waste time, Boran came in for Lavalle, and then in the, I kid you not, 97th minute, Press came in to replace an exhausted Rapinoe, who played well, but after 95 minutes in the stifling heat, with sprints that outran her mark over and over again, needed a break.

So, it was a victory, but it was an ugly one. The USA did not score during the run of play; Spain got aggressive and physical toward the end, and the US did not hold up well. We will have to do better against France or things will not be happy for the US fans who blew their summer vacation budgets to come to France.

In other news, the plan was to head back to the (air conditioned) hotel and watch Canada versus Sweden. However, as I was ambling back to the hotel (and ambling was the right word; it was still hot at 8:30 PM), I was annoyed at someone who'd blocked off part of the sidewalk, until I walked by and noticed Julie Foudy sitting on a ledge.
I had stumbled upon the US hotel! Never one to let that opportunity go by, I picked a ledge and waited. Eventually a small crew gathered (not large, maybe 20 people). We saw the family and friends bus arrive, including Zach Ertz (Julie's husband and Philadelphia Eagle) and Abby Wambach. Then we saw the coach's van come back...and then some other people, and finally, just about the same time the first half of the Canada game was ending, the team arrived. There were no autographs, just an interview with team co-captain Rapinoe (Lloyd is the other captain). Nonetheless, it was fun to be part of the experience. (The video of the players getting off the bus was too large to upload here, but you can see it on youtube or on the smugmug site.)

I then did make it back to the hotel where Canada was genuinely dominating Sweden, but in a familiar story, could not put the ball into the net. It was painful to see the PK that Sweden managed to stop, and even more painful to realize that Sinclair was not going to beat Abby's record this tournament, because Canada was headed home with a 1-0 loss to Sweden.

Very sad.

And in other games: Saturday, June 22
  • Germany 3, Nigeria 0
  • Norway 1, Australia 1 (NOR advances on PKs, 4-1)
Sunday, June 23
  • England 3, Cameroon 0
  • France 2, Brazil 1
Tuesday, June 25
  • Italy 2, China 0
  • Netherlands 2, Japan 1