Homare Sawa calls time on an epic international career

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Bidding adieu to a living legend of the women’s game.

At the age of 15, Homare Sawa scored four goals in her debut appearance for Japan. The crafty central midfielder would continue to make good on that early promise for nearly two decades.

Sawa today announced her retirement from the international game. She won’t merely be remembered for her footballing accomplishments, and it’s a mightily impressive CV: World Cup triumph; Golden Ball; Golden Boot; 2011 FIFA Player of the Year award; Olympic silver medal.

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Sulking over silver? Not a chance. Japan wins their first ever Olympic medal in women’s soccer and Homare Sawa can’t help but beam with pride. She embodied class and grace.

The 33-year-old made an indelible impact on the women’s game. Her inspired play helped elevate the standard of women’s soccer both in terms of quality and global prestige.

U.S. fans were first introduced to the Japanese no. 10 during her three-year stint with Atlanta Beat in the Women’s United Soccer Association. The sleek and composed no. 10 would return to the U.S. in 2009 as a member of the Washington Freedom in Women’s Professional Soccer. She would remain a fan favorite.

Sawa cemented her legacy with her exploits in Germany last summer. Her crowning moment arrived in her final turn on the world’s grandest stage. Even at 32, her game showed no signs of decline or regression. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

It’s impossible to imagine Japan’s stunning Word Cup run without her immense influence. Sawa performed dual roles for her side, and did so brilliantly. She was both the conductor and the principal performer. She was the brains in Japan’s inventive midfield and provided the firepower with five goals. It was her late header in the final against the U.S. that forced overtime and put the World Cup within Japan’s grasp.

That inspirational performance made her an icon back home. The Nadeshiko lifted the spirits of a nation stricken by natural disaster. Sawa became the face of Japan’s new national heroes – quite literally.

A firsthand account from an American based in Japan:

 

Heck, I live in a very rural backwater (think the Japanese equivalent of North Dakota), and the annual festival’s float was hastily redesigned to be a 10-foot-tall representation of a dragon wearing Sawa’s uniform.

In Kobe, Sawa’s face was everywhere, and banners congratulating her and the team lined the main streets. Posters with Sawa talking about the importance of everything from a balanced diet to studying hard now grace all the elementary schools at which I teach.

 

Sawa took time in Friday’s press conference to wish Japan’s youth team luck in the upcoming U-20 World Cup. The Nadeshiko’s next generation will aim to keep Japan amongst the world’s elite. That position is one Sawa helped secure.

 

Time to reminisce. Sawa joins her teammates as they relive that momentous equalizer against the United States:

Report: USMNT’s Arriola drawing transfer interest abroad, in MLS

AP Photo/LM Otero
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Paul Arriola’s motor was constantly running as the United States men’s national team claimed its sixth Gold Cup title, and it could drive him all the way from Club Tijuana to Europe or a prime spot on an MLS roster.

There’s a snag, though.

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Arriola is reportedly wanted by Real Salt Lake and clubs in both the Netherlands and Portugal, but the LA Galaxy has what Goal.com describes a “dubious homegrown player” claim on Arriola, who participated in a minimal of practices with the Galaxy when he was younger.

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much “homegrown” about it and, to its critics, it is peak MLS monopolized tomfoolery. Here’s how Goal describes it:

“He was already a U.S. youth national team player when he traveled the 120 miles from Chula Vista to take part in a handful of training sessions with the LA Galaxy academy and eventually the Galaxy first team.

“The Galaxy are believed to hold a homegrown player claim on Arriola, and would have the right of first refusal on making Arriola an offer if he comes to MLS. The Galaxy’s current salary-cap situation might not allow them to make a serious bid for Arriola.”

But… here’s how the Galaxy described his choosing to sign for TJ instead of a pro deal from LA in 2013:

“It’s a little disappointing,” Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “He went through our system, we offered him a contract and he decided to move on and go somewhere else. But that’s going to happen. It’s something that has happened before, and it’s something that will happen again.”

Arriola’s response in the same article? “I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot.” That doesn’t read as much like he “went through their system.” He played in at least one U-18 game, debuting in October 2012, did more training with TJ in December 2012, and signed for the Mexican side in May 2013.

Should that qualify him as Homegrown?

https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-arriola/leistungsdaten/spieler/189876

Did Arriola spent significant time with LA, or is it possible the Galaxy might reap rewards from having an already established youth national teamer to practice when he was a kid? Whether you’re okay with that or not, consider that it encourages clubs to pilfer rights without actually registering or training the player.

Not to mention there is no guarantee that playing in the Netherlands or Portugal will be better for his development than MLS. Benfica or Ajax and potential action in European tournaments? Maybe. NAC Breda or Tondela? Maybe not.

Nevermind the quagmire that is American youth soccer clubs’ not earning money from transfer fees, the Arriola drama seems baseless. We don’t know the Galaxy will hold the player hostage, but they would actually be depriving MLS of a talent, as LA would theoretically get nothing should TJ sell him to a European club.

In any event, check out Arriola’s use chart from Tijuana and you’ll see why he’s valued by Bruce Arena as well as his suitors. He’s a Swiss Army Knife. Here’s hoping Tinseltown doesn’t stop him from a proper next step (assuming he’s ready to leave Liga MX).