If Pia Sundhage was a double-Gold Medal winning soccer coach, she was more like a triple-Gold Medal winning motivator. Figuratively speaking, of course.
The women of the U.S. national team loved playing for her and thrived under Sundhage’s infectious enthusiasm. Her players are prone to use words like “joy” and “spirit” when they speak of the woman whose happy and peppy ways were a stark contrast to the more dour Greg Ryan, who left the position when things went fairly sideways in 2007.
Sundhage finished her time in charge of the national team Wednesday night, as players sent their master motivator out the right way with a resounding 6-2 win over Australia.
Not long before kickoff, ESPNW posted a piece from Tobin Heath, one of the players who grew and thrived under Sundhage. (Heath, in fact, embodies the very type of player Sundhage is encouraging the United States to cultivate as things move forward, a technically gifted sort whose performance relies more on skill and wits than speed and athleticism.)
A short excerpt from Heath’s kind words about the coach who brought her along:
Pia always, always, looks at the positives in any situation, and that has been a huge key to our success. We have such high expectations — in every game and in every tournament we’re expected to win — and her outlook helps us to deal with the pressure, and push ourselves to another level. Her enthusiasm is so evident in everything she does. She gets so excited when a player does something well, and she has never lost that passion. It’s pretty cool she loves the game that much.”
Last night’s win at a sold-out Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver set the punctuation mark on a five-year run that included those two Olympic Gold medals and a second-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Sundhage, who will now take over the women’s national team in her native Sweden, was 91-6-10 as United States coach.
Toronto FC’s supporters fell in love with the club almost immediately, but it’s taken to Year 10 for the Reds to get a home playoff match.
The latest batch of TFC stars have embraced the battle for relevance, at times even surpassing expectations the lofty expectations of championship-starved Toronto.
[ MORE: Bradley talks TFC renaissance ]
This is a city which has seen the Blue Jays and Raptors find the precipice of glory in recent seasons, but not reach the apex. The Leafs haven’t been to a Stanley Cup final since the NHL had a whopping six teams.
So winning would be a mighty big accomplishment, right Michael Bradley?
“Being captain or a big player on a team in this city carries an extra weight,” said captain Michael Bradley. “I’ve loved every second of that; playing in this city, for this city, and being captain. It’ll be nights like Wednesday night where the responsibility, privilege and passion that I have for this role will get magnified that much more.”
He has a way with words, doesn’t he? The USMNT captain begins Canada’s quest for a title at 7:30 p.m. ET against visiting Philadelphia.
Vancouver is hanging onto stalwart coach Carl Robinson despite a massively disappointing season.
The Whitecaps were tipped to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, only to miss the playoffs. There were plenty of excuses for the ‘Caps, including an injury to Kekuta Manneh and the transfer of Octavio Rivero.
And Vancouver is alive as the No. 1 seed in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, also claiming the Cascadia Cup.
[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high ]
Robinson has signed an extension through 2020, from WhitecapsFC.com:
“Carl’s body of work over the course of his five years at the club has shown that he is one of the top up-and-coming head coaches in North America. While this past season was certainly a learning experience for everyone involved within the club, we have complete faith in Carl’s continued vision in acquiring the necessary players to build a team that will compete with the best in MLS.”
Robinson turned 40 this month, and has been leading the ‘Caps since December 2013. This is a smart move for both Vancouver and its coach.
Major League Soccer’s playoff run begins tonight with Philadelphia at Toronto and LA hosting Real Salt Lake, and it also gives us a chance to run down the regular season.
We’ve already discussed several items, including Portland and Columbus’ historic flops, DC United’s red-hot form, pre-playoff power rankings, and predictions.
[ MORE: Chalobah’s double nutmeg ]
But what about the season that was, the one that saw Bradley Wright-Phillips snag his second Golden Boot and Colorado nearly grab a shocking Supporters’ Shield?
We rounded up our staff’s opinions to put together combined shortlists for MLS awards.
Rookie of the Year
Jordan Morris (Seattle)
Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia)
Alex Muyl (RBNY)
Jack Harrison (NYCFC)
Jonathan Campbell (Chicago)
Newcomer of the Year
Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC)
Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy)
Tim Howard (Colorado)
Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle)
Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy)
Luciano Acosta (DC United)
Ola Kamara (Columbus)
Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado)
Goalkeeper of the Year
Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
Andre Blake (Philadelphia)
David Bingham (San Jose)
Jake Gleeson (Portland)
Luis Robles (RBNY)
Coach of the Year
Patrick Vieira (NYCFC)
Jesse Marsch (RBNY)
Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado)
Oscar Pareja (Dallas)
Greg Vanney (Toronto)
Most Valuable Player
David Villa (NYCFC)
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto)
Sacha Kljestan (RBNY)
Bradley Wright-Phillips (RBNY)
Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)
Spain’s football federation has fined Valencia about $1600 for the water bottle tossed at celebrating Barcelona players on Saturday.
It’s also criticized Barca’s reaction to Neymar being hit with the water bottle.
[ MORE: Watch the incident here ]
Lionel Messi in particular flipped out at fans, who were furious after Barca scored a match-winning penalty and celebrated near the touch line.
From the BBC:
Spain’s football federation criticised the Barca players for their “exaggerated reaction” and for celebrating in front of home fans, but added “nothing justified” the reaction of the Valencia supporters.
There’s an easy joke to make about playacting/diving here, as Luis Suarez hits the deck despite not appearing to be hit.
But it’s critical to remember that these players at the moment don’t have any idea what’s happened, only that they’ve been hit. And Suarez is covering head, perhaps wondering what’s coming next. Neymar laying on the pitch for a while seems a bit overboard, but I don’t blame Messi nor his teammates for being furious with the supporters.
What do you make of it?