2015 WC Round of 16

Three things learned: Morgan relieved to get back in scoring column

6 Comments

EDMONTON, Alberta – The U.S. eked out a 2-0 victory against Colombia on Monday in the Round of 16 in a match that was hardly a dominant display from the American. The win puts the U.S. through to the quarterfinals against China on Friday, but the Americans are yet to play their best soccer.

U.S. players say they are still coming into their peak, and that improvements are tangible. Here’s what we learned from the United States’ 2-0 win over Colombia:

A weight lifted off Morgan’s shoulders: Alex Morgan scored her first goal of this World Cup in her second straight start. She said she was initially looking to cross the ball on the sequence, but a goal’s a goal. That’s all she really cares about.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a sigh of relief,” Morgan said. “Just as a forward we always want to score goals. We’re expected to score goals. We needed that breakthrough at that moment after not converting the penalties, so it was a breath of fresh air after I scored.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

The goal was Morgan’s first since March 4 against Switzerland. Morgan admitted that the recovery process from a bone bruise in her left knee that kept her most of April and all of May became worrying in the homestretch ahead of the World Cup. She said she had “a minor freak-out three weeks before the World Cup” when she still wasn’t back to full training, saying that sometimes she gets inside of her own head too much. Now, however, Morgan is only looking forward.

“I don’t remember the last goal I’ve had with this team and that’s not a good sign,” she said.” So I don’t want to look back and see when the last one was, because now I’ve scored and it’s a fresh start moving forward. But I’m happy at where I am with the team. I think we’ve been building the last couple of games. I think that in the second half we had a pretty dominant performance and I’m looking forward to playing China next.”

U.S. extends shutout streak: The United States’ defense has been its best asset this tournament, and while Colombia never looked overly threatening in the final third, distribution out of the back by the Americans was less than stellar. It’s something that will need to improve against China in the quarterfinals, but even on an off night, per se, the U.S. extended its shutout streak to 333 minutes, last conceding in the opening half-hour of the tournament against Australia.

“They are very good in tight spaces and so they got out pretty well, so we had to be OK with them having the ball at times,” U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “I think defensively, as a team, we did really well in keeping them away from dangerous areas.”

Colombia is for real: Colombia will leave this tournament having sent a message to the rest of the world that they won’t be pushovers at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Colombia’s disciplined first-half performance frustrated the U.S. and Las Cafeteras hardly looked out of their depths physically or tactically.

Lady Andrade was largely bottled up but showed moments of that impressive flair that made for an exceptional tournament. Colombia’s midfield gave the U.S. trouble with the extra player in the middle of the park – a concerning trend for the U.S. – and controlled the ball through large stretches.

“I think that in the future, any team that has to play against Colombia as an opponent will realize that it is a team that is very complete, very mature,” Colombia coach Fabian Taborda said.

Indeed, the world took notice. Had that game been played at full-strength the entire time, the result could have been much different.

Round of 16 Women’s World Cup preview: Norway vs. England

1 Comment

Norway vs. England

When: Monday, 5:00 p.m. EDT
Where: Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa
TV: NBC Universo, NBCDeportes.com
Team Records: Norway 2-0-1 (2nd, Group B); England 2-1-0 (2nd, Group F)
Best Performance at World Cup: Norway (champions, 1995); England (1995, 2007, 2011)

Key Players:
Norway – Ada Hegerberg: At only 19, it is a lot to put on her shoulders to say Hegerberg’s ability to score will be paramount to Norway’s chances for a deep run. But there is little doubt the teenager is the best finisher in the team and a key component in this one…Trine Ronning and Solveig Gulbrandsen are both at the other edge of the age spectrum (33 and 34, respectively) and are still major contributors with Ronning helping to hold things together in back and Gulbrandsen a factor in the attack whether starting or off the bench.
England – Karen Carney: Her insertion into the match against Mexico in the middle group match turned the tide of the World Cup for England who finally scored after 160 minutes being kept off the board.  She makes the midfield tick… Laura Bassett will again be vital to the defensive effort against a Norway side that can get forward quickly.

[ RELATED: Latest WWC news ]

Under The Radar Players:
Norway – Elise Thorsnes: Came off the bench in the first two group games and both times Norway got better.  Thorsnes started against Ivory Coast but it would not be a surprise to see her substitute roll revised on Monday.
England – Eniola Aluko/Alex Greenwood: Aluko was poor against Mexico, playing with little confidence in her touch.  After that she did not get off the bench against Colombia. Greenwood was good off the bench against Mexico and earned the start against Colombia.

Inside the Numbers:
2-0 —
That was the score the only other time Norway and England faced off in a World Cup match.  That was June 8, 1995 — 20 years and two weeks ago.  Despite the loss, both teams qualified for the quarterfinals. England lost to Germany in the quarterfinals and have still still never won a knockout match at a World Cup. Norway won the 1995 World Cup.
Random Stat: England have never beaten another European team in a World Cup match. They are 0-2-2 including a draw in the 2011 quarterfinals against France that they ultimately lost on penalty kicks.

Breaking it Down:
England seem to have grown into the tournament after they opened by sitting back and allowing France to dictate their entire opening match. They should look to be aggressive again by playing through Karen Carney and the outside backs getting forward. Norway had two soft group matches and an encounter with Germany in which they hung in after being dominated in the first half, got hold of the match, and finished 1-1. This one could be decided by how effectively England can control possession through the heart of the midfield.

Prediction: 3-1 Norway

Colombia’s Rincon to play American ‘idol’ Lloyd at Women’s World Cup

2 Comments

EDMONTON, Alberta – “She is my idol!!!”

That’s how the email, composed last month, reads from Colombia midfielder Yoreli Rincon about United States midfielder Carli Lloyd.

On Monday, the 21-year-old Rincon will go toe-to-toe with her idol in the biggest game of her life: Colombia plays its first-ever Women’s World Cup knockout-stage game in the Round of 16.

Rincon tried out for the NWSL’s Western New York Flash last year, but was cut due in part to the limited international roster spots made available to each team. But she made an impression on Lloyd, who was playing for the Flash at the time, and the U.S. midfielder connected Rincon with her trainer James Galanis, who changed everything for the young Colombian.

“I was introduced to James through Carli and he transformed my entire game,” Rincon said. “He evaluated me and designed a program specific for me. My game has gone to levels I never thought imaginable.”

[KASSOUF: Colombia’s claims of trash-talking leave US women perplexed]

Rincon has at times in the past been referred to as the next Marta, the Brazilian legend who is a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year. Rincon is already playing in her second World Cup and has an Olympics under her belt (albeit limited minutes after a falling out with the old coach). Her objective is to be one of the best midfielders in the world, Galanis says, but just like Lloyd at one point and time, Rincon didn’t have the mental toughness or the fitness level to reach the next level.

So with a connecting phone call from Lloyd, Rincon got in touch with Galanis and headed to New Jersey, living there for three months and training often twice daily from April through August 2014.

“It just comes down to education,” Galanis says. “They just don’t know what to eat and how to train things.”

Galanis notes Rincon’s tactical awareness as the midfielder’s best attribute. Lloyd credits Rincon for having great ability in tight spaces and world-class final through-balls.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Rincon speaks with Galanis daily and she also regularly texts with Lloyd, who is something of a big sister to her. Both players wear the heralded No. 10 shirt as team playmaker.

“I’ve been texting with her and I’ve been watching her play,” Lloyd said last week. “I’ve been watching her and seeing how she’s doing and everything. It’s been cool. It’s been great to see her.”

Lloyd is open about her process of locking in mentally for tournaments, saying before the World Cup that she isn’t getting caught up with visiting family or friends while at the World Cup. But Lloyd said she would wish good luck to her friend before the match.

“We’re all humans at the end of the day,” Lloyd said. “Once we get onto the field and step in between those lines, it doesn’t matter if she’s my friend or not, I’m going to play as hard as I can.”

Monday’s match should feature some extra bite. Rincon spoke on Sunday about the United States’ alleged disrespect for Colombia. U.S. players are unsure what Colombian players are referring to, but it’s clear that Colombia is motivated to pull off an upset even larger than its group-stage victory over world No. 3 France.

Despite all the pre-game chatter, there is still plenty of respect between Lloyd and Rincon.

“For me Carli is one of the best midfielders [in] the world, and playing against her in the next match is exciting,” Rincon said.

Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 16

1 Comment

It was one of the forefathers of women’s soccer, Anson Dorrance, who loved to talk about the importance of 50-50 balls, those times when neither team had possession of the ball and it was all about heart, effort, or whatever cliche you wanted to brandish. In Dorrance’s mind, the team that won more of those 50-50s would have more of the ball and therefore have a much better chance to win, he reasoned.

Dorrance has had his share of detractors over the years, mostly about style of play, but he did coach the United States to its first World Cup title in 1991 and has won 21 NCAA national titles at North Carolina, a record that will never be touched in Division I. Heck, no one will get close to half that number.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Coaches don’t talk about 50-50 balls as much these days, it comes off as kind of archaic, but there are still times, even at the highest level, when a big match rides on who comes out of a random scrum in the middle of the field.

And so in the 80th minute of a massive World Cup round-of-16 game, it turned out that the fortunes of two national programs turned on a ball that it looked like Brazil should come away with just inside its own half. There were three yellow jerseys and just one Australian to start, but when they corral it quickly, Kyah Simon sneaked in and poked the ball with her toe.

Then it was teammate Katrina Gorry’s turn. She stuck her 4-foot-whatever body in there, fought through a couple of those yellow shirts, and not only came out with the ball, but drilled an inch-perfect through ball to Lisa De Vanna, who had enough faith in her teammate to start her run before Gorry actually had the ball. De Vanna’s shot was spilled by Luciana, but Simon ran all the way in to be first to the rebound. Australia had a winning goal, and that was it.

From there all the narratives followed. Brazil was outc-oached, they will never be able to win a big tournament, Marta should retire, and all the other hot takes out of a match that Brazil put three times as many shots on target (6-2) as their opponents.

[JOHAL: Canada coach Herdman playing with tactical fire]

Which should take nothing away from Australia, of course. The Matildas matched them stride for stride and had a little extra at the end of the match when they needed it most to make the quarterfinals for the third straight time at a World Cup. And the couple of people that tabbed them as a sleeper to make the final will most certainly grow in numbers before that quarterfinal match.

But Brazil will be left to wonder, maybe for a long time, what would have happened if they just won that darn 50-50 ball in the 80th minute.

What else did we learn Sunday?

1) Brazil was solid, but they probably weren’t a contender in Canada
Marta is five-time World Player of the Year for a reason, and she will always be underrated in my mind because of who she is and where she came from. But she was not a big factor in Canada, and certainly wasn’t today as Brazil failed to generate many chances (although they hit a post and Formiga was inches away from a wonderful goal in the first half). The young defense held up extremely well in front of poor Luciana, who was probably hurt by the fact she had so little to do in the group stages. This game does not mean Brazil were poor, they could have easily won this match and maybe squeezed into the finals on the weaker side of the bracket. But they weren’t as good as Germany, France, or even the United States. And that’s a little concerning hosting the Olympics next year. They are young and that should help.

2) Those gutty, gritty Aussies
I’ll be honest, I thought they might finish last in Group D entering the tournament, but take nothing away from their performance not just in this game, but the entire World Cup. Caitlin Foord has recaptured the form she had four years ago running up and down the wing, youngsters like Sam Kerr and Steph Catley are older and wiser (as De Vanna seems to be as well), and Alen Stajcic has pressed all the right buttons so far in his impressive midfield with Gorry and Elise Kellond-Knight (who just happened to be FIFA’s Woman of the Match on Sunday) really standing out but others contributing as well. They certainly won’t be heavy underdogs in their quarterfinal.

3) Hi there, France
Sports are often riddled with the cliche of needing experience to win titles and you have to lose a couple before you can win one. If you subscribe to that, this is probably France’s time. It’s been four years since France burst onto the scene in Germany, and they certainly didn’t appear flustered by much on Sunday. Outside backs Jessica Houara and Laure Boulleau got forward at will (which is kind of what I think Jill Ellis wants to see, even though it doesn’t come as often for the U.S. as it did Sunday for France) and Korea Republic was done in eight minutes.

[MORE: France rolls past Korea Republic, advances to QFs]

Interestingly, my rudimentary research shows the last time Korea Republic conceded more than twice in a competitive match was Sept. 5, 2011, when it lost 3-2 to North Korea (evidently recovered from those lightning strikes in Germany), some 30 matches ago, so France was impressive. And that France-Germany game should be one for the ages.

4) Tough ending for Ji Soyun
At least people know Marta, this was Ji Soyun’s chance to make a name for herself (even though she is one of the best players in the world). And yet she couldn’t play in the biggest game in her career, apparently because of a hamstring. She’s only 24, so hopefully we’ll see her again four years from now in France.

5) Canada’s time?
They have plenty of flaws, but in a fairly even side of the bracket, they have an in-form Erin McLeod and Kadeisha Buchanan, which are two things that none of the other teams have. Buchanan may be battling an injury, and goals may be hard to come by, but you’re telling me Canada would be a huge underdog – at home – against Norway (or England)? And by the semifinals, the whole nation (if they weren’t already) will be behind them. So I say Canada to the finals. Just don’t ask me how right now.

Host Canada edges Switzerland, advances to Women’s World Cup quarterfinals

1 Comment

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canada is headed to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup after defeating Switzerland, 1-0 on Sunday at BC Place.

The hosts had the backing and support of 53,855 fans cheering them towards a victory. Josee Belanger scored her first goal for her country since December 2010 as Canada held on for the win. Canada will now play the winner of Norway vs. England game in the quarterfinals on Saturday, right back in Vancouver.

“It feels pretty incredible to have that many Canadian fans,” Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod said. “It’s always an honor. I was pretty pumped. I was kind of embarrassed that I self-cheered so much during the game. Overall I’m really proud with the way the team performed, especially in the second half. We played like the Canada we know and we’re going to show a lot more during the tournament.”

Canada coach John Herdman’s team started off slow and played tentative in the first half. A team talk during the interval sparked Canada and helped the hosts show the true form they have. Herdman was delighted with the performance his team put forth in a win-or-go-home situation.

[FOLLOW: Latest Women’s World Cup coverage from ProSoccerTalk]

Canada could have a date with old coach Even Pellerud in the quarterfinals if Norway advances, but Canada captain Christine Sinclair says she has no preference as to who the team’s next opponent will be.

“Not really,” she said. “We’ve played England so often. Obviously most recently before this tournament started. In your heart it would be cool to play Even. Personally he had a huge impact on me. It would be nice to share that experience with him. I think we’re just going to sit back and watch them kick each other tomorrow (laughs).”

Herdman’s halftime speech appears to have made a difference for Canada.

“He told us these are moments we’ll never get back and no regrets at the end of it,” Sinclair said.

The Swiss were not intimidated by the strong physical nature of Canada. Forwards Ramona Bachmann and Lara Dickenmann were able to set up a pair of early chances for Switzerland, the first after Bachmann raced past a sliding Sesselmann, but ran out of pitch length. The FC Rosengard striker also sent in a cross that Dickenmann was a tad late to reach. Canada’s backline was tested and came through in the early stages of the match.

Belanger moved to her more comfortable position up top as a striker next to Melissa Tancredi and Christine Sinclair. In the 52nd minute, Belanger fired a long-range shot from distance that appeared to be harmless, but somehow found the inside of the back far post. For Belanger, that was her second crossbar or post of the tournament as scoring seems to elude Canada.

Moments later, Tancredi looked to connect with a cross, but instead took out Swiss goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann. The 29-year-old keeper took an elbow to the ribs and was able to continue on after being attended to by team trainers.

Both teams settled into the remainder of the opening forty-five playing as though they were afraid to make a mistake. At times it looked like Canada had no imagination going forward. Bachmann was free to run all over the pitch as she turned Sesselmann inside out on a few occasions. Switzerland came to play and had Canada on the defensive. The first half ended 0-0 with both Canada and Switzerland struggling to find finishing in the final third.

Herdman and Swiss coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg both elected not to make any changes before the second half kickoff. Canada got things going with more urgency, possession and control to their game.

Herdman revealed after the game that defender Kadeisha Buchanan was questionable to play against Switzerland. The tough tackling center back has missed training this week with an abdominal muscle injury. Buchanan’s role as a shutdown defender is vital to the success of Canada. She talked about how she was able to get fit for the match and the state of her injury.

“I only missed one session out of the three so I felt like I knew my role,” Buchanan said. “It was pretty easy to get back out there when you know your role. I felt confident two practices before. It’s pretty sore right now. I’m just going to go back to the hotel and rest it up and get better for the next game.”

Rhian Wilkinson was back in the lineup at right back sent a cross into the box for Tancredi to connect with. The ball was too far in front for Tancredi and well over the head of Thalmann. Canada kept coming and once again it was Wilkinson who setup the play that lead to Canada’s opening goal in the 52nd minute.

Wilkinson’s cross found Sinclair in the box. Sinclair, with defenders all over her, played a little touch to Belanger. The recently converted fullback was wide open and had a split moment to find her shot. Belanger sent a left-footed, curling shot past the Swiss keeper for a 1-0 Canada advantage and chorus of cheers from the BC Place faithful.

Bachmann was trying to do everything possible to find an equalizing goal for her team, but it just wasn’t in the cards for Switzerland. Canada’s back-line shaky at time was able to do enough to earn the victory. Erin McLeod wasn’t tested often enough, but did well on corners and crosses to deny the Swiss. McLeod earned her third clean sheet of the tournament.

Voss-Tecklenburg expected a strong physical match from Canada and that’s exactly how it played out. Canada was able to finish one particular chance, while Switzerland couldn’t convert. Overall, the Swiss have done quite well in their first time at a Women’s World Cup.

“It was a highly intensive match, exactly what we expected,” Voss-Tecklenburg said. ‘I feel badly for my players. We’re sad, they are sad. This World Cup has been a huge experience for us.”

Canada Starting XI: Erin McLeod; Allysha Chapman, Lauren Sesselmann, Kadeisha Buchanan, Rhian Wilkinson (Marie Eve-Nault 87); Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Ashley Lawrence (Kaylyn Kyle 76); Christine Sinclair(C), Melissa Tancredi (Jonelle Filigno 69), Josee Belanger. (4-3-3)

Switzerland Starting XI: Gaelle Thalmann; Selina Kuster (Vanessa Buerki 61), Lia Waelti, Caroline Abbe(C), Noelle Maritz; Vanessa Bernauer, Martine Moser (Fabienne Humm 71); Ana Maria Crnogorcevic, Rachel Rinast (Rahel Kiwic 79); Ramona Bachmann; Lara Dickenmann;(4-2-2-1-1)