The Women’s World Cup concluded its best run yet with the United States women’s national team’s 2-0 defeat of the Netherlands on Sunday, the fourth title and second-successive World Cup for the ladies of the red, white, and blue.
There will be temptations from some to give the USWNT approximately 11 out of 11 spots on a Best XI, but let’s face it: The best team didn’t often have its best game during its unbeaten run through France.
Some are no-doubters: Having this team without Julie Ertz or Kelley O’Hara would be criminal. But there are a lot of tough decisions here.
Should a quarterfinalist get a player on the XI, given that France lost to the champions in a brutal draw? How many USWNT players should make it? Alex Morgan did all her statistical damage in one match, but did so much that doesn’t show up on the score sheet. And how do we pick three center backs when the best defenders were out wide?
Ultimately, we’re playing a right back out of position because we can, because Julie Ertz is going to clean up a lot of messes, and because this team will never take the field: It’s a post on the Information Superhighway.
VAR awarded Canada its penalty after Desiree Scott’s blast from outside the 18 struck Asllani’s arm.
Janine Beckie went to her right, but Lindahl stretched to parry the torso-high drive.
It wasn’t a terrible penalty, rather a magnificent save. Still, the world was wondering why Christine Sinclair, two goals from matching Abby Wambach’s international record, didn’t go to the spot to do the business.
Perhaps the decision was made because Sinclair was saved and Beckie scored when Canada lost to Sweden in penalties during the Algarve Cup in March.
VAR then denied Sweden a chance from the spot. Ashley Lawrence committed a foul in the box, but the off-field officials spotted an offside in the build-up to keep Canada alive heading into the final stanza.
Thailand was hammered 13-0 by the USWNT in the first match of the World Cup, a statement of the Yanks’ strength as much as the underdogs’ weakness. After all, Thailand carries a higher FIFA ranking (34) than its final opponent Chile (39).
But Sung-Ngoen’s finish late in Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Sweden was a visible relief to the Thai team, who will now turn its attention to Chile and a possible win (The USWNT’s destruction of Thailand’s goal differential gives the Asian side little chance of getting a third-place spot in the knockout rounds).
It was a fine finish, too (See below). Linda Sembrandt, Kosovare Asllani, Fridolina Rolfo, Lina Hurtig, and Elin Rubensson scored for the Swedes, who are 2-0 heading into Thursday’s meeting with the USWNT.
One way or another, prominent Americans were going home. In the home side at Charlety in Paris were Tobin Heath and Lindsay Horan, the duo hoping to see Paris Saint-Germain overcome their 2-1 deficit and make UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. To do so, however, they would have to end the season of Christen Press, Ali Krieger, and the rest of the American contingent from Sweden’s runners up, Tyresö. One team would leave eliminated by the round’s least favorable draw.
Heath, Press, and Krieger weren’t the only prominent names visiting Paris on Wednesday. Tyresö, having aggressively targeted American signings this summer, also started U.S. internationals Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg. Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was in goal, while former Women’s Professional Soccer Most Valuable Players Marta and Verónica Boquete featured in attack. A fan of the women’s professional game in the U.S. would have recognized most of Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI.
That star power was the result of a summer buildup that was questioned when the then-Damallsvenskan leaders risked their winning formula to bring in the likes of Krieger, Harris and Engen, but against a PSG side that’s spent big to bring in Heath, Horan (among others), it’d be needed. French internationals Laure Boulleau, Laura Georges, Marie-Laure Delie were also in today’s lineup, joining a foreign contingent German defender Annike Krahn and Swedish attacker Kosovare Asllani.
These teams too talented to be meeting in the first round (Round of 32), a contention undermined by the reality of Wednesday’s game. There they were, two of the more talented teams in Europe, about to see one eliminated at step one of the process. Had they been draw against other clubs, each would be threats to make the semifinals. Instead, one of them was going home three rounds earlier, that club’s big spending set to go for naught.
With those stakes, it’s no surprise the tie’s second leg played out as a cagey affair, the visiting Swedes playing as if a clean sheet was their best hope. Despite the presences of Marta, Press, and Boquete, Tyresö would only put two shots on Karima Benameur, finishing the match outshot 13-6.
It was indicative of the type of control PSG exerted, twice seriously testing whether Harris could protect Tyresö’s slim edge. One slip, and the roles would be reversed, PSG left to decide whether to defend their away goals edge of press for insurance. When the match hit intermission scoreless, it still seemed like a matter of time before PSG turned those tables.
Yet as the second half ticked away, Farid Bensetti’s side never found a way through. They made changes, taking off Asllani, Heath and Jessica Houara in favor of Linda Bresonik, Kenza Dali, and Horan. They forced 10 corner kicks and generally controlled the match. But unable to unlock an opponent readily sacrificing attacking verve for defensive zeal, Paris Saint-Germain were left with the what if. The 0-0 result made Tyresö 2-1 aggregate winners.
For team that’s signing players to six-figure deals, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly given their control of the match. Yet PSG’s is a long-term ambition. They may have thought themselves capable of making noise in this year’s competition, but their domestic tests against superpower Lyon showed they’re still progress to be made.
Unfortunately for them, however, this result means the few tests they’ll get against OL will be the only time they face Champions League-caliber competition for the rest of this year. The biggest challenge remaining in their season isn’t progressing in Champions League; it’s preventing Juvisy or Montpellier from claiming their place in next year’s tournament.
For Tyresö, however, their investment is starting to pay off, even if the shakeup may have cost them a league title (Malmö has clinched the Damallsvenskan title). Though there’s no guarantee things will be easier for them in the Round of 16, Marta, Boquete, and the team’s contingent of Americans can move forward knowing they’re capable of knocking off teams with PSG’s firepower.
Here are the rest of the day’s results:
Torres (Italy) 3-1 Spratzern (Austria); Torres advances, 5-3 aggregate: This one was more lopsided than it looks, with first half goals from Swiss international Sandy Mändly and 38-year-old icon Patrizia Panico putting Spratzern on the ropes early. The Austrians finally got on the board in the 84th minute through forward Lisa Makas, but by that time, they were three goals down and still hadn’t reversed Torres’s edge in away goals.
Birmingham City (England) 1-0 PK-35 (Finland); Birmingham City advances, 4-0 aggregate: The Blues start to make amends for last year’s early exit after finishing off Finland’s champions, with last week’s lopsided result in Vantaa taking the drama out of today’s second leg. Despite only getting a goal from Chelsea Weston in the 50th minute, Brum outshot their guests 21-3, preventing PK-35 from recording a shot on goal.
Zorky (Russia) 4-1 Thór/KA (Iceland); Zorky advances, 6-2 aggregate:Three goals over a 13-minute span of the first half took the life out of this one, with midfielder Elena Morozova (22′) , Ukraine’s Vira Dyatel (24′) and American Nick Astley (34′) putting Zorky up 5-1. The teams traded second half goals, with Zorky’s coming from Chicago Red Star midfielder Alyssa Mautz.
Wolfsburg (Germany) 13-0 Pärnu (Estonia); Wolfsburg advances, 27-0 aggregate:It’s a growing competition. Much like when the World Cup started expanding its field, when a couple of tournaments forced teams to take their lumps, this is short-term pain for long-term gain. This particular pain represents a new tournament record, with Washington Spirit forward Connie Pohlers adding three more goals to her personal competition high mark.
Brønby (Denmark) 2-2 Barcelona (Spain); Barcelona advances on away goals, 2-2 aggregate: After being held to a scoreless draw last week in Catalonia, Barça’s progress in the women’s game look set to be stunted, something that was affirmed when Anja Thorsen put the Danes up after 25 minutes. The second half, however, saw the Spanish champions convert on the two shots they put on Jenny Olsson. Marta Corredera’s 52nd minute equalizer gave the visitors an away goals edge, while 18-year-old Serbian international Jelena Čanković left Brønby chasing miracles after her 87th minute goal. Four minutes into stoppage time, Boye Sørensen pulled the home side even, but away goals see them out of the competition.
Fortuna (Denmark) 2-0 Tavagnacco (Italy); Fortuna advances, 4-3 aggregate:Camilla Larsen’s 32nd minute opener equalized for Fortuna, making the two goals recorded last week in Italy potentially decisive. When Romanian Laura Rus added insurance in the 81st minute, the Danes were into the Round of 16.
Malmö (Sweden) 5-0 LSK (Norway); Malmö advances, 8-1 aggregate:German international Anja Mittag posted a first half double, Dutch starlet Manon Melis scored in the 21st (and 84th) minute, while Swiss star Ramona Bachmann completed the first half assault. The hosts up 4-0 (7-1) by the 34th minute.
Turbine Potsdam (Germany) 6-0 MTK (Hungary); Potsdam advances, 11-0 aggregate:Three players, three doubles, all within the match’s last half-hour: Japanese striker Asano Nagasato scored in the 62nd and 92nd minutes; 19-year-old Macedonian midfielder Natasa Andonova added goals in the 63rd and 88th; and Swedish midfielder Antonia Göransson recorded hers in the 65th and 84th minutes. Potsdam outshot MTK 49-4.
Neulengbach (Austria) 1-1 Apollon (Cyprus); Neulengbach advances, 3-2 aggregate:FC Kansas City’s Sinead Farrelly, one of six Americans starting for Apollon, pulled the Cypriot side within one in the 77th minute, but a 58th minute goal from 22-year-old Slovakian Alexandra Bíróová held up, sending the most U.S.-friendly club out of the tournament.
Lyon (France) 6-0 Twente (Netherlands); Lyon advances, 10-0 aggregate: Lotta Schelin and Megan Rapinoe added goals from the bench, though by the time they were brought on (46′, 59′), Twente were already chasing six. Lartitia Tonazzi and Louisa Necib had the hosts up two at halftime, while Élise Bussaglia and Eugénie Le Sommer doubled their team’s lead before Schelin and Rapinoe made their contributions.
Sparta Praha (Czech Republic) 1-1 Zürich (Switzerland); Zürich advances, 3-2 aggregate: 16-year-old Mirjine Selim’s early strike not only gave Zürich valuable insurance but also pulled back the goal they conceded at home in leg one. Iva Mocová’s second half score gave the Czechs life, but the hosts were never able to mount the pressure needed to pull back the final goal.
There are four more Round of 32 deciders tomorrow:
Rossiyanka (Russia) return home with a 4-2 edge over Spartak Subotica (Serbia);
Konak Belediyesi (Turkey) try to protect their 2-1 lead against Unia Raciborz in Poland;
Glasgow City (Scotland) return home having earned a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege (Belgium);
and Arsenal (England) hold a 7-1 edge over Kazakhstan’s CSHVSM-Kairat.
The Round of 16 matchups have already been drawn, with matches to begin the second week of November, with Germany’s teams both drawing tough matchups:
Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht) and Jermaine Jones (Schalke) are active in the men’s competition, but compared to the number of U.S. internationals involved in the women’s version of UEFA Champions League, two seems like a relatively paltry number. As the women’s competition’s Round of 32 started today, 27 U.S. players were listed on squads set to take part in this year’s knockout round.
That’s right: 27. There’s nearly one American player per team in UEFA Women’s Champions League, names that range from your top-flight U.S. Women’s National Team talents (Tobin Heath, pictured,, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger) to NWSL players looking to supplement their income (Joanna Lohman, Sinead Farrelly) to players who make Europe their home base on a permanent basis (Christen Press, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg).
The full list of players is at the bottom of this article, but with the world’s biggest women’s club competition starting in earnest today, it’s worth asking why these players aren’t getting a little more publicity back home. Of course, we know the answer … but stay with me while we build toward it (and, eventually, get to today’s results).
Can you imagine the amount of attention we’d be giving to men’s Champions League if eight prominent players — talents close to or in the national team — were active in the competition? That’s how many players with national team possibilities are on the women’s list. Yet for as much as we hear about the exploits of Tim Howard and Michael Bradley and the Champions League outcomes of Schalke (Jones) and Anderlecht (Kljestan), the European exploits of some of the women’s game’s biggest stars are completely overlooked.
And, of course, this is the inherent sexism of sport at work. It’s sports-level patriotic to write and consume “yanks abroad” updates for the most obscure male talents, most of whom are reported on despite their games being unavailable to watch. But for women playing top-level soccer abroad? Many of whom are not available to watch weekly via internet streams? Patriotism apparently has its limits.
There are a couple other notable, confounding (though not independent) factors. The Women’s Champions League, as a tournament, has yet to capture imaginations like the men’s. It’s getting there, seemingly taking notable steps forward each year, but it’s not at the point where it’s readily accessible to the U.S. audience. You can stream it, but it’s mid-day. And aside from the final, it’s not on television (and being on GolTV makes that claim somewhat debatable).
Second, the women’s club world, while rapidly evolving, still sees a huge disparity between great teams and average ones. The divide often leads to some non-Champions-y results in UEFA’s showcase. Today there were 14-0 and a 7-1 results, both high numbers coming from the road team.
But let’s be honest: The inability to watch game never stopped people from tracking the biggest men’s talents. And with the popularity of the women’s national team in this country, it’s difficult to definitely argue there’s no interest in this type of coverage. While it would be difficult to justify throwing men’s Champions League or Premier League attention at the “WUCL”, it should justify a post vague, one-line “played 90 minutes, team lost X-Y” type coverage.
So what’s left? Where are we left with excuses? A lack of bandwidth to cover it? Maybe. But there may also just be a lack of males playing, and as anything regarding these issues, the reasons may be too confounded to untangle.
But maybe this is a case, of the simplest, most accessible answer is the right one. If 27 U.S. males were playing in Champions League, you wouldn’t have to hear it from me.
(Given the length of this post, I’ve broken the result of today’s Round of 32 action into a separate, upcoming post. Here, however, it the list of U.S. players on squads playing in this year’s UEFA Champions League):
U.S. PLAYERS IN 2013-14 UEFA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE