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Friday, August 31, 2012

Clint Dempsey Seemed Destined For Liverpool, Until Tottenham Swooped In At The Last Minute

After months of rumors that Clint Dempsey was headed to Liverpool, it turns out that he went to Tottenham only a few hours before the end of today's transfer window for European soccer.

The American midfielder signed a three-year deal worth $9.5 million, ending his 6+ years at Fulham. Without a doubt, Dempsey's transfer represents the biggest move in terms of an American-born men's soccer player in Europe. That's what happens when you score 23 goals for an English Premier League club in one season (2011/12).

"I'm very excited and looking forward to the challenge," Dempsey told Tottenham's official website. "To play under this head coach and play for this club is a dream come true. I want to make the most of it and work as hard as I can to get onto the field and do well. There are a lot of great players here, I'm looking forward to training and playing with them and trying to fight for a spot in the team."

Apparently, Tottenham beat out Liverpool not to mention Sunderland and Aston Villa in their bid for the U.S. men's national team's top field player.

"Clint was a very influential player for Fulham over a number of seasons and the club thanks him for his contribution and wishes him well for the future," a statement on the Fulham website read.

Liverpool has spent much of the summer chasing Dempsey, sparking an angry reaction from Fulham manager Martin Jol after the player went on strike on the eve of the new season.

"A lot was said and written ahead of me leaving Fulham," Dempsey told Spurs' website. "It wasn't how it was portrayed, but that's in the past now and we move on. I want to thank the fans for everything, some of the best memories I've had in football and thank the chairman for giving me the opportunity to come from the MLS and compete over here. All I can say is thank you and now I'm looking forward to the next challenge."

At 29, he still has plenty of top-level soccer left in him since he only started playing for the New England Revolution (MLS) at age 21. Plus, he's durable and consistent, he scored 60 goals in 224 career appearances at Fulham. His objective of playing for a team that can compete in the Champions League should be fulfilled with the Hotspurs. They would have made the Champions League last season (they finished 4th) but were bounced out by Chelsea's improbable run to the title.

Don't be surprised to see Dempsey coming off the bench since Tottenham's midfield is already loaded with Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart not to mention forwards like Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor. After being the man the last few seasons for Fulham, it will be interesting to see how Dempsey adjusts to having an auxiliary role. Former US goalkeeper Brad Friedel (41 years old!) is Tottenham's starter so Dempsey at least has one close friend on the team.

Deuce wasn't the only American on the move as Maurice Edu officially completed his transfer to Stoke that I already wrote about. Carlos Bocanegra left Rangers for a season-long loan at Racing Santander, a Spanish club that was relegated from La Liga last season. Finally, Oguchi Onyewu (remember him?) was loaned from Sporting Lisbon to Malaga, a Spanish club that finished fourth in La Liga last season and by virtue of that, is in this year's Champions League.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

U.S. Women VS. Germany, Coming Stateside (Chicago, Hartford) In October

Fresh off their third straight gold medal (and fourth overall) earlier this month at the Olympics, the U.S. women's national team is set for a tour of the U.S. which actually begins this weekend.

They play Costa Rica on Saturday, September 1 in Rochester, NY (Abby Wambach's hometown) at Sahlen's Stadium. Then they meet Australia on September 16 in Carson, CA at Home Depot Center and September 19 in Commerce City, CO at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Even better than those friendlies, today it was announced that Pia Sundhage's team (No. 1 in the world) will meet the No. 2 team-Germany-on Saturday, October 20 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL and Tuesday, October at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT for a pair of juicy exhibitions.

From the press release
The U.S. and Germany are two of the most successful women’s soccer nations in history and have met three times in the FIFA Women’s World Cup with the USA owning a 2-1-0 record in those games. The most recent meeting in a major tournament came in the semifinal of the 2004 Athens Olympics as, the U.S. defeated Germany 2-1 after extra time and then went on to the championship game where a victory against Brazil started the USA’s run of three straight Olympic gold medals.

The most recent friendly match between Germany and the U.S. was played just more than two years ago with the USA earning a 4-0 win on May 22, 2010, in Cleveland, Ohio. The U.S. Women’s National Team has faced Germany 25 times, compiling a record of 17-4-4 in a series that dates back to a 4-2 win on May 30, 1991, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The U.S. women have plenty of history at both of these venues and not surprisingly, they have experienced a boatload of success. Both locations happen to be hotbeds for soccer so expect sold-out crowds to take in the action.

Toyota Park, located less than 15 miles from downtown Chicago, is home to Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire and will host the fourth stop on the U.S. WNT Fan Tribute Tour celebrating the team’s third straight gold medal and fourth overall following a 2-1 victory against Japan on Aug. 9 in front of more than 80,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium to close out the 2012 London Olympics.

The Chicago area is no stranger to hosting friendlies between the two countries. The U.S. has an undefeated record against Germany in games played in Chicago, winning 4-2 on June 28, 1998, and a 4-1 victory on Sept. 9, 2001. Both of those matches were at Soldier Field.

The U.S. WNT has played three times at Toyota Park, with the most recent being a 1-0 triumph against Italy on Nov. 27, 2010, in the second leg of a 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifying playoff match that earned the USA a berth in the tournament. The U.S. also defeated China PR 4-1 on Aug. 27, 2006, and earned a 2-0 win against Ireland on Sept. 20, 2008, in two international friendlies at the stadium.

Rentschler Field, the 40,000-seat home to the University of Connecticut football team, also has hosted several U.S. Women’s National Team matches. The USA has a 3-0-0 record at the facility, last playing in East Hartford on July 17, 2010 in a 3-0 win against Sweden. In other matches at the stadium, the U.S. defeated China PR 3-1 on Aug. 1, 2004 and beat Norway 1-0 on July 14, 2007.

This team gave us so many memories this summer at the London Olympics, while these games certainly don't have the same lofty stakes, it is always fun to watch them compete no matter what the circumstances. If you love soccer in America, it doesn't get much better than these special women.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Maurice Edu Takes His Talents From Scotland (Rangers) To England (Stoke City)

Well it is safe to say that Stoke City has solidified its place in the hearts of U.S. men's national team's fans in just a few short weeks.

Coming on the heels of the news that defender Geoff Cameron had signed there, today we found out that midfielder Maurice Edu was leaving Rangers-bankrupt and banished to Scotland's third division-for greener pastures in the English Premier League. There had been rumors of Edu looking at Ipswich (which plays in The Championship) but I felt all along that he could play at a higher level than that.

From The Sporting News
"After Rangers filed for bankruptcy, Edu announced he would leave the club. He turned down offers from Bursaspor, Evian, Trabzonspor and Valenciennes before accepting the move to Stoke City."

The former University of Maryland star and native of California will never wow you with his flashy moves or impressive statistics. His best attributes as a center midfielder (or center back where he had to play last week against Mexico) include work rate, high fitness level and being a capable two-way player. He is very consistent and you know what to expect from him which is always a good thing.

He also follows the path of Alejandro Bedoya, who left Rangers for Helsingborgs IF (Sweden). Edu had been practicing with Rangers but he didn't suit up in their league games this season. On the other hand, U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra so far has chosen to honor his contract and stay in Scotland. There is only six days left until the transfer window closes (August 31) so I wish I could get to Scotland and convince him that is not the best route for his career. I'm pretty sure that if he wanted to, he could still compete in the EPL or at least a higher level than Scotland in Europe. reported that Edu (who is 26) became Stoke City's fallback option once Tottenham's Tom Huddlestone wasn't signed. I could care less the reasoning and semantics behind the move, I'm just happy to say that another American is playing in what I consider the top soccer league in the world: the English Premier League. That will never get old in my book.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In Case You Forgot, Tim Howard Is Still Playing At A Ridiculously High Level For Club & Country

It's been a whirlwind week for U.S. men's goalkeeper Tim Howard. He was an integral part of the 1-0 U.S. win in Mexico last Wednesday, their first ever victory there in 75 years. Today, his 2012-13 club season in England with Everton got off to an excellent start as they beat Manchester United 1-0.

Facing arguably the English Premier League's most fearsome strikers-Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie (who replaced Welbeck in the 68th minute)-Howard was up to the task as he earned a clean sheet against one of the world's top clubs. He made four saves including a punch on a Rooney header in the first half and a nice run off his line to stuff Shinji Kagawa in the second half.

The easiest thing to do is freak out (positively or negatively) about the first result in a season. Keep in mind, the EPL schedule lasts 38 matches. With that said, some good signs for the Toffees: it was the first time United had failed to win their opening fixture since 2008 but it was the first victory in five seasons for Everton in their opener. Plus, they had won only twice at home against United in 17 years.

Up next, Howard and Everton visit Aston Villa on Saturday morning (10 a.m. ET).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Streak Is Over, After 75 Years The U.S. Men Finally Win (1-0) In Mexico

It only took 75 years and 25 matches but the U.S. men finally ended the worst streak associated with their national team: they shocked Mexico 1-0 tonight at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in a friendly between the two bitter rivals.

Thanks to substitute Michael Orozo Fiscal's goal in the 80th minute (his first international goal), the U.S. were able to put 0-23-1 (all-time record in Mexico) and 0-19-1 (at Estadio Azteca) behind them. Oh and they were outscored 81-14 in those matches. Nearly a year to the day after Jurgen Klinsmann's debut with the Americans-a 1-1 tie vs. Mexico in Philadelphia-they picked up their most meaningful victory in years; I'd rank it even above the 1-0 win in Italy (their first against them) in February since they rarely meet the Italians.

The funny part about such an important strike is that it came as a direct result from three substitutes: Brek Shea started the play with a run down the left side. He played it into Terrence Boyd in the box who cleverly back-heeled to Fiscal. The defender had made a run forward and he was able to touch it in before the Mexican defense cleared it out.

It's surprising that Mexico agreed to have this friendly at Estadio Azteca since they usually save its mystique and crazy home-field advantage for World Cup qualifiers. From a U.S. perspective, this couldn't have gone any better since not only did they finally earn a win at what had been a house of horrors, but they did it without many of their biggest stars. Now, when they go back next summer in a qualifier with a full squad, they will have that much more confidence in themselves.

This was a game that Mexico let slip away since they dominated possession and had numerous chances offensively. Conversely, the U.S. struggled to string together any passes and therefore they defended almost the entire 94 (4 minutes of added time) minutes. That made for a brutal game to watch, until about the 80th minute or so. The two center backs in the makeshift U.S. backline really stood out: Maurice Edu (he's normally a midfielder) and Geoff Cameron, who was probably the most consistent U.S. player from start to finish.

The first half was devoid of any real notable action as Mexico had the ball but couldn't do anything productive with it. Things opened up in the second half as the U.S. legs looked a little wobbly in the thin air. Cameron headed a cross away from the U.S. box in the 56th minute then Jesus Zavala headed another chance over in the next minute.

The only real chances before Orozco Fiscal's goal were a free kick by Herculez Gomez then Kyle Beckerman's slide tackle which made the ball go barely over the Mexican net. It would have been one of the flukiest goals in the history of U.S. soccer.

It was not Mexico's night as Andres Guardado curled a free kick around the U.S. goal in the 65th minute but the best chance of the match for them came in the 76th minute when Chicharito missed the net on a wide open header.

Of course no special win for the United States would be complete without a pair of absurd saves by Tim Howard. He was able to stop Javier Hernandez's deflected shot in the 85th minute by going from one post to the other. Even more impressive, he stuffed Chicharito on a header in the 89th minute that the Manchester United striker normally buries.

From here, the U.S. goes back into qualifying mode as they travel to Kingston, Jamaica on Friday, September 7 then host Usain Bolt's boys on Tuesday, September 11 (should be a great scene that day) in Columbus, Ohio. The U.S. is 1-0-1 after its first two matches, a 3-1 win vs. Antigua and Barbuda then a 1-1 tie with Guatemala. Four points (two wins) should be expected even though Jamaica also sports a 1-0-1 mark.

It has taken some time, as can be expected, but Klinsmann is really starting to take hold of this team. He improved to 8-5-3 in his U.S. head coaching career while the Italy and Mexico wins show the potential this country has in men's soccer. Outsiders have always felt like the U.S. was a sleeping giant and at last, they are proving that to be true.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Squad Lacking Experience & Some Stars Will Try To Be 1st U.S. Men's Team To Win In Mexico

The U.S. men's national team hasn't played in Mexico since 1984 and they have never won there so needless to say, they will have their hands full on Wednesday (8 p.m., ET; ESPN2, at Estadio Azteca.

Making things much more difficult (if possible) is the fact that many of its brightest stars (Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, etc.) won't make the trip since their club seasons in Europe are just getting underway. I have no clue why this important friendly was scheduled now but there is no use fretting about that at this point.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to bring this group together and challenge Mexico for a win,” said Klinsmann in a press release. “For every game, we always look at who is in the best form, who is fit and who is ready to go. We have a lot of veteran players and also some new, hungry guys who deserve a chance. Every player in the pool looks forward to an amazing opportunity like this, the chance to take on Mexico in such an historic stadium like Estadio Azteca. With the World Cup qualifiers coming up next month, we can start preparing these players mentally and physically for Jamaica.”

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Beithasour (San Jose Earthquakes), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

There are nine players currently competing in MLS and on top of that, the twist that a whopping six Americans are employed by Mexican clubs. Eight U.S. players were on the roster last time these rivals met on August 10, 2011 in Philadelphia (a 1-1 tie that was Klinsmann's debut). Besler and Beithasour are the two guys that are seeking their first caps with the U.S.

With such a young and inexperienced group, Klinsmann will count on Howard, Beasley, Edu, Jones, Donovan and Gomez to provide even more leadership than normal. In terms of guys that should step up more, be sure to pay attention to how Cameron, Johnson, Torres, Williams and Boyd perform on Wednesday. They have already played for the U.S. and they are on the fringe when the squad is at full strength therefore they'll need to prove their worth when they have bigger roles.

Here is Mexico's roster
Goalkeepers: Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio, France), Alefredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Francisco Javier Rodriguez (Stuttgart, Germany), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Severo Meza (Monterrey), Hugo Ayala (UANL Tigres), Jorge Torres Nilo (UANL Tigres), Enrique Perez (Morelia), Adrian Aldrete (Club America)
Midfielders: Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Manuel Viniegra (UANL Tigres), Edgar Gerardo Lugo (Santos Laguna), Pablo Barrera (Cruz Azul), Andres Guardado (Valencia, Spain), Angel Reyna (Monterrey)
Forwards: Elias Hernandez (UANL Tigres), Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United, England)

Striker Giovani Dos Santos and defender Carlos Salcido, two of Mexico's best players, won't be there since they played for their country at the recently completed London Olympics. Still, with Guardado and especially Chicarito (the best player on either team), it's clear that Mexico isn't using this exhibition just to evaluate its younger players. They always want to beat their most bitter rival.

Any kind of positive result for the U.S., a tie or at least a competitive game would give them some real momentum heading into their 2014 World Cup qualifying games in September with Jamaica (Sept. 7 in Kingston; Sept. 11 in Columbus, Ohio).

UPDATE 8/13: The U.S. added San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon to the roster so they now are carrying 23 players. He would also be seeking his first cap.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

With Rangers Dropping To The 3rd Division, Bedoya Elects To Go To Sweden

It was only a matter of time before the U.S. men's national team members on Rangers went elsewhere to play this season since the Scottish club is being punished for its financial problems by getting dropped to the third division.

Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who has 13 CAPs for the U.S., was the first to break the ice as he announced earlier today that he's headed for Helsingborgs IF in Sweden. The Boston College product was only in Scotland for one season and while he scored but one goal in 13 appearances, his future is still bright because he's only 25.

With players leaving Rangers left and right, he would have received more playing time but he probably weighed that against the fact that they wouldn't be on the biggest stage for at least a few more years. We'll have to see what happens with U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra and midfielder Maurice Edu, the two other Americans that called Rangers home.

The roster for the U.S. vs. Mexico friendly next week will be announced on Sunday at 4 p.m. Jurgen Klinsmann hasn't called Bedoya into training camp in a while so it'll be interesting to see if he gets some love any time soon from his country. In the limited amount that he has played for the U.S., he has looked good. I'm not sure why he seemingly fell out of favor.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

U.S. Women Capture Their 3rd Straight Gold Medal With A Thrilling 2-1 Win Vs. Japan

Very rarely in sports do big games (Super Bowl, College Football Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals) live up to their outsized expectations. We were lucky enough to witness an instant classic this afternoon as the U.S. women's national soccer team (6-0-0) beat Japan (3-1-2) 2-1 at Wembley Stadium to capture the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

This result was fitting redemption for the U.S. since they lost to Japan in penalty kicks last July in the 2011 World Cup Final.

Carli Lloyd provided both goals for the Americans who built a 1-0 halftime lead and then a 2-0 advantage in the second half before holding on for dear life as Japan turned up the heat, culminating in a goal by Yuki Ogimi in the 63rd minute.

In most cases, Lloyd would be the clear cut choice for player of the match however she has to share that honor with U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo (4 saves), who had to be at her absolute best to ensure that the U.S. won their third straight gold and fourth in five Olympics all-time.

Known more for her work-rate in the midfield and not her finishing touch, Lloyd stepped up with the best game of her life. She put the U.S. ahead 1-0 in the eighth minute (3rd of the tournament, 39th of her career) after a cross from Alex Morgan (tournament-high 5 assists) that curled away from Japan's goalkeeper Miko Fukumoto. In live action, I thought Abby Wambach one-touched it with her foot but it turned out that Lloyd ran onto it and headed it in. High marks for Morgan's pass too as she was able to put it in the right spot for her teammates.

The U.S. almost made it 2-0 when Megan Rapinoe nearly connected with Wambach for a through ball but it was a few feet too long. Japan suddenly woke up as U.S. defender Christie Rampone cleared a shot off the goal-line then Solo made her first A+ stop. Soon after that, she dove to rob Japan on a header that deflected off the crossbar and over the net.

Tobin Heath was lucky to get away with what easily could have been a handball in the box, leading to a Japan penalty kick. I'll say that it was more obvious than the call against Canada in the semifinals but that's how it goes sometimes in soccer (no conspiracy theories please).

Japan was fortunate not to trail 2-0 in the first half as one of their defenders headed the ball off their own post. They kept buzzing and hit the crossbar with the third superb chance of the first half for them. Shinobu Ohno had one last agonizingly close shot for Japan as her shot from the top of the box whistled wide by mere inches.

Up 1-0 at the half, the U.S. realized that they would need more to hold off the Japanese who are such a tough matchup for them. Lloyd answered the bell again, in the 58th minute, as she finished off a great individual effort by placing her shot in the opposite side netting from outside the box. Truly a remarkable shot that no goalkeeper could ever dream to stop.

Japan would not be deterred though and Rampone cleared another shot off the line but this time, Ogimi was there to clean it up in the 63rd minute. Game on. The U.S. didn't look like a team with a lead as Rachel Buehler went forward and should have done better on a one-timer off a cross. Still, what do you expect from a defender?

Wambach didn't have her normal stellar offensive game but her effort was there. That was her tracking back on a free kick and heading out the ball for a Japan corner kick. The same could be said for Morgan: it wasn't her best day but it turns out the U.S. had more depth than anyone could have imagined. Whether it was nerves or fatigue, Morgan uncharacteristically wasted a few shots in ways you don't normally see from her.

Lloyd had a chance to end it and cap off a hat trick but her blast went over in the 83rd minute. That was followed by Solo making a game-saving stop after Rampone coughed up the ball in her own end. Outside of the assist, Morgan's best play was her hustle late in the match which earned a corner for the U.S.-wasting precious time for Japan.

The final whistle sounded and the U.S. coaches led by Pia Sundhage and players went crazy. They all seemed to receive American flags which they draped themselves and then ran around the historic stadium. It was a remarkable win and the best moment for this proud group which had come so close to a World Cup title last summer against this same formidable opponent.

Before we speculate, who will be out of the mix soon (Heather Mitts already said this was her last game for the U.S.), let's enjoy what will be one of the signature moments of the London Olympics for the United States. This team is outstanding, very talented but with great chemistry that allows them to put their egos aside and achieve special results like this. Overall, they are so much fun to root for since they play the game the right way and seem to enjoy doing it in the process. Once again, the U.S. women are back on top in soccer worldwide.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Alex Morgan Scores In 122nd Minute As U.S. Women Defeat Canada 4-3; Face Japan For Gold

I'm not sure what it is about them but the U.S. women's national team seems to love drama, in a good way of course. There have never been penalty kicks in the Olympics (for a women's game) but the U.S. (5-0-0) and Canada (2-2-1) looked set for that ultimate crapshoot as they were tied 3-3 this afternoon at Old Trafford (home of Manchester United) in the semifinals.

A moment of brilliance from substitute Heather O'Reilly (who entered in the 101st minute) and Alex Morgan saved the Americans from the format that haunted them last summer (see: 2011 Women's World Cup Final vs. Japan). The U.S. survived 4-3 and move on to the Gold Medal game on Thursday afternoon (2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports) at Wembley Stadium and a rematch vs. Japan. It is the fifth straight Olympics Final for the Red, White and Blue and they are the two-time defending champions.

In the 122nd minute, O'Reilly whipped a cross into the box and Morgan-who's not tall or particularly deadly in the air-was still able to rise up over her defender and head it over Canada's goalkeeper Erin McLeod. It was an incredible strike in literally the last seconds that was eerily reminiscent of Abby Wambach's goal vs. Brazil last summer in the World Cup quarterfinals.

By far their most dangerous player for the U.S. was midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who had a pair of goals in the second half. Wambach scored on a penalty kick that followed a handball by Canada on a shot by Rapinoe. Wherever she was on the field, she made things happen and that included being a wizard on the ball.

Canada probably deserved better as Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick (1st against the U.S. in 11 years) but her team managed to blow a halftime lead of 1-0, not to mention 2-1 and 3-2 advantages in the second half. The first 45 minutes weren't particularly thrilling but the second half plus extra time made this truly one of the craziest soccer matches (men's or women's, any level) that I've ever witnessed.

The U.S. defense which couldn't mark Sinclair all day had a collectively terrible performance yet they still found a win to get by Canada. Her first goal was the result of a wonderful buildup from her teammates. Marie-Eve Nault's through ball hit Melissa Tancredi who found Sinclair. She twisted Kelley O'Hara around before finishing past Hope Solo in the 22nd minute.

It was the first time Canada had led the U.S. since 2003. That goal didn't really wake up the U.S. until halftime although Morgan had a header go just wide in the 32nd minute off a free kick. Wambach tried a diving header in the 38th minute but that too skipped wide.

Rapinoe-a college teammate of Sinclair at the University of Portland (Oregon)-tied it in the 54th minute on a play that is extremely rare in soccer outside of the youth level. She bent a corner kick past McLeod, a Canadian defender had a slight touch on it but the ball had already crossed the line by then. Little did we know that would start a flurry of five goals in 26 minutes.

Sinclair went to work and answered with a header of her own off a cross in the 67th minute. Canada was up 2-1 for all of three minutes as Rapinoe scored an absolute highlight reel goal (her 3rd of the tournament) in the 70th minute. She was at the top of the box and her right-footed shot hit the far post and bounced into the other side. Unreal.

The U.S. could never figure out a way to stop Sinclair as she got her hat trick in the 73rd minute, off another header but this time from a corner kick. The good news was that the Americans had one more improbable rally left in their cleats.

After a bizarre six second call on McLeod, the refs topped that with a shaky penalty on a handball that appeared to hit a prone arm or hand that was against a Canadian's body. Whatever the case, Wambach stepped up and calmly tied it up in the 80th minute (her 143rd international goal, ironically tying Sinclair).

Both squads had great chances to end it in regulation but Wambach missed a tap-in following a pass from Morgan. Solo stepped up with her biggest save of the Olympics as she stuffed Canada after a terrible giveaway by the frazzled U.S. backline.

Sydney Leroux entered in the 76th minute and she had two decent chances. Her header went over at the end of regulation and in the first overtime, she was first to a 50-50 ball but sent it high of the mark.

The U.S. had never lost in the Olympic semifinals and were 5-1 in Olympic extra-time games. O'Reilly's hustle (thanks to her fresh legs) basically made something out of nothing and I'm not sure how Morgan had that much energy to score her first goal since the opening match vs. France. It was a play that we will be seeing for a long time, particularly if the U.S. captures the Gold Medal.

Japan held on for a 2-1 win vs. France in the first semifinal this afternoon. They were up 2-0 and were able to withstand some serious pressure from the French in the late going. The great thing about this match on Thursday is that it pits without question the top two women's teams in the world. The crazy part is that they have so much recent history which has helped mold this into the best rivalry in the game.

Japan beat the U.S. 1-0 on March 5 in Portugal; the U.S. tied them 1-1 in Japan on April Fool's Day and most impressively, they rolled 4-1 against the Japanese on June 18 in Sweden. I think that final result is an anomaly and I can basically guarantee that the Gold Medal match will be a one-goal game. These teams are so evenly matched, let's just hope that it doesn't go to penalty kicks since Japan would have the mental edge there after they beat the U.S. in them last July.

Friday, August 3, 2012

See You On Monday: U.S. Women Blank New Zealand 2-0, Head To Olympic Semifinals

History was on the U.S. women's soccer team's side this afternoon as they met New Zealand in the London Olympic quarterfinals. Not only had the Americans reached the semifinals of every major tournament (6 World Cups, 4 Olympics, 7 CONCACAFs) they had ever played in but they were also 8-1-0 all-time against New Zealand.

It wasn't as easy as probably most expected but Pia Sundhage's squad got the job done with a 2-0 victory. Now, they'll meet neighborly rival Canada (2-0 winners vs. Great Britain) in Monday's semifinals (2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.

For a team that is so powerful offensively, let it be noted that the U.S. (4-0-0) hasn't allowed a goal since the first 15 minutes against France in their opening London Olympics match. Goalkeeper Hope Solo and her defense deserve credit for their third straight shutout but let's be real: it's hard for opponents to score when they simply can never possess the ball.

Abby Wambach scored in the 27th minute (her 142th all-time, 16 behind Mia Hamm for the No. 1 spot in U.S. history) and the youngest member of the team-Sydney Leroux-picked up her first Olympic goal (5th of her international career) in the 87th minute. Wambach has scored in five straight Olympic games, including all four in London.

Wambach's partner in crime up top-Alex Morgan-was also on the scoresheet since she provided the assist on Wambach's strike. Morgan worked down the left side of the box, used quick feet to get her defender wobbly before threading it into the perfect spot where only Wambach could get it. She redirected it in for the 1-0 lead.

Morgan had a great chance to score, before Wambach's goal, as she went in alone on New Zealand's goalkeeper Jenny Bindon but she put it into the side netting.

This was the first knockout round game for New Zealand in any competition and their inexperience finally started to pop up in the second half. They never really put any heat on Solo and Morgan had three good chances to increase the lead to 2-0. She put another shot into the side netting after she stole the ball from a defender. Shortly after that, she was taken down in the box in what could easily have been called a penalty kick. Finally, Bindon stuffed Morgan by going almost out of her 18-yard box.

Bindon showed her toughness when she was kneed right in the face by Morgan but didn't come out of the game. Carli Lloyd picked up a yellow card in the 79th minute for a clumsy challenge. New Zealand kept trying long shots on Solo but I guess they didn't know that those will never be successful. The best they could do was take a shameful dive in the box, attempting to draw a penalty kick.

Leroux subbed in for Morgan in the 81st minute and almost immediately, she made things happen. After making a great run, she crossed it to Heather O'Reilly, who couldn't get a shot off before being surrounded. Her goal was a glimpse of what makes her such a promising talent. Not only did she fight off a defender but then she had the calmness to take her time and get a somewhat powerful shot on goal that trickled through Bindon's legs.

France vs. Japan is the first semifinal on Monday (12 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) and honestly, after watching Japan dismantle Brazil 2-0 this afternoon and remembering their recent history, I'm glad that the U.S. wouldn't face them until the final. They are clearly their biggest obstacle. Canada (2-1-1) is playing well and they looked good when they met the U.S. right before the World Cup in a friendly. Still, France (3-1-0)-who led 2-0 against the U.S. in the first match-and Japan (2-0-2) who beat them in the 2011 World Cup Final are more formidable as far as I'm concerned.