Monday, July 6, 2015
Even the biggest U.S. honk would have to admit that in their wildest Budweiser-fueled drunken 4th of July dreams, they probably never imagined the 2015 Women's World Cup Final unfolding quite like it did on Sunday at Vancouver's BC Place. What most expected to be a tight match turned into a unbelievable blowout in the span of 16 minutes: Carli Lloyd scored the fastest hat trick in Women's World Cup history and first in a Final as the U.S. jumped out to a 4-0 lead and cruised to a 5-2 victory over shell-shocked Japan. With the win, the U.S. finally took home its third World Cup title (the most of any country) and their first since 1999.
Japan was completely exposed on set pieces as Lloyd scored her first two goals (in the 3rd and 5th minutes) by knocking in a short corner kick from Megan Rapinoe then also following up a loose ball in the box after Julie Johnston had headed a free kick into a dangerous spot by the Japanese goal. Just as a viewer, this all happened so fast that it was almost overwhelming so you can imagine how the Japanese (the defending World Cup champs) were feeling as the match was taken away from them so early. A poor header by one of Japan's defenders led to the third U.S. goal as Lauren Holiday was there to volley it in the 14th minute.
Lloyd's first goal was great and Holiday's was also memorable (her first of this tournament) but the signature moment of this one-sided Final that will be replayed for eternity was Lloyd's audacious chip from midfield that gave her the hat trick in the 16th minute (3rd ever for a U.S. woman at the World Cup). Only someone as super confident as her would dream of trying something so outrageous and while Japan's goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori was slightly out of position, it was a perfect hit by the U.S. captain who not surprisingly won the Golden Ball for the best player in the tournament (6 goals, 1 assist; goals in 4 straight matches).
It took way too long for them to get in gear but Japan showed for a few brief moments why they got here in the first place and figured to pose such a threat to the U.S. Yuki Ogimi cut it to 4-1 in the 28th minute after she was wide open in the box after an assist from Nahomi Kawasumi. Hope Solo (who won the Golden Glove for the best goalkeeper in the tournament) had no chance to stop the shot that went into the corner of the net.
To keep the audience watching (and I bet it was a record rating), the announcers had to pretend that Japan potentially could rally. Haha yeah OK guys. I will admit that it got just a little interesting in the 52nd minute when Johnston's header went past Solo for an own goal. However, two minutes later Tobin Heath put it away for good with her first career World Cup goal (beautifully assisted by Morgan Brian). Look out for those two in the next few World Cups, they are going to be leaders of the team in the near future.
Both Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone were substitutes late in the game, a nice touch by head coach Jill Ellis since both were playing in their final World Cup contest. About the only thing that didn't go perfectly for the U.S. was that Wambach didn't score a goal but we'll forgive her for that after all that she's done over the years in Red, White and Blue.
The cliche of getting better every game actually applied to this team as they saved their best performances for their toughest opponents: Germany and Japan. They had struggled so much to score for most of the month in Canada but then the floodgates opened today and Japan had absolutely no chance to stop it. I think that Fox Sports 1 and Fox did a very solid job of covering this tournament and hopefully the momentum that the sport has gained will continue with the NWSL (where most of these women play) and of course in future World Cups.
The Americans had been knocking on the door for so long and I'm thrilled for them knowing all the hard work that they've put in over the years. Most importantly, they created their own legacy and now they never have to be endlessly criticized for not being the 1999 squad. Nope, this moment sealed their legacy forever. PS while the 1999 team had the greatest impact, this edition had the toughest journey since the field had expanded to 24 teams for the first time and they came out of the hardest group so there.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Thanks to more clutch play from captain Carli Lloyd (who scored a goal for the third straight game), an impenetrable defense (which has five straight clean sheets, 513 minutes without allowing a goal) and an insurance goal by a most unlikely source (Kelley O'Hara), the U.S. women's national team defeated No. 1 Germany 2-0 tonight at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in the 2015 World Cup semifinals. They'll face the winner of Japan/England on Sunday (7, Fox) in Vancouver. With the win, the U.S. tied Germany for most all-time appearances in the World Cup Final (4) as they go for their third title (1991, 1999) overall and first in this century.
Germany came out fast but after the Americans were able to withstand that early push, then they methodically took over possession and in terms of quality scoring chances. German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer (playing in her last World Cup) stopped her club teammate Alex Morgan with a kick save in the 15th minute after the U.S. forward broke in alone for a breakaway. The other notable play in the first half was a brutal collision of heads between U.S. midfielder Morgan Brian and German forward Alexandra Popp going up for the ball in the U.S. defensive box. After a long delay, Popp was left with a nasty gash on her head while a clearly woozy Brian slowly walked off the field. Strangely enough, both soon returned to the game. Ugh.
The U.S. should have been up by at least a goal at halftime but yet again, their lack of finishing touch hurt them. Still, they have not conceded a goal in any second half at this World Cup plus they always seem to ratchet up their execution when it's truly winning time. The second half was a non-stop swing of emotions as first Germany drew a deserved penalty kick in the 59th minute when rising star Julie Johnston pulled down Popp. Johnston earned a yellow card and German goal-scoring machine Celia Sasic stepped up to the spot to take it. American goalkeeper Hope Solo (89th career shutout; 10th in the World Cup tying former teammate Brianna Scurry's World Cup record) wasted as much time as she could and it must have worked on some level as Sasic pulled her curling, low shot just wide of the post. After going 12-for-12 all-time in World Cup penalty kicks, Germany had finally missed one.
It was the U.S.' turn to get a penalty kick as Alex Morgan was taken down right at the edge of Germany's defensive box in the 69th minute by Annike Krahn. Lloyd drilled her third successful penalty kick in a row for the 1-0 U.S. advantage (they've never lost in the World Cup when they have a lead). Given the quality of their opponent and the high stakes of this match, this was undoubtedly the best performance by the U.S over these past six contests in Canada. My favorite aspect of it was that they didn't settle for a nervy 1-0 victory, instead they went for the kill and sent Germany to the third-place match with a beautiful goal in the 84th minute. Abby Wambach pulled it back to Meghan Klingenberg who played the ball ahead to Lloyd, she got a step on her defender and lofted a perfect cross right on the goal-line for O'Hara to re-direct with her foot. Would you believe it was her first ever goal in a U.S. jersey? Talk about timing!
England is clearly the underdog-just happy to be in tomorrow's match vs. Japan who won the 2011 World Cup (5-4 in penalty kicks over the U.S.). Tonight proved without a doubt that the U.S. is the team to beat and it should give them so much confidence going into Sunday's match. There is almost no question that they would come out on top against England but if you are a U.S. fan, you have to be hoping to see Japan on Sunday. After all, it would only be right to have this long drought end by beating the previous champion. This is shaping up to be a storybook journey for the U.S. and that represents the ultimate ending.
UPDATE 7/2: Bring on Japan! They beat England 2-1 last night on one of the most brutal own goals that I've ever seen.