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Bundesliga Preview, Part 5 of 6

by Olaf Goldbecker

1.FFC Frankfurt
A déjà vu happens, for Frankfurt you can write the same article as a year ago. This time Frankfurt did not even qualify for the Champions League. The reaction is the same after every season: the team goes shopping, particularly for big names. The defense was having very prominent names before and gets even stronger with Bianca Schmidt and Babett Peter who will easily replace the leaving players. Simone Laudehr is another key addition, while the hopes in the offense rely on Sandrine Bretigny. The team was made stronger again but the main question will be if the right consequences were drawn since the focal weakness, the offense lineup, was not significantly improved.

Additions: Simone Laudehr (FCR Duisburg), Sandrine Bretigny (Olympique Lyonnais), Babett Peter, Bianca Schmidt (Turbine Potsdam), Jessica Wich (Hamburger SV)

Losses: Jessica Landström (Djurgarden/Sweden), Gina Lewandowski (Bayern München), Ria Percival (FF USV Jena)

Predicted Finish: Doubtlessly Frankfurt is a top team but the offense line still does not fully convince, and it appears that not the right consequences were drawn from last year’s failure. The qualification for the Champions League should be realized and of course they are competing for the title but there is one team left that seems to have done better homework.

FCR 2001 Duisburg
When we talk about big changes in Potsdam this still is nothing compared to Duisburg. The club was financially struggling and had to let many players go. Laudehr, Popp, Krahn, Wensing, Bresonik – this practically were the reasons why Duisburg was able to finish fourth last year. On the goalkeeping position they improved with Ashlyn Harris but other quality additions only are Elli Reed as left back, and Nicole Banecki who was sorted out by Bayern Munich. The financial struggles will have an effect on the former powerhouse and Duisburg will have to accept a minor role in the league in the future.

Additions: Ashlyn Harris (unattached), Elli Reed (Boston Breakers), Nicole Banecki (Bayern München)

Losses: Simone Laudehr (1.FFC Frankfurt), Petra Hogewoning (Ajax Amsterdam), Christina Bellinghoven (retired), Annike Krahn, Linda Bresonik (Paris St Germain), Alexandra Popp, Luisa Wensing (VfL Wolfsburg), Anke Preuss (TSG Hoffenheim)

Prediction: Duisburg will finish in the middle of the standings. With some luck they challenge Bayern Munich for the fourth spot but more realistic is a battle with Bad Neuenahr for 5th.

Bundesliga Preview, Part 4 of 6

by Olaf Goldbecker

SG Essen-Schönebeck
Essen finished strong in 5th place last year – result of the good work of Coach Markus Högner. He continues building his program according to his ideals and does not bring in a single Bundesliga experienced player. The roster nearly stays the same. Only two quality players will have to be replaced. Despite having NT experienced Lisa Weiss back in goal they will miss Ursula Holl who maybe played the best season of her career in the final season. The danger for Essen is that in the offense nearly everything runs over veteran Melanie Hoffmann, who turns 38 this fall. Should she miss time they are running on an extremely narrow offense line.

Losses: Ursula Holl (retired), Jessica Bade (SC Bad Neuenahr)

Prediction: Essen played above their level in the past season and will get back to normal. The roster is not above average but the good coaching level compensates it to a certain degree. A secure midfield position will be the consequence.

FC Bayern München
Part one of the last season was a nightmare for Munich, while season part two became a dream with the win of the cup competition as highlight – Bayern Munich surely set the right course in winter by adding Niki Cross and Sarah Hagen. Only Gina Lewandowski comes in new now, while two quality players leave. Coach Thomas Wörle seems to have the team on track in the meantime, he added athleticism and experience to the roster, which was what the team needed.

Addition: Gina Lewandowski (1.FFC Frankfurt)
Losses: Stefanie Mirlach (Turbine Potsdam), Nicole Banecki (FCR Duisburg)

Prediction: Bayern is tough to play for every team but they don’t yet have the quality to constantly win against all teams. Under the bottom line Munich should finish fourth and be able to create a gap to the following teams.

Bundesliga Preview, Part 3 of 6

by Olaf Goldbecker

SC 07 Bad Neuenahr
The team of the smallest Bundesliga city underwent some changes after a mediocre season, which finished in 7th place. Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh tries her luck in Potsdam, veteran Bianca Rech was not re-signed and landed with 2. Bundesliga site Cologne, Ramona Petzelberger joined her ex-coach in Leverkusen, and Katie Hoyle returned to New Zealand. Four solid players went and some solid players are new in. Aylin Yaren is a proven technical player for the center mid position. Jessica Bade is a hopeful talent for the outside lanes but injured at the season start. For former top striker Shelley Thompson it might be the last chance to prove that she still has her old class, while Portuguese Neide Simoes will serve as backup keeper and Rachel Rinast still has to prove her Bundesliga capability. Overall the roster is on a comparable level to the last season. The star player is Celia Okoyino da Mbabi, Bad Neuenahr’s life insurance also in times in which it isn’t working as expected.

Additions: Aylin Yaren (Hamburger SV), Jessica Bade (SG Essen-Schönebeck), Rachel Rinast (1 FC Köln), Shelley Thompson (Bayer Leverkusen), Neide Simoes (Escola FC/Portugal)

Losses: Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh (Turbine Potsdam), Ramona Petzelberger (Bayer Leverkusen), Bianca Rech (1.FC Köln), Katie Hoyle (New Zealand)

Prediction: another uneventful season will happen in Bad Neuenahr. They are not good enough for the upper third but too good for the bottom third, so the shape will determine where they range between spots 5 and 8 at the end of this campaign.

SC Freiburg
A very interesting and unpredictable team is SC Freiburg. After getting relegated they directly returned to Bundesliga in 2011 and had an astonishing first season half last year – but this only to nearly collapse after winter. Only six points were collected in 2012, merely Leipzig was worse during this time. What is following now is a major change. No less than ten players left the club and nine will be new in. No doubt that the main work of Coach Milorad Pilipovic will be to form a unit. The pre-season delivered some good results, which is raising the optimism in Germany’s southwestern tip.

Additions: Claire Savin (TSG Hoffenheim), Eva Maria Virsinger (VfL Sindelfingen), Jenista Clark, Jobina Lahr (Lokomotive Leipzig), Sylvia Arnold (FF USV Jena), Katherine Reynolds (Western New York Flash), Fiona O’Sullivan (ASJ Soyaux/France)

Losses: Isabella Schmid (Florida State), Marisa Brunner (Assistant Coach, FC Basel), Stephanie Wendlinger, Isabelle Meyer, Julia Zirnstein, Myriam Krüger (SC Sand), Lydia Miraoui, Essi Sainio (unknown), Kerstin Boschert (FC Basel)

Prediction: Tricky job to evaluate Freiburg. The skills are solid, the key question is how quickly the newly formed team will click together. Should the team show starting woes they might find themselves in the relegation battle, but under normal circumstances they will land mid-table just as Bad Neuenahr.

Bundesliga Preview, Part 2 of 6

by Olaf Goldbecker

FF USV Jena
Jena only finished three points ahead of the dotted line and made no advertising for themselves with continuous woes behind the scenery. Only two new additions were made. Safi Nyembo is a proven 2. Bundesliga striker who still has to prove her value in the top league, while Ria Percival has to change from being an average player with a top team to a key performer to a lesser talented team. With Tessa Rinkes and Mirte Roelvink two players were lost to a direct competitor, and with Sylvia Arnold one of the key faces of the team left as well. The times are not getting easier for Jena.

Additions: Ria Percival (1.FFC Frankfurt), Safi Nyembo (Lokomotive Leizig)
Losses: Tessa Rinkes, Mirte Roelvink (FSV Gütersloh), Sylvia Arnold (SC Freiburg), Stephanie Milde (unknown)

Prediction: Jena is not a lot stronger than the newly promoted teams but has more experience which might keep them in the league. A season without relegation worries would be a surprise though. For the promoted teams Gütersloh and Sindelfingen, Jena will be the first target out of the established clubs.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen
If Hamburg hadn’t withdrawn their team from the top league, Bayer Leverkusen would not be in the upper house anymore. A disastrous first half season was not possible to be repaired, too many inexperienced talents did not have their nerves under control. Thomas Obliers is a new coach on the sideline and he brought three new players in while he had to suffer a bunch of leaving players. Isabel Kerschowski, the new team captain, was signed from Potsdam, certainly a spectacular move. Ramona Petzelberger and Marisa Ewers bring quality in but the line of leaving players is long and full of quality players. Coach Obliers proved to be able to work with such a young roster in the past though.

Additions: Isabel Kerschowski (Turbine Potsdam), Marisa Ewers (Hamburger SV), Ramona Petzelberger (SC Bad Neuenahr)

Losses: Johanna Elsig (Turbine Potsdam), Sally Shipard (Canberra United), Teresa Tüllmann (retired), Shelley Thompson (SC Bad Neuenahr), Natalie Moik (VCU), Katie Bethke (graduation), Stephanie Mpalaskas (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

Prediction: Bayer is one of the most interesting teams in the league. On paper the team is worse than in the previous season despite the three quality signings. Yet last season they performed incredibly below their real level, so that it would not be a miracle if they finished on a good midfield position despite a weaker team. Still, if things don’t work out as expected they are also capable of repeating a nightmare season since the club missed to add veteran leadership and experience, which already was their problem in the previous season.

Bundesliga Preview, Part 1 of 6

by Olaf Goldbecker

Women’s Bundesliga is starting the 2012/13 campaign on the September 1st weekend. At least parts of it will be played since the league administration had to re-schedule some games even before the start due to the U-20 World Cup, which obviously was not taken into consideration when creating the schedule. The season starts with the interesting situation that four times straight champion Turbine Potsdam is the chased and simultaneously the chasing team since they will not enter the season as favorites to defend their title. Until the season starts, we will take a short look at the 12 teams that start this year.

FSV Gütersloh
For the first time ever Gütersloh appears on the big stage. So far they were known as talent producers who never managed to make the step to the highest league, but last year it worked out. Yet all newly promoted teams from the northern division in 2. Bundesliga had a short stay in the top leagues in the previous years, and Gütersloh will certainly have a hard life as well. Five Bundesliga experienced players were signed and the defense seems solid, but the core issue will be that the two top talents – the key factors why they got up to Bundesliga – signed with Wolfsburg. The offense now seems worse than in the previous years in a lower league and also proved to be the problem in the exhibition games prior to the season.

Additions: Tessa Rinkes, Mirte Roelvink (FF USV Jena), Marie Pollmeier (BV Cloppenburg), Jacqueline Dünker (Herforder SV), Anne van Bonn (Lokomotive Leipzig), Maren Wallenhorst (Werder Bremen), Rebecca Granz (FV Löchgau)

Losses: Annabel Jäger, Lina Magull (VfL Wolfsburg)

Prediction: a lot depends on the season start, Sindelfingen is the first opponent at home and this game could already mean a lot. The team might keep an open race but it is questionable that the thin offensive line, which already starts with the offensive midfield, can be competitive. For sure Gütersloh cannot expect to be in the top league next season as well.

VfL Sindelfingen
Coming up from 2. Bundesliga South is VfL Sindelfingen, a club which has been in the upper house for long in the 90s and for one season in this decade before. A good season was played, some additions were made but there was trouble behind the scenes even after getting promoted – certainly no good timing to get a competitive roster together. The new players are okay but don’t bring the experience which is needed for the relegation fight. Traditionally, the newly promoted team from the southern league has better chances to stay in than the northern team, yet it will be a rough season. On the plus side, Sindelfingen could keep their team together and does not have to suffer key losses.

Additions: Jasmin Eder (BV Cloppenburg), Michelle Wörner (FV Löchgau), Pascale Küffner (FC Schlieren/Switzerland), Sandra Betschart (FC Yverdon/Switzerland), Anna-Lena Vollmer (ASV Hagsfeld)

Losses: Eva-Maria Virsinger (SC Freiburg), Jil Gehder, Tabea Knöll (TSV Crailsheim)

Prediction: the same as for Gütersloh could be told here. The first road game in Gütersloh will set the tone, but it would be a surprise if Sindelfingen is able to stay far from the relegation line. Compared to Gütersloh the team looks less experienced but has the advantage of playing together for longer. Still betting a lot of money on remaining in the top league would be negligent.

Competitive Soccer

OK! The Olympics are over. It’s time to start writing again…

In the last blog entry, I said that I would talk about what it’s like to play competitive soccer. Actually, I have only been playing competitive soccer since the spring, so I guess I can’t tell you everything, but I’m learning.

Playing on my comp team is really a lot of fun because all the girls are very dedicated, they work hard, and everyone wants to learn more and move up. It’s a lot more challenging and we’re playing much better teams than we did in rec soccer, although we are losing a lot more games. However, losing definitely shows us what we need to work on.

Some of the things that have been interesting to learn are all the different positions. We’re learning about strikers, and how to play all the right and left positions, as well as how to really play mid-field. There are also lots of new drills to learn, and now we’re even doing a lot of conditioning so we can be in shape and run fast for a whole game.

Traveling is exciting because we get to go to new places and new fields, and it also makes me appreciate playing at our home field, which is right down the street from me and has really good grass. You don’t really appreciate good grass until you’ve played on bad grass.

Playing stronger teams is fun, but one thing I miss about my recreational team was the rival teams. We only played 4 or 5 other teams so we ended up playing some teams three or four times. Once you get an enemy, you work harder to beat that team the next time they come around. Last year, our biggest rival was this team called the Pink Panthers. We beat them a few times and then they beat us, but I’ll tell you the whole story when I write a blog entry I’m planning about team rivals.

Our competitive team hasn’t really developed a big rivalry yet, because we play a lot more teams, but we’re starting to really want to beat this team that we played twice last spring. My mom said not to use their real team name because they’re on our game schedule this fall, so I’ll just call them, the “Tomatoes”. There is a big story about the “Tomatoes” too, but I’ll also save that one for the entry about rivals.

Team Camp

Since the last time I wrote, my team had a team camp. We spent more time practicing things we usually don’t have as much time for, such as step-over, pullback, fake turns, juggling, and even the Maradona. We did self-drills, and lots of scrimmages – 2v2, 3v3, and then full team with two goalies. After that we had our own Olympics, and the US won! Team camp was really fun, but also exhausting because we had our regular evening practices, and then a tournament on the weekend. (Tournament report coming soon).

Latest Local Soccer Events

In the last two weeks I’ve gone to two soccer games. The first one was the Earthquakes against the Seattle Sounders. My mom gave my grandma a ticket to the game for her birthday and my grandma went with me – her first professional soccer game! It was very exciting because Steven Lenhart scored in about the last minute of the game and they won.
The other game we went to was Stanford vs Santa Clara. I’m mentioning it because it was the first game ever broadcast on the Pac-12 network. Other than that, all I’m going to say is… Super. Total. Creamer. The only good thing is that the Broncos scored the first goal ever on the Pac-12 network. The Broncos are playing Cal Bears on Thursday afternoon and I wanted to go, but I have a practice, so I’ll just wish the Broncos good luck! Go Broncos!

Damallsvenskan Rounds 11, 12, 13 in the books

by Rainer Fussgänger

After the long Olympic break, the Damallsvenskan started by completing rounds 11 and 12. Two matches that were postponed, because both LdB FC Malmö and AIK had several players in the U19 European Championships that were played in Turkey in July – and that Sweden won by beating Spain 1-0 after extra time.

Djurgården vs LdB FC Malmö 1-2
Attendance: 318
Djurgården: Mia Jalkerud 88′
Malmö: Elin Rubensson 73′, Ramona Bachmann 84′
Malmö without Anja Mittag who stayed at home due to a minor injury did not convince against Djurgården. Late goals by Rubensson and Bachmann though gave them three important points which gave them the lead in the league again. Djurgården’s goalkeeper Gudbjörg Gunnarsdottir got injured in a collision between her and Malmö’s Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir, but played on in the second half.
Umeå IK vs AIK  3-1
Attendance: 560
Umeå: Tuija Hyyrynen 36′, Lina Hurtig 47′, Emma Åberg Zingmark 87′
AIK: Susan Varli 87′
Umeå totally dominated this game and AIK disappointed with its four U19-champions. UIK was able to enhance the difference between them and the downsides AIK and Djurgården up to nine points.
Round 13
Jitex BK vs Linköpings FC 0-0
Attendance: 213

For Jitex this was their first point after four consecutive losses. Linköping with their new coach Martin Sjögren (the man who took LdB FC Malmö to two championships 2010 & 2011) had to play without Nilla Fischer who has become one of the most important members of her new team, especially since team captain Charlotte Rohlin is away due to an ACL. Only 213 spectators keep Jitex down on the attendance list – they went home without seeing a goal.

LdB FC Malmö vs Djurgården 4-0
Attendance: 676
Malmö: Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir 2′, Katrin Schmidt 13′, Anja Mittag 19′, Katrine Veje 85′
Several interviews of Malmö’s club director Niclas Carlnén were published this week. Carlnén stated that the club has money until the end of October 2012. Then it could happen that the champions went bankrupt. Less attendance than expected and less sponsor money than hoped for are the reasons according to Carlnén.

That did not stop the team from winning easily against downside Djurgården which they had met four days before. This time though with goalkeeper Tove Engblom, only 17 years old. After 20 minutes the match was more or less over and Malmö played it home without the slightest problem.

Kristianstads DFF vs KIF Örebro 4-0
Attendance: 542
KDFF: Therese Andersson 24′, Katrin Omarsdottir 60′, Susanne Moberg 67′, Elin Nilsen 86′
Örebro’s season is the worst in many years. Apart from the fact that Örebro lies in 10th position and soon has to fight against relegation, the club has big economic problems. The city of Örebro gave the club an unconditional loan of $150,000 last year, but today it became public that KIF needs another $60,000 this week in order to avoid bancruptcy. This money was guaranteed yesterday by the city again, but it will be connected with demands on the club to restructure its economy. The game in Kristianstad left them with no chance although Kristianstad lost their Swedish WNT striker Kosovare Asllani already after 15 minutes.

AIK vs Göteborg  1:0
AIK: Susan Varli (PK) 41′

AIK’s second victory of the season takes them as close as a single point behind Örebro. In a game where Göteborg had loads of chances in the first half in which Christen Press was steadily threatening the home defense and in which AIK’s goalkeeper Susanne Nilsson probably played one of her best games in her career. Lori Chalupny played her debut for AIK, as did Yael Averbuch for Göteborg. When Stina Segerström and Susan Varli had a collision the ref gave a penalty to AIK. Susan Varli scored the winning goal. In the second half AIK succeeded in winning many balls before they even got through to Press who did not get the ball much. A big fighting AIK against Göteborg which played without heart according to their coach Torbjörn Nilsson.

Tyresö FF vs Vittsjö GIK 5-1
Attendance: 2357
Tyresö: Linda Sembrant 14′, Marta 19′, Madelaine Edlund 35′, Kirsten van de Ven 57′, Vero Boquete  71′
Vittsjö: Kirsty Yallop

Round 13′s top game was live ton TV and was decided after half an hour. Marta gave two assists to headers by Sembrant and Edlund and scored the 2nd goal herself after a run through Vittsjös defense that only she can perform.
I spoke to Vittsjö’s centre back Kendall Fletcher after the game. Fletcher played a terrific first part of the season with Scottish international Ifeoma Dieke and the two were often mentioned as one of the best central defender pairs in the league. How do you summarize the match?
- Well, it was the first game after the break and we lost to one of the very best teams of the league. They have three world class players in midfield and even if you make no mistakes against them, it still is difficult to play them. We have to learn from this game, get motivation. Our next important match is already on Thursday (against Kristianstad).

Olympic Recap: Gold Medal Match U.S. vs. Japan

by JJ Duke

It was a scene that every person jammed inside Wembley Stadium wanted on Thursday evening in London. For the United States, the night represented redemption after a heartbreaking loss to their opponents in the World Cup Finals a year ago. For Japan, they could do what no team has done before, win an Olympic Gold Medal a year removed from a World Cup victory, against the same team no less. And for over 80,000 spectators at the iconic home of the English National team, the ideal match-up of the tournament was playing on the pitch below them. But after an intriguing 90 minutes of soccer, the United States won their fourth Olympics Gold Medal by defeating Japan by a score of 2-1. The USA were backed by a two-goal performance from Carli Lloyd and despite giving up a goal in the second half to Yuki Ogimi, it was a great match to watch for the fans and a memorable occasion for the players on the field.

Going into the match, Pia Sundhage made one change to the side that defeated Canada so dramatically at the end of extra time in Manchester on Monday. Shannon Boxx, who recovered from a hamstring injury in the first match for the USA against France, replaced Lauren Cheney in the midfield. On the other side, Norio Sasaki marched out the same lineup he did on Monday against France in the semifinals. The early action went in favor of the U.S. as a high-pressured defense forced Japan into some early errors. The first U.S. goal came only eight minutes into the match as Kelley O’Hara sent Tobin Heath down the left flank with a good early ball. Heath drilled a low cross near-post toward Alex Morgan, and her touch was taken away from goal toward the end-line. With a chipped ball to the back post, Carli Lloyd beat not only her defenders but a waiting Abby Wambach as she powered her header home to give the U.S. a 1-nil lead.

The momentum quickly shifted back toward Japan as 10 minutes later Nahomi Kawasumi crossed a ball toward Shinobu Ohno, who powered a header only to see U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo pull out a stunning save as she tipped the ball onto the crossbar. It seemed that everything was going Japan’s way for awhile until the 26th minute when an Aya Miyama free kick seemed to have struck Heath’s extended arm inside the box, but referee Bibiana Steinhaus, who was in charge of the match between these two teams last year in the World Cup Final, did not award the penalty. The Japan luck almost went from bad to worse because not more than a minute later a driven cross from Amy LePeilbet was redirected by Azusa Iwashimizu past her goalkeeper only to be saved by the post. The rest of the half was dominated by Japan though, gaining two good opportunities including Miyama hitting the crossbar from a teed up ball by Ohno. But the half finished at 1-0 to the U.S.

The second half started like the first half ended with Japan dominating the possession of the game, but that was all to be gone for none as Lloyd scored her second of the night in the 54th minute. The midfielder made a great run down the middle of the field and similarly to the goal she scored against France that turned out to be the game-winner, put it on her right foot and blistered the shot past Miho Fukumoto and just inside the far post. This was Lloyd’s second goal of the match and third in her career in Olympic Gold Medal Finals, the first came back in 2008 when she rifled a long distance shot against Brazil in extra-time that would eventually be the game-winner that night.

Japan wasn’t quite done yet as in the 63rd minute, they pulled a goal back through Ogimi to make the score 2-1. Miyama threaded a great pass to Ohno, and as Solo came out to cut the angle down Ohno slotted the ball back to Homare Sawa. Her shot though was saved off the line by Christie Rampone, her second save off the line on the night. But after the defense scrambled the ball away from goal, Sawa hit a second shot only to find its way to Ogimi, who was on the doorstep and closed the gap to one.

After that goal, Japan gained a second wind, and only a couple great plays by Solo off of Miyama free kicks, the score remained 2-1 through 80 minutes. Lloyd had an opportunity to put the game away with another long distance effort, but this one flew over the bar. The biggest play of the night though happened in the 83rd minute, when Rampone got pick-pocketed in the back by second half substitute Mana Iwabuchi and was alone with Solo with Ohno on Iwabuchi’s right, she went for goal. But not to be denied, Solo made a flying save to her left and parried the shot away from goal. That was to be the last real chance for either side and after the whistle blew, the U.S. won their third straight Olympic Gold Medal, while Japan who played admirably in the match, received the silver medal.

It was a fantastic game of soccer to be fair, both teams left their all on the field and at the end of the day, it was the U.S. who took advantage of their chances despite being out possessed by Japan nearly 60% to 40%. Lloyd was fantastic on the night and all tournament as well, scoring four goals and possibly putting to rest some of her doubters. Solo, despite not really having to do with much of the action during the tournament before the finals, came up big on the night, exactly like she was four years ago on the same stage. And this was the first time in any major tournament since 1999 that the U.S. recorded a clean sweep of the competition, a 6-0-0 record, and scored 16 goals in the process, a new tournament record. And you have to give Japan a lot of credit as well, they put in a game effort and played their traditional technical style and pestered the U.S. goal with shots. And they were graceful in defeat and were expressively happy to win the silver medal.

But the game effort of the night had to go to the Canada Women’s team bus driver, who after their 1-0 victory earlier in the day against France, had to make the two-plus hour drive from Coventry, and had to get around the London traffic but got the Canada women to the Wembley stadium in time for them to receive the Bronze medal, one that will surely lift the country as they prepare to host the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the next major international tournament on the Women’s program.

Olympic Recap: Bronze Medal Match, Canada vs. France

by Ciara McCormack

One didn’t know what to expect coming into the France-Canada game. Both teams were coming off emotional semifinal losses that battered the teams as much mentally as they did physically, with both playing games that seemed worthy of an appearance in the Olympic finals.

Yet the two halves of the game could not have been any more different.

The first half was arguably either a chess match as the teams felt each other out, or a product of two tired teams playing in their sixth game in two weeks. There were few chances as the Canadians were organized defensively, and were playing a composed game keeping possession through their back line but had little connection between their midfield and forward lines. On the other hand, the French did little to play to their strengths, knocking the ball around too slowly and doing little to expose spaces for the speed of Elodie Thomis. The only legitimate chances of the half came midway through with Christine Sinclair firing over the bar after a delicate outside of the foot pass from defender Rhian Wilkinson, and Thomis doing the same at the stroke of half time.

If the first half could put people to sleep, the second half was like an orchestra that started to play, whose momentum continued to build and build until a final crescendo at the cessation of the game.

The French began the second half, making it clear that they were hitting their rhythm, finally beginning to play to their strengths with quick ball movement, runs into space and releasing players to showcase their technique and taking the Canadians on 1 v 1 down the line. Thomis showed the skill and speed that has made her a danger all tournament, as she made a run down the right, and laid a pass into the path of Louisa Necib. Erin McLeod who had a solid game in net for the Canadians, held on to the ball off of the deflected drive.

France Coach Bruno Bini began to play his hand, grabbing onto the offensive momentum of his team, putting in both Camille Abily and Eugenie Le Sommer as the half progressed. Soon after Thomis showed her determination in having a hand in the result of the match, as she latched onto a ball that had been flicked on and drove through the Canadian defense half-volleying an effort off the cross bar and over. Chances came again and again for the French, first Abily in the 65th minute whose shot bounced off the post, and then Le Sommer, who wasted some great work by Thiney to release her in front of goal, only to see her effort fired over. Corine Franco seemed to finally give France the edge beating McLeod in the 71st minute, but Desiree Scott, who has had a fantastic tournament for the Canadians, showed her awareness in jumping off her post to get behind McLeod and clear the ball off the line. Franco again had more chances off of corner kicks, but put both of her efforts off target.

Yet if France played the metaphorical instruments for the entire second half, the Canadians snuck in to hit the final, most important note in the form of Diana Matheson. The most dimunitive player on the field, and one of Canada’s most consistent over the past decade (crucial assist to Charmaine Hooper in a 1-0 quarterfinal win over top team China in the 2003 World Cup, anyone?), showed her poise in shocking the French and doing what the French couldn’t do the entire match, as she calmly put the ball past Sarah Bouhaddi, latching on to a blocked Sophie Schmidt shot, eight yards from goal.

It could be said that the Canadians feeling robbed by the United States in their last game committed their own robbery against the stunned French. France outshot the Canadians 18-4, and the Canadians proved the beauty of the game, as their only shot on goal in the game was the one that mattered, as it sent Canada home with their first Olympic team medal since 1936.

Olympic Recap: U.S. vs. Canada

by Tiffany Weimer

In my previous post about the France vs. Japan game I stated that it was one of the most intense women’s soccer games in the history of life.

Little did I know that I would actually watch the most intense women’s soccer game in the history of life not long after I typed those words.

The U.S. Canada game was one for the history books and I’m not just talking about women’s soccer, but soccer in general. (Yeah, I said it).

The U.S. ended up winning the game 4-3 in a game that resembled a heavyweight bout that seemed to be over multiple times before another seemingly knock out punch was delivered.

Although the U.S. seemed to have the run of play in the opening part of the half, Christine Sinclair scored her first of three in the 22nd minute after Melissa Tancredi controlled a Marie-Eve Nault entry pass and delivered a ball into the path of Sinclair. Canada’s all-time leading scorer took two touches past the American defenders and struck the ball authoritatively past a helpless Hope Solo. The goal seemed to ignite the Canadians, and swing the balance of play.

The Canadians went into the half up 1-0 over the Americans.

The beginning of the second half showed again a determined Canadian side that the U.S. were struggling to break down, until the 55th minute. With a Canadian defender abandoning the front post to defend the two players the U.S. had at the corner, Megan Rapinoe took advantage and whipped the ball in near post. In a mess of players, the ball caromed past a stunned Canadian side, leveling the game at 1.

Yet Sinclair seemed intent on making the night hers. She struck brilliantly in the 67th minute off of a Diana Matheson corner kick, out-jumping the U.S. defenders and heading the ball into the top corner.

Rapinoe replied again with a brilliant strike from outside of the 18-yard box. She was given just an inch and she took it, hitting the ball off the far post and in at the 70th minute.

Three minutes later, it was Sinclair again. Yes, again.

In the 73rd minute she headed home a cross from strike partner Tancredi, past Solo to put the Canadians up 3-2.

In the 78th minute, a free kick was awarded inside the Canadian’s 18-yard box after goalkeeper Erin McLeod was called for holding the ball more than six seconds.

The six-second rule states that the goalkeeper must release the ball after holding it in her hands for six seconds, a call that is not made often.

That very free kick led to a Canadian handball in the box and a penalty kick to the U.S.

In the 80th minute, Wambach placed her penalty kick calmly into the corner, sending it past McLeod and putting the U.S. level with the Canadians for the third time in the game.

The score remained 3-3 as the final whistle blew, sending the game into overtime.

The overtime was much of the same, with chance after chance for both teams.

It only seemed fitting that the game would finish in the last seconds of overtime, as it seemed destined for penalty kicks. A Heather O’Reilly cross was met by the head of Alex Morgan, who had disappeared from the score sheet since the U.S.’ first game against France, and in the 123rd minute of the game, the U.S. put the final dagger in the Canadians.

Pia Sundhage’s side came out on top of one of the most gruelling, intense games the soccer world has ever seen, and it is safe to say that an old rivalry has been renewed. Canada looks to be a shadow of the side that was hammered 4-0 in front of a home crowd in the CONCACAF final just a few short months ago, and one now capable of going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world.

The U.S. will face Japan in the Gold Medal game while the Canadians will play France in the Bronze Medal game.

Thursday August 9th

8am ET: Canada vs. France
2:45pm ET: United States vs. Japan