Monthly Archives: July 2011

Interview with Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd against Japan in the 2011 Women's World Cup final. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images Europe)

Funny things happen when you travel.  Sometimes you board the plane and sit on the tarmac for hours. Sometimes you see the plane you are supposed to be on taxiing away from the gate just as you land. Sometimes through sheer serendipity, you encounter Carli Lloyd in the Philadelphia International Airport.

On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love, that’s just what happened.  Carli, on her way back to Atlanta to continue the WPS season with the Atlanta Beat, was kind enough to speak with me for several minutes and agreed to a follow-up interview for The Rally Cap.  Check out what the star of the United State’s Women’s National Team had to say:

The Rally Cap: Your favorite players are Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fàbregas; do you model your game after any of those players? Or is there another inspiration for the way you play?

Carli Lloyd: Over the years I have grown tremendously and I have started to become a true playmaker like Xavi.  Linking passes, short passes, long passes, being tricky, taking shots etc.

RC: Who’s your favorite athlete, other than a soccer player?

CL: Michael Jordan because he was the ultimate champion.

RC: Since establishing yourself as a starter in 2007, what has been your most memorable moment with the USWNT?

CL: The final game in the 2008 Olympics and earning my 100th cap against Italy on November 27, 2010

RC: Not since 1999, has women’s soccer had such a buzz.  What is it about this team, this group of women that captured the hearts and minds of the American public?

CL: Well to start with I think soccer had grown tremendously across the world and our dramatic game against Brazil captivated millions of people.  I think that was the start of people really following us and we gave people hope and inspired young kids.  We helped the nation believe in something, believe in a team and everyone was so proud of us.  Our team showed heart and dedication to never give up.

RC: The US-Japan game was the most watched soccer game on ESPN in their history. Do you think the interest in the USWNT will translate into domestic success for the WPS?

CL: Wow, that is crazy! I knew we broke a lot of records but when I read that it makes me smile. We are already seeing instant results on the WPS side.  Ticket sales have increased across the board.  Our game today (Note: Saturday July 23 against Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and magicjack) is sold out.  The game the other night had a record crowd of 15k so it’s helping.

RC: After the emotional rollercoaster that was the World Cup, how do you and the other members of the USWNT move forward?

CL: We have to move forward.  It’s been hard to swallow but at the end of the day we accomplished so much.  We reached the final.  We have Olympic qualifying soon and have to mentally shift our focus to that.

RC: The next big event is the 2012 Olympics. What team(s) do you think will present the biggest challenge to the US defending its title?  Any dark horses (teams that didn’t make the quarters of the World Cup)?

CL: First of all we have to qualify for the Olympics.  When we do that every team will propose a challenge.  It won’t be easy as everyone can see from the World Cup.  Germany will not be in the Olympics but there are so many other strong teams. (Note: Germany did not qualify because UEFA used the 2011 Women’s World Cup as its qualifier.  As a result, France and Sweden both qualified for the 12 team tournament)

RC: You’re from New Jersey, what is it about that state that produces great soccer players (Tony Meola, Michael Bradley, Claudio Reyna, Heather O’Reilly, Giuseppe Rossi, Christie Rampone)?

CL: I am not sure what it is about NJ being a power house with soccer players.  I think because we are tough and we are fighters.  It’s in our blood. It’s great to see.

RC: You grew up outside of Philadelphia, so being a fellow Philly-area native, I have to ask – who has the best cheesesteaks in Philly?

CL: Honestly a small place by my house has the best ones! BJ’s Deli.  The Philly cheesesteaks are too much for me!

RC: Growing up, what was the best piece of advice you received, whether soccer-related or not? And do you have any words of advice for aspiring soccer players?

CL: Work hard at everything you do. Never give up. Never quit. Many people have talents but without the hard work you won’t get anywhere.

You can follow Carli on twitter at: @CarliLloyd or check out her website: http://www.carlilloyd.com/

Advertisements

Women’s World Cup: French Fried

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before – The United States Women’s National Team jumps to an early lead in a World Cup match, their opponent equalizes early in the second half, Abby Wambach saves the day.  In a match that, through the 78th minute, eerily mirrored Sunday’s instant classic (minus the referee miscues), the USWNT was able to alter the script and book their place in the Women’s World Cup final (their first since 1999).

US fans cheer the USWNT on to victory. (Getty)

While most of America was at work, the US put in a workman like effort to defeat an up-and-coming French squad that for large parts of the match looked the better side.  The US once again jumped to an early lead thanks to a well placed cross, though this time the shot went into the net off an American.  Lauren Cheney deftly redirected a cross from Heather O’Reilly in the 9′ to give the Americans the lead.  Little did fans know that this would be the last shot for the US in the half.   Combining with a forward line of World Player of the Year nominee Louisa Necib, and prolific Marie-Laure Delie, the creative and composed midfield of Gaëtane Thiney, Camille Abily, and evergreen Sandrine Soubeyrand enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. Despite some near misses on both sides – a Carli Lloyd header in the  24′, a Sonia Bompastor blast off Hope Solo‘s crossbar in the 30′, and an Abby Wambach header in the 39’ – the game went into the half with the Americans in the lead.

As the second half began in Mönchengladbach it always looked like Les Bleues would find an equalizer.  Running on tired legs – the result of playing 123 minutes three days ago – the USWNT could not keep up with the creativity or pace of the French midfield.  The French were rewarded for their attacking style with the game-tying goal in the 55′.  The goal did not come from the foot of Nacib or Thiney, but from a Bompastor cross that fluttered over Hope Solo’s head to the far post.  Bompastor launched her cross into the box, and Solo was caught out – guarding against what appeared would be a header by Thiney.

To her credit, coach Pia Sundhage did not sit idly by and immediately replaced the ineffective Amy Rodriguez with phenom Alex Morgan.  A further substitution in the 65′ brought Sunday’s hero, Megan Rapinoe, on for Lloyd.  The effect was immediate, as the fresh legs of Morgan and Rapinoe took their toll on the tiring French.

Abby Wambach rises to score the game winner against France. Odd Andersen, AFP/Getty Images

Rapinoe and Morgan nearly combined for some magic in the 70′ when Rapinoe launched a free kick into the box that Morgan nearly slotted home.  Just 9 minutes later, the Americans’ dominance on set-pieces and in the air would prove the difference. Wambach, who has rediscovered her scoring touch, found the back of the net off a corner from Cheney.  Rising over her defender at the far post, Wambach contorted her body and shifted in mid-flight to power home a clinical header.  Wambach’s header was the type that coaches will use in years to come to train the future national team.   Wunderkind Alex Morgan (who in my opinion has earned a start in the final) put the exclamation point on the victory with a cheeky chip over the French keeper, Berangere Sapowicz.

The French deserve a lot of credit, and the scoreline is a bit deceiving.  They played a flowing, fun-to-watch brand of soccer, and were the revelation of the tournament.  If Les Bleues can improve on their defensive weakness, they will be contenders for years to come.  On the other side of the pitch, the US never-say-die attitude, which has been the subject of hundreds of articles since Sunday, has to be applauded.  Were it not for the confidence that a winner (or equalizer) will come from somebody, somehow, this team would not be playing for the World Cup.  While several teams have shown a technical superiority to the USWNT, the Americans are all about results.  Can they get one more?

Women’s World Cup: A Comeback for the Ages

Abby Wambach celebrates her game-tying goal in the 122'. Fabrizio Bensch/Landov

Highs and lows came at a gut-wrenching pace, but an emotional roller coaster doesn’t even begin to capture the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match between the Samba Queens of Brazil and United States Women’s National Team was no exception.  Fans of the USWNT were ecstatic when Daiane put the ball into her own net off a cross by Shannon Boxx, then livid when Rachel Buehler was sent off in the 65′ for a foul in the box on Marta. Emotions swung more quickly than a pendulum in the opposite direction as Hope Solo saved the resulting penalty, only to have her save of Cristiane’s penalty nullified by a questionable call by referee,  Jacqui Melksham.  Marta, the five-time defending player of the year, then slotted home the equalizer.

For the rest of the half, fans of the USWNT and the capacity crowd in Dresden hoped for an American winner.   The crowd, feeling the US team had been greatly aggrieved by Melksham, booed Marta with every touch of the ball.  The USWNT, down to 10 women on the field, was able to take the game to extra time, only to have Marta score what appeared to be the game winner just 2 minutes into extra time.  To add insult to injury, it seems that Melksham missed another call, as Maurine was in an offside position when she played the ball into the box for Marta’s second goal.  Fans around the US and in the Rudolf-Harbig Stadium were left incensed by the call.

With time running out and Brazil using some bush league tactics (the worst – Érika’s feigned injury which resulted in her being stretchered off the field, only to then pop off the stretcher and return to the game), the crowd began to chant, “USA! USA! USA!”  Karmic retribution seemed destined.  It was delivered in Hollywood fashion by the foot of second-half sub, Megan Rapinoe and the head of the fourth all-time leading scorer in international soccer history, Abby Wambach.  Check it out:

Improbable though it may have been, the equalizer was more than deserved. Overcoming the amateurish theatrics by Brazil and the equally sophomoric officiating, the USWNT were able to send the game to penalty kicks where few would bet against the Americans.  With the world’s best GK between the sticks and a new-found vigor, the USWNT had become the team of destiny.

Continuing the fairy tale script, Shannon Boxx was given a PK retake after Melksham rightfully penalized Andrea for coming off her line. Boxx coolly scored the retake.  Cristiane and Marta (who stepped to the spot to a chorus of boos) calmly scored from the spot , on either side of a Carly Lloyd make. Wambach followed Marta by smashing her PK into the side-netting to give the US a 3-2 lead.  Then, Daiane’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day continued as she stepped to the spot.  Solo, diving to her right, saved Daiane’s effort, meaning the US would advance if they made their final two PKs.  The platinum blonde, Rapinoe, stepped forward and buried her attempt, whooping as she walked away. The Hollywood ending was just minutes away.  Francielle, a second half sub for Rosana, scored to keep the Brazilians in it, but Ali Krieger with a shot into the lower right corner assured the Americans of an epic comeback.  To paraphrase Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

The win assures that the US will continue its streak of making it to the semifinals at the World Cup, and gives the USWNT some measure of revenge for the 4-0 loss to the Brazilians in the semifinals in 2007.  The win also means the US will play surprise semifinalist, France on Wednesday at 11am Eastern on ESPN and ESPN3.com.  With Germany and Brazil out of the tournament, the US has to be considered the favorites.

Beyond the immediate repercussions for the USWNT and the 2011 World Cup, this game could help women’s soccer on a global scale.  Wambach’s golazo with just 1 minute of injury time remaining made believers out of non-soccer fans (check out these tweets – 1, 2, and at one point in extra time USA/Brazil, Tobin Heath, Ian Darke, Julie Foudy were all trending in US.).  The resulting penalty kick shootout provided the high drama American fans love so much.  It will be interesting to see the ratings for this game, as I am sure they increased as the game progressed toward the climactic shootout.  Additionally, it will be interesting to see if the sudden surge in interest and the heroes (and villains – Marta plays for the Western New York Flash) created in this game can sustain the WPS.  Here’s hoping it can and GO USA!