Tag Archives: Megan Rapinoe

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!