Monday, July 6, 2015

FIFA Women's World Cup 2015: The US Women's National Team Finds a Way

In the end, Carli Lloyd's record-breaking hat-trick sucked up all of the oxygen but it was the USWNT defensive unit that should get most of the praise.

Don't get me wrong, in the final at least, Lloyd was amazing in scoring 3 goals in under 20 minutes, for the fastest hat-trick in World Cup (Men's or Women's) history and helping the US gain an insurmountable 4-0 lead over the Japanese. Her first goal was perhaps the most well designed set piece that I've seen this version of the USWNT execute and her lob-shot from around the midfield strip is already being called, by some of the more excitable US soccer pundits, as "the greatest goal in woman's soccer history".

The facts however are this:  Except when they're way in front and the game is really not in doubt, it's very hard to score a goal on the USWNT. Julie Johnston (own-goal notwithstanding), Kelley O'Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn were consistently in the correct positions and, as unlikable a person in soccer that she may be, there's no doubt that Hope Solo does a good job in bailing them out on the rare occasion that things do go wrong.

Prior to this game, the USWNT only conceded one goal, against Australia, which turned out to be a better team that most experts thought they were heading into the Cup.

If anything, I underrated the US defense when I was looking at this tournament. I thought (and still think) that the current offensive line-up is overrated (outside of the Lloyd goal explosion the numbers were anemic) and I think that all of the noise (and the US driven lawsuit) about artificial turf made it appear that the team was creating built-in excuses should they not win. (Wambach was the worst offender in this case, and it's no coincidence that I felt the offense improved when she was on the bench).

Add to that mix the mess that is Hope Solo, Rapinoe's issues with yellow cards and Alex Morgan's long road back to stardom (given her injuries) and you had a mix that I felt could have been volatile if the US didn't hoist the Cup as champions.

None of that matters now, because they did win. They won in a manner that overrode all of those concerns by playing brilliant defense throughout and then finding scoring chances when it most mattered. They did a good job of hiding their weaknesses through athleticism, as has been their wont throughout the years.  At some point, these advantages are going to be swallowed up as they have been on the men's side but, until that point, the US is the champs and deservedly so.

So congrats to the current version of the USWNT. You faced the best women's soccer teams the world had to offer and you came out on top.  In the process you created some stars for the future in the form of Carli Lloyd and (I think) Kelley O'Hara (who is constantly on the move, in the right place at the right time and doesn't get near the credit she should).

Enjoy it ladies.

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