The World Cup Final: Americans Celebrate in Vancouver

The party was in Vancouver over July 4th weekend. Thousands of American fans, draped in the flag, poured into the streets from the quaint neighborhoods of Gastown, Yaletown, West End, and Coal Harbor. Little girls wore Morgan jerseys and red, white, and blue face paint; guys donned Wambach shirts and body paint and chanted  “U-S-A!” Packs of sporty women – in stars and bars socks and T’s – cajoled the crowds to sing “I believe! I believe that we will! I believe that we will win!” Captain America, and more than a few Wonder Women weaved through the throngs on their way to BC Place, home of the Women’s World Cup Final between the United States and Japan.

The arena was stifling, from the 53,000 fans packed in like sardines and the hazy air creeping through Vancouver – remnants from a nearby wildfire. The Japanese supporters were vastly outnumbered but cheered wildly when their team emerged from the tunnel. The Americans trotted onto the field and were greeted with a rockstar ovation.

The US team had no shortage of storylines: could captain Carly “big game” Lloyd, who has a knack for delivering when it counts, perform again under pressure? Would Abby Wambach finally win that elusive World Cup trophy? How would Hope Solo perform with domestic violence charges awaiting her back in Seattle? And could this team emerge from the shadow of the great 99ers – the last US women’s team to take the title?

All of these questions were answered quickly against Japan. Carly Lloyd scored three times in 16 minutes, including a miraculous 50-yard boot that caught the Japanese keeper sleeping. Wambach was not a factor in this game but she was subbed late – a nice curtain call for the legend. Hope Solo went largely untested but won the golden glove for the tournaments best goalie. The dominant performance by the Americans established them as one of the greatest women’s soccer teams ever – right up there with the famed 1999 World Cup champions.

For the first twenty minutes the beautiful game was just that. The Americans controlled the flow of the match with ball control and aggressiveness. They attacked set pieces and used the midfield to establish possession and create chances for their forwards. And for the remainder of the game they seemed content to sit on their insurmountable lead. There were nervous rumblings in the crowd after a Julie Johnston own goal closed the gap to 4-2 early in the second half. But Tobin Heath’s rocket into the back of the net was celebrated with chants, songs, and booze – lots of booze.

After the final whistle the fans were in no hurry to leave. They savored every moment of the afterparty: cheering when veterans Christie Rampone and Abby Wambach hoisted the trophy and booing lustily when FIFA officials took the stage. Overlapping chants of “Car-ly – Llo-oyd” broke out in pockets around the stadium without ever quite synching up. When the American players left the field the crowd reluctantly filtered out of BC Place – but the celebration continued in the streets and bars of Vancouver.

 

The Beautiful Game Can Be Cruel: Notes From The World Cup Semi-Finals

The beautiful game can be cruel. Just ask the French – losers on penalty kicks to an inferior German squad. Or England, who battled the defending champion Japanese to a draw until an own goal sent them packing with a minute left in injury time. When Germany’s Celia Sasic lined up for a penalty kick early in the second half it seemed as if an impressive American team might also be dealt an unfair hand. But her free kick skittered left of the goal, and the United States never looked back.

A few observations from the World Cup semi-finals:

USA vs Germany
The formation change from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 allowed the Americans to control the midfield – a trouble spot during group play.

Carly Lloyd once again came up big when it counted. She converted a penalty kick and assisted on Kelly O’Hara’s lunging goal.

The Americans have improved every game, as has color commentator Cat Whitehill. She’s approaching a Julie Foudy level of excellent analysis. Whitehill’s colleague Tony DiCicco continues to preach, teach, and state the obvious.

Germany was either stunned or tired or both during the first half. The grueling overtime/penalty kick win over France took its toll.

Sasic’s miss was the first for Germany in World Cups history – they had been a perfect 12 for 12 on penalty kicks.

Julie Johnston is a revelation. Good defender, skilled passer, and a threat to score on set pieces. She committed one really bad penalty against Germany but more than made up for it with several spectacular plays.

Abby Wambach – as great as she is – should not start in the finals. The new formation does not fit her style. Wambach should be used as a super sub as she was against Germany.

England vs Japan
England’s World Cup dreams were dashed in heartbreaking fashion. Hopefully their success will translate into more support for the women’s football in Britain.

Games should never end in penalty kicks or an own goal. It is so unsatisfying.

It was painful to see English defender Laura Bassett fall to her knees in agony after her own goal. Fortunately she was surrounded by supportive teammates and head coach Mark Sampson was particularly eloquent when defending his center back.

England was lucky to be awarded a penalty kick at the end of the first half. Replays showed Steph Houghton clearly flopped to draw the foul.

Japan’s ball control and passing are masterful. Aya Miyama’s dribbling is mesmerizing – she appears to be dancing through defenders.

Here’s hoping that we get a glimpse in the final of the great Homare Sawa who is playing in her sixth World Cup.

Women’s Sports Watch’s prediction for the final:

United States 3 Japan 0

The Women’s World Cup: The Round of 16

Bring on the round of sixteen of the Women’s World Cup – sports matches should never end in a tie. Here are a few notes and observations before the knockout rounds begin on Saturday.

Germany is dominant, Germany is beatable. Wait, what? Germany annihilated The Ivory Coast 10-0 but only managed a draw with Norway. What Deutsch team will show up for the knockout rounds?

China is back. Sure, there are grumblings about their overly physical play but they have advanced after failing to even make the 2011 World Cup.

Where have you gone Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday? The U.S. midfield needs players capable of making connecting passes to their bevy of talented strikers. Give Tobin Heath, a skilled passer and playmaker, a shot.

It’s heartening to see stadiums at or near capacity for most of the World Cup. Let’s hope the sports media picks up on the popularity of women’s sports and gives them more coverage. A recent study found that only 2% of ESPN’s SportsCenter devoted airtime to female athletes in 2014. You read that right – two percent.

The U.S.A. – Columbia game has more drama than a Real Housewives episode. The American side, winners of the group of death, should be facing an inferior 3rd place group team. Instead they’ll battle a young athletic squad that shocked #3 ranked France 2-0. And then there’s the sucker punch. During the 2012 Olympics a frustrated Columbian player, Lady Andrade, sprinted up to Abby Wambach and smacked her in the eye. A minute later Andrade gave Wambach a hip check that sent her sprawling to the pitch. Keep an eye out for payback.

Can you say home job? FIFA has given Canada a relatively easy path to the final. The only top ranked team they might face is #4 Japan. The other side of the bracket features #1 Germany, #2 U.S., #3 France, and #5 Sweden. #rigged.

Women’s Sports Watch’s predictions for the quarters:

China > Cameroon
USA > Columbia
Germany > Sweden
France > South Korea

Australia > Brazil
Netherlands > Japan
Norway > England
Canada > Switzerland

The Women’s World Cup Day 4 – What We’ve Learned So Far

The group of death is living up to its moniker as Nigeria dominated Sweden in the run of play but the Swedes escaped with a tie. The American team beat a scrappy and talented Aussie side.  Two quality teams from Group D will be sent packing.

Germany’s thrashing of the Ivory Coast exposed the lack of parity in women’s soccer. Ten to zip is the second largest beat down in women’s World Cup history (the biggest was Germany’s 11-0 shellacking of Argentina in 2007).

Sepp who? The drama on the field is overshadowing the FIFA scandal.

Sweden (and former US) coach Pia Sundhage thinks Abby Wambach should be a sub. And she’s right. Wambach is still a dangerous player but her age, fitness, and style don’t fit as well with the current US team. Press, Leroux, and Morgan (if she’s healthy) should be starting.

Coolest World Cup name – Nigerian goalkeeper Precious Dede

Fox Sports gets a B for their coverage. High marks for featuring a diverse group of commentators. Their roundtable format includes experts (mostly former players) from Canada, America, Mexico, and Germany. Heather Mitts and Monica Gonzales are standouts.

Fox loses points for sticking some games on Fox Sports 2 (um, does anyone even have that channel? Is that next to ESPN 5?). Also in the negative column – the inclusion of Mr. overexposed Alexi Lalas, and master of the obvious Tony DiCicco (some of his gems: “she’s a really good player” and “that’s a wasted effort”).

Kudos to Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine for featuring US players on their respective covers. Proof that the American team is too compelling to ignore.

Oh, Canada. You got lucky against China. But other than Christine Sinclair’s perfectly placed ball in the back of the net, Canada had more jitters than connecting passes.

11 Ways I Would Change ESPN – Are You Ready Bristol?

ESPN has been a popular target of many of my rants about the lack of coverage for women athletes. Still, if I was offered the job as head honcho I’d happily relocate to bustling Bristol.  Below is a list of what I will change within the old boys club of the “worldwide leader in sports.”

1)  Sideline reporter jobs have historically gone to young woman who look like their last gig was at their college TV station.  I will hire – gasp – men to fill this position as well.  And there will be no age cap.  Experienced – aka old folks over 30 – will also have an opportunity to fill this role.

2)  Speaking of age… where do all the middle age female anchors/reporters go?  Quick – name three high-profile ESPN woman broadcasters over 35.   High marks if you came up with Linda Cohn, Hannah Storm, and Doris Burke.  Sadly, that’s about the extent of the list.  I will not put middle age woman (or men) out to pasture.

3)  Kobe/Tiger/Tebow will not appear in the Sportscenter scroll every single day.  Does anyone care about a “Kobe struggles” headline?  I will report on the players who actually perform during a game/match.  And, considering he failed to secure a roster spot as a backup to the backup QB, I pledge not to find new and ridiculous ways to insert Tebow into the sports conversation.

4)  ESPN radio will no longer be FMO (for men only).  Currently, I don’t know of a single sports radio show that prominently features a woman host or co-host, and female athletes (considered an oxymoron to most of these Neanderthal hosts) rarely appear on these shows as guests.  This will change.

5)  Ah, the East Coast bias.  As I write this from the left coast I can confirm its existence.  Did you know the San Francisco Giants won the World Series two out of the past three years?  You wouldn’t get that impression from watching Sportscenter.  I promise to ensure that all times zones are equally represented by ESPN coverage.

6)  ESPN will not televise EVERY Yankee – Red Sox game.  I know it’s hard for folks in the northeast to grasp but there all teams all over this great country.  I will also make it a law that New York/Boston squads cannot be Sportscenter’s lead story every night.

7)  The NCAA Women’s basketball coverage will be broadcast on four different ESPN channels (as CBS does with the men).  No more missing close games because the network decided you have to see that blowout by the local market team.

8)  I will do a major overhaul of The Magazine.  Their coverage of women – and I’m being kind here – is nothing short of pathetic.  No more “woman’s sports” specialty issue.  Instead, The Mag will cover female athletes in EVERY issue. More women will be featured on the cover starting with the great Abby Wambach, the most under-appreciated superstar athlete in America today.

9)  Convicted rapists will never be featured on the cover of ESPN Magazine.  Shame on you ESPN for celebrating a criminal like Mike Tyson.   (Tyson appears on a recent cover of the Mag’s Taboo issue).

10) Women’s sports news will NOT be relegated to bottom of the hour filler.  The message being sent is that these stories are not worthy of leading the broadcast.  I’m gonna fire all ESPN suits clinging to the old school mentality to ensure that woman get a fair shake during Sportscenter.

11) As head of ESPN I will not only report on women athletes but I will utilize all of my Bristol superpowers to promote them as well.  “No-one cares about women’s sports” is a popular refrain by those who resist equal coverage.  Well, if no one cares it’s because no one knows.  The compelling teams, coaches, athletes, rivalries, storylines, struggles – the very information that would entice the casual viewer – goes unreported. Why will the average American choose to watch a women’s softball game if ESPN (and other sports networks) do a half-ass job covering it?  If we (the media) care a little more, so will the viewer.

Bristol, I’m ready for the challenge.  Gimme a call – lets make some changes that will truly establish ESPN as the “worldwide leader in sports.”

Putting the MAD in March madness

Why does ESPN utilize only one channel for the women’s NCAA basketball tournament?

You’ve filled out your brackets, circled the must-see games, maybe put down a couple bucks in the pool, and settled into the couch ready to watch your favorite teams.  There’s only one little problem.  The team you might want to see won’t be on your TV screen.

ESPN owns about a billion channels give or take a few.  When March Madness rolls around for women’s basketball they slot all games on the deuce – ESPN 2.  So why the fuss you might ask?  Well… to begin with, during the initial rounds there are multiple games being played simultaneously – sometimes as many as four.  You will not get to see the majority of these games.  If you live on the west coast and your favorite team is say, Syracuse, then oh well.  You’re sh*t out of luck.

ESPN will be quick to say ‘but hey, you can watch all games on ESPN 3.’ This is true but it’s an on-line channel – as in a channel that you will not find on an actual television.  No thanks, I say.  How about instead of marginalizing these games by sticking them on a less user-friendly platform we utilize MORE of ESPN TV.

During the men’s tourney, covered by CBS Sports and their affiliated networks, ALL games are shown.  On actual TV sets.  None of this on-line BS. Your favorite team is some obscure team like Western North Dakota State? (Yes, I made that up).  No problem, they are guaranteed airtime.

Would it kill Bristol to add even just one more channel to the women’s tourney?  Maybe ESPN-U?  Or ESPN news?  Do we have to see Sportscenter on three channels simultaneously when we could be watching a close battle between two terrific teams?

As per my usual rants, I’m waiting for the light bulb to go off in the dim minds of these ESPN suits.  Women’s sports are attracting more and more fans.  No, we’re not talking NASCAR numbers, but ratings are improving.  So I hope ESPN considers promoting the women’s game by showcasing them on more channels.  Currently there are a lot of good games and great players that aren’t getting the airtime they deserve.  And the big loser?  The fans.

Top 12 moments in women’s sports for ’12

Top 12 moments in women’s sports for 2012 (in no particular order). Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments section below.

1) The Olympics shined a bright light on the excellence of female athletes. Too bad the mainstream media only gives a shit every 4 (or 2 including the winter games) years. Just a few of the outstanding performers include: Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross, the women’s gymnastics team, Kayla Harrison, the undefeated women’s basketball team, Missy Franklin, and many many more. If only women’s sports received this much acclaim every year.

2) Women’s boxing makes its Olympic Games debut. Bout time.

3) New professional women’s soccer league is formed. Here’s hoping that a new and improved business model can sustain the league for many years to come.

4) Baylor Bears. 40-0.

5) The resurgence of Serena Williams. Entering the rarefied air of Martina/Chris Evert.

6) Pat Summitt retires. We will never see another coach like her. She’s handled her illness with bravery and class.

7) The 40th anniversary of Title IX. Opened doors for female athletes at every level of competition.

8) Megan Rapinoe of the US Women’s soccer team comes out as a lesbian. A brave and important step towards acceptance and inclusion.

9) Shannon Eastin becomes the first NFL referee (sure, it occurred during the lock-out but still a big deal).

10) Diana Nyad, age 62, makes 4th attempt to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She was unsuccessful but her courage is inspiring. And did I mention she was swimming without a shark cage.

11) Ronda Rousey became the first female fighter to sign a contract with the UFC in 2012. Bad a$$.

12) US women’s soccer team appreciation tour. Good TV ratings, great crowds, inspired play. Someday adequate press coverage will follow.