Japan Grabs Third Place Over U.S.:
The Under-20 Women’s World Cup third place match was one that saw the Americans really struggle against a dominant Japanese group. In the previous three games between these two countries, Japan outscored the U.S. 11-2. So, to some, this was not a surprise and was predicted. To others, this game was a summary of how the American U-20 team has performed this whole tournament: underwhelming and disappointing.
For the first half, the Americans managed to stay afloat, largely in part to goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who made three acrobatic saves to deny the Japanese in her best game of the tournament. The Yanks were in defensive mode and just could not gain quality possession. Yet, Japan ran circles around them and had no problem finding holes in the defense. Japan was not lacking in patience. They continued to pressure and attack the U.S. backline. The U.S. looked uninspired and lethargic, while Japan played with confidence and eagerness.
The American midfield had trouble getting into the attack, which meant limited chances for their two big attacking threats, Mallory Pugh and Ashley Sanchez. As the game went on, Pugh and Sanchez were defending so much that, if they somehow did get the ball, they could not advance into the final third. In fact, when either one of them had the ball, the rest of the team struggled to move up and create an attack. There was no cohesion. It was essentially two versus 10. But maybe that was Michelle French’s only game plan all along.
In the second half, the U.S. finally put together a string of threats, but Japan was organized at virtually every angle. That momentum was short-lived, as the Japanese attack was finally rewarded in the 87th minute. Starting with a turnover from the United States, Japan was off to the races, compiling a few touches to bypass the U.S. midfield. In the blink of an eye, Mami Ueno found herself wide open just inside the eighteen, and with a brilliant chip, she gave Japan the victory. It was Ueno’s fifth goal of the tournament. This is Japan’s best finish at the U-20 level.
Overall, it was a lovely performance by Japan. The U.S., on the other hand, were left with plenty of questions and “what ifs”. This was the second time the Americans finished fourth at this level.
FIFA Announces COY and POY Shortlists:
Coach of the Year nominees are USA’s Jill Ellis, Germany’s Silvia Neid, and Sweden’s Pia Sundhage. While I understand Neid’s and Sundhage’s inclusion, I don’t like Ellis in this group. Sure, the United States won double-digit games, but they failed at the Olympics and in no way played like the number one team in the world. I do hope Neid wins the award this year, as she has been a tremendous coach and is deserving of the recognition.
As for Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd of USA, Marta of Brazil, and Melanie Behringer of Germany are the nominees. Again, I don’t agree with an American being on the list. I think Behringer should win it. For me, she was the biggest reason Germany was so successful at the Olympics, winning their first gold at the Games in program history.
The winners will be announced January 9, 2017.
Melbourne City Wins Again:
The W-League is off to a wild start, with City leading the way once again. Through four games, City remains undefeated, with 12 points, and are on top of the table. This time, they defeated the Brisbane Roar, which sits in the middle of the table on seven points.
In a 2-1 victory, Jess Fishlock scored for the second consecutive game, helping her team to its fourth-straight win. Erika Tymrak scored the other goal, her first of the season for Melbourne. As if things can’t get any better for City, Bev Yanez is now with the team on loan from Seattle. City’s next game is against Canberra United on December 10th.
Sydney FC Close Behind:
Another team that is dominating competition in the W-League this season is Sydney FC, which has 12 points as well. They have played five matches, but with this latest win over Newcastle, they have now won four in a row. Key players, Kyah Simon, Alanna Kennedy, and Teresa Polias, have all stepped up and played well to so far. The captain, Polias, has the third-most appearances in W-League history with 90, so she has plenty of experience to lead this team.
Sydney takes on Perth Glory December 10th as they look to stay on pace with Melbourne City for the top spot.
Johnson’s Brace Leads USC Past West Virginia for Title:
The USC Trojans and West Virginia Mountaineers played one incredible game on Sunday night. WVU was ranked number one and was expected to be there. USC was ranked seventh and surprised many by making it to the final.
It started off with a bang. Morgan Andrews guided a header past WVU keeper Rylee Foster in the second minute to give USC the lead. It was Morgan’s second goal of the tournament and ninth on the year. It was a shock because this was only the second time WVU trailed a team all year, the first being their match agaist TCU in the Big 12 Championship back in November.
The dream start for the Trojans seems to ignite WVU. For the rest of the game, the Mountaineers were absolutely relentless. Wave after wave, they pressured the opposing defense. Senior leaders, Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, had USC on their heels. They not only controlled the tempo after the opening goal; they had momentum leading into the second half after attacking USC’S half for an extended amount of time.
Finally, a breakthrough in the 66th minute came for West Virginia. Lawrence fired a shot just outside of the eighteen and caught USC keeper, Sammy Jo Prudhomme, near-post for the equalizer. It was a beautiful goal that merited all of the energy spent on offense up until that time. But USC were not rattled at all, in fact, just 11 minutes later, they put another past Foster. This time, it was Leah Pruitt doing all the hustle to get past the lone WVU defender down the sideline. She found Johnson all alone at the top of the box. Johnson placed it neatly in the right corner, and once again the Trojans had the lead.
USC were not done just yet. With four minutes left, a turnover in the midfield created another opportunity for Johnson, who took the long distance shot for her brace. It was a tremendous effort, which tied her with Morgan for team lead, each having scored 10. Final score was 3-1, but that doesn’t quite do WVU justice for the performance they put in. The Mountaineers outshot the Trojans 20-6, but USC was just more opportunistic in front of goal. For me, it was the best championship game in recent years—it was that good. This was USC’s second title in as many trips—first for third year coach Keidane McAlpine.
U.S. Soccer Announces Nominees for WNT POY and Youth POY:
Five are nominated in each category, with Tobin Heath, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd for the National Team. At the Youth level, Ashley Sanchez, Andi Sullivan, Emily Ogle, Kaleigh Riehl, and Karina Rodriguez made the list.
My picks would be Heath and Sanchez. Heath had an exceptional year, playing in 22 games and totaling six goals with eight assists. But what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is her playmaking abilities and how she impacts the game with her skill. She is a player who we have seen mature and one who has continued to polish her game since the second she came on the scene back in 2008. Heath has been instrumental to the team and especially to the midfield.
Sanchez has competed in the U-17 and U-20 World Cups this year while emerging as one of the best youth players in the system. She has tallied seven goals and two assists in 11 games, between the two teams. Her vision is key to her performance, as well as her ability to provide service. Even though she was the youngest on the roster at age 17, she was one of the brightest and most exciting at the U-20 World Cup.
The NT winner will be announced on December 11th, on ESPNFC. The Youth winner will be announced December 12th, also on ESPNFC.