Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Women's World Cup: Thoughts on Team USA/North Korea

What to say about yesterday's game? A first half to make you want to give up on life, a second which chastised you for all that cynicism and negativity.

It isn't that the second half was so glorious that it made you forget the first.  It was pretty scrappy (though not nearly as scrappy as Mexico v England).

It was more "American" that that - by which I mean the following: US teams are often celebrated internationally for their fitness level and attitude, for their work ethic. Yesterday's match was hard work.  North Korea are fast and, as few people have much of a sense of their tactics (I assume because the don't play that many international matches and don't make DVDs of their performances available?), opponents have to learn how to play them on the fly. Which is another kind of work.

The first half was strange - two teams with obvious skill struggled to connect (US) and finish (North Korea). To me, it looked like few players had a good touch - no doubt a sign of nerves, and also of the pace at which they were playing. Shek Borkoski described the game as "[lacking] imagination and fluidity." That's about right.

The USWNT came into the second half with a plan they were able to actually execute. They played more thoughtfully (as much as is possible playing a team with North Korea's pace), they were more dogged and, as their work paid off (with better though not ideal possession), they became more confident. You felt like the players were visualizing where they wanted the game to go - and then going there. To me, it felt like they ready to slug it out - meaning, work their asses off for the all important win.

With this effort (and changes in formation and strategy), the team won two goals - thanks to Lauren Cheney and Rachel Buehler, both of whom play for the Boston Breakers in the WPS. 

That performance was the kind of thing that reminds us how much work it takes to win a game. It's not so glamorous, but it is the kind of win I associate with the US squads.

A question to readers: Are any of the networks broadcasting the match providing stats on the distance players run, as is commonly done for the men's game?  I would love to know this.

A recommendation: For excellent analysis of the USWNT's performance, see All White Kit's "Buzzwords for the USWNT/North Korea Game" and FF @jenna_awk for match commentary on Twitter. Women's football bloggers unite!

And, just bizarre: North Korea's coach blamed his team's loss on a lightening strike. Incredible, whether or not its true.

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