Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the eve of El Clásico, we visit with an old friend

Tomorrow, one of the worlds great derbies - El Clásico - Barcelona v Real Madrid - two sides in astronomical debt in spite of the fact that their shirts are on every other back.

It's a good excuse to check out one of the most quixotic football blogs out there - artist Yrsa Roca Fannberg's meditations on Art versus Sport - entries drift from Barcelona's ups and downs (this goes back a couple years, to less glorious moments than the present), to the moods of the artist and the economic crisis in Iceland (she is half-Icelandic). Her watercolors center almost exclusively on Barça, and are just brilliant. No two ways about it - they appeal to any football fan, with the exception perhaps of the ardent Real Madrid supporter. Worth a look, as a pre-match warm up for the emotional drama. (The moody track on the site is "Partying with the bonus of youth," by The Male Nurse.)

Yrsa Roca Fannberg, Hope for the Enemy, watercolor on paper (2008)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

US Women's National Team win reminds us that less is more

The US women's national soccer team qualified for the 2011 World Cup by beating Italy 1-0 in Chicago. We can thank both Amy Rodriguez for the goal, and Rapinoe for the initial shot (which capped a terrific sequence of footwork on her part).  Picarelli deflected Rapinoe's goal and Rodriguez slotted it into the net before any of the Italian defenders could get there.

The score is surprisingly low. In the second half, Italy really lost its game as the US squad controlled most of the possession and pace, and attacked non-stop. In the last fifteen minutes, the Azzurri seemed to revive but while attackers gained ground and created some real chances, they were alone.

Much as one might want one's team to CRUSH their opponents, these results are a good reminder that successful teams often get there with that 1-0 final score. As crucial as that 1 goal is, that 0 counts for more. Pia Sundhage (pictured) knows exactly what she's doing. It is not what fans most enjoy watching, but there it is. Think of Spain's 2010 World Cup run - 0-1; 2-0; 1-2; 1-0; 0-1; 0-1; 0-1. Throughout the tournament, fans moaned, until their team won.

Of course, we can ask questions about the American team's finish - they had so many opportunities, so many shots that went high and wide one can't even say the team was unlucky in not scoring more.  But, they got it done, which is what teams that go the distance in tournaments do.

I'm not going to complain at length today about ESPN - the commentary was great, if you could get on - the site did nothing to raise awareness about this match. I'm just glad the national team is through, and very curious to see what happens this summer. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Big Game: US Women's National Team plays for its World Cup spot

Tomorrow, the team ranked #1 in the world plays for the last spot in the 2011 Women's World Cup. Few saw this coming: a

Saturday, November 20, 2010

US Women's Team Plays in the Dark: thoughts on today's unlikely win over Italy

Today, Alex Morgan saved the collective ass of the US Women's National Team. The Californian super-sub drew blood from Italy in the last breath of this crucial match, stepping onto the field in the 85th minute and scoring in the 94th. The two-game play-off with the Azzurri is the last chance for both teams to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. The Americans will play Italy in Chicago on Saturday, November 27th. Right now there is no plan to show the match on television. SHAME ON ESPN, the sexist bastards.

Twitter is the sport's friend, however, and my feed sparkled with expressions of thanks @AlexMorgan from fans who had been dismayed by the team's failure to cinch the win in regular time and were relieved - not to mentioned surprised - by the victory. The story of the game must have been Italy's stalwart defense. Maybe the Azzurri are bodying forth the following truism: national women's teams tend play the way their men do (not good news for USA).  Actually it is probably more accurate to say that international women's teams are playing as the men used to - before they turned into spoiled overgrown babies working for the world's biggest crooks.

On the matter of time and possible crookery: one might safely observe that the person who most helped the US today was the match's referee (Sylvia Elisabeth Reyes Juarez). Morgan scored her goal in the fourth minute of added time. Kevin McCauley, writing for SB Nation describes what happened:
Fergie Time might have to be re-named Pia Time after the United States' incredible stoppage time goal against Italy. Before stoppage time began, the fourth official showed two minutes of extra time. After three minutes, Italy made a substitution, theoretically requiring the official to add time to the clock, even though the match should have already been over. That extra time would prove costly for Italy as substitute Alex Morgan scored in the 94th minute and the fourth of six minutes of extra time. (McCauley, US Women v Italy)
Hmm. The most optimistic read on this is that the referee got confused and the US got lucky - allowing Morgan to do her work and rob Italy of a draw. More cynical followers of the game will wonder if this isn't the workings of the Sith Lords of Soccer, who can't imagine a successful (i.e. profitable) Women's World Cup without an invested American audience.

Speaking of audience: most of us fans didn't see today's game. We couldn't. ESPN exiled the match to the dark corner of the internet known as "" - accessible only to some cable television subscribers. I followed Jacqueline Purdy's tweets - I assumed that the ESPN blogger was in the stands in Padova. I was wrong. She was in front of a computer screen. Last week ESPN sent a whole crew to cover the US men's team play a purely symbolic match against South Africa, but who did they send to Italy for this important qualifier? [Crickets.]

The recent under performance of the USWNT should raise loads of questions. Like: Is the USWNT overrated? While I believe the USWNT players and staff are fully aware of their international competition - the American press seems totally oblivious to the rapid gains made by national team programs like Italy, Nigeria (who won the 2010 AWC), and Mexico. The American loss to Mexico was not nearly as surprising as everyone makes it out to be.  Yes, it was an upset - but let's not imagine that Mexico's solid play or the US's lackluster performances were anomalies. If anything, today's game proved that there is something amiss in the golden girls' camp.  

An interesting detail to these recent matches: US players have been playing well AGAINST the US Women's National Team. Mexico's Veronica Perez (from San Mateo, California - see this Mercury News profile) scored the winner against the USWNT to force the US into its playoff with Italy.  And Italy's terrific defensive game must have something to do with their goalie Anna Picarelli (from Lakewood, California - see Purdy's story about her.) That playing abroad is an attractive option for these women says everything about the gains made by national programs outside the United States.

This is good news for women's soccer. It means that the US Women's National Team has to play a smarter, more aggressive game. Nigeria has shown itself to be stronger than most sides at sucking the joy out of their opponents' games, and has players with startling talent who show real leadership under pressure. We all know that Brazil has the skill to unravel a team's strategy - that once they crack that strategy, they can actually demoralize world champions (USA and Germany were both broken by Marta's crew in dramatic victories). Teams like England and Mexico are hungry to show their football-mad countries what their women can do. One of these sides is going to break through and represent the new face of the international game. 

We must stop imagining that other teams are bringing their game to us, and start bringing our game to them.

And we can show our support for the US Women's National Team by demanding broadcast of their games. Call ESPN and express your desire to see Saturday's game on television: 1-888-549-ESPN

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Mexico's Win: "Marigol" puts the US Women's National Team on notice

Maribel Dominguez scored against the US in only the third minute of the match. She's appeared on this site before (Why police the border between men's and women's sports?), as the player who provoked FIFA to rule that "the men's and women's game must be absolutely separate" when she accepted an offer to play for Celaya FC (a second-tier men's professional club). (Read a 2005 Guardian profile on "Marigol" here.) The team's second goal, a header, comes from Veronica Perez - formerly of the St. Louis Atletica (which folded). She's Mexican American, from San Mateo, California, and with that goal, she sends her team to the 2011 World Cup.

You can watch highlights below (if you want to watch these highlights minus CONCACAF's truly awful guitar ripping score, go here).

The first goal is classic USA - it's just normally the guys who dig holes for themselves at the start of a match.  Carli Lloyd makes her mark, it wasn't enough.  From these highlights, you can see that El Tri Feminil had a very large and very passionate crowd behind them. 

Coverage of the game universally emphasizes this as arguably one of the greatest upsets in the sport.  I don't disagree, but frankly, for me, the bigger story is that of the generations of talent in this sport who have been held back by shitty national federations and a lack of support.

I sure as hell hope the US side pulls itself together and gets the job done, winning their game on Monday.  But I also hope Mexico takes Canada - and have a great run in Germany. There are a lot of women in Mexico - and in the United States - who will be happy to cheer for El Tri, and are excited to see the international women's game truly take off.

A few other stories on this match:
ESPN's excellent Jacqueline Purdy, Greatest upset in women's soccer history
La Opinión, Jorge Jaramillo, Vence a EEUU y va al Mundial
ADN (Spain), Cueller dice que en Mexico hay talento y con eso vencieron a las mejores

Mexico's Women's National Team Beats the US in Major Upset

The US Women play Costa Rica for the 3rd place match and must win that game in order to play Italy, in order to qualify for the 2011 World Cup AND for the 2012 Olympics. (USWNT match report).
Carli Lloyd & Natalie Vinti/photo Roberto Fernandez/US Soccer

Apparently, Mexico played a solid match and enjoyed lots of support from the home crowd (in Cancun).  This is the US's first loss in a qualifying match in CONCACAF - and it's the first time Mexico beat the US in 26 matches. The latter team has been looking great - really solid, and won this match with guts and an organized defense.

As scared as I am for the US women, this is great news for the international women's game.  These things should be nail biters.

Is it too much to ask for an extension of the US/Mexico rivalry to the women's game?

Meanwhile, there is barely a peep in the press here about Brazil's 4-0 defeat of Venezuela in their first match of the women's Copa América - the region's qualifying tournament. In the Southern Cone, Brazil's women's team is at once totally dominant and almost totally neglected by the media. (Please share links to coverage of this tournament.)

Anyway: all of this ought to draw attention to the lame fact that women's teams are playing right now to qualify for two international tournaments, one of which is nearly two years away - How on earth is that acceptable?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...