July 17, 2011 in Sports

U.S. women’s soccer team needs one win for third Cup

Nancy Armour Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

United States midfielder Carli Lloyd, top, said her team is starting to win over previous doubters.
(Full-size photo)

Women’s World Cup

Championship match: Japan vs. United States

Time: 11:45 a.m.

TV: ESPN (11 a.m.)

Radio: 700-AM (11:30 a.m.)

Keys to victory

JAPAN

Possession-oriented system: Japan has drawn comparisons to Barcelona for its lightning-quick passes and slick combination play. It’s smart defense, too. If the Americans can’t get the ball, they can’t score.

Homare Sawa: Playing in her fifth World Cup, the 32-year-old Sawa has looked ageless, scoring four goals to share the tournament lead with Marta. “She’s good on both sides of the ball,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “What I’m impressed of is she’s scored goals. She’s shorter than I am and she’s scored some headers. That tells you how she reads a game.”

Nahomi Kawasumi: Can she duplicate her super start against Sweden? A surprise starter in the semifinal after playing a total of just 29 minutes in the first four games, she scored twice.

United States

Height advantage: Abby Wambach is one of the best players in the world in the air, and she has two goals on headers in the last two games. With Japan’s tallest player just 5-foot-7 – 4 inches shorter than Wambach – the American could wreak some serious havoc if she gets the ball in the box.

Composure in the midfield: The U.S. was getting bogged down in the midfield against France until Sundhage brought in Megan Rapinoe, put her on the left flank and moved Lauren Cheney inside to center mid. The move gave the Americans more creativity, and they’ll need more of that against Japan.

Hope Solo: She may be the best goalkeeper in the world, and she essentially gives the Americans an extra defender. Since she took over as the primary U.S. ’keeper in 2005, the Americans have lost just two – count ’em, two – games she’s started.

Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany – The bumpy, windy road got the Americans right where they wanted to go all along.

Eight months after having to win a playoff just to get to Germany, the Americans face Japan in the Women’s World Cup final today. A win would be the ultimate finish to their improbable journey, making the United States the first three-time champions and delighting a country of newfound fans.

“I believe all the way we’ll find a way,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said Saturday after the team’s last training session. “It’s going to be a tough match like every other match has been, but I believe that we will find a way and it’s our destiny to get it done.”

For a long time, the Americans were about the only ones who believed that.

The U.S. is the No. 1-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic champion, and the Americans have dominated the women’s game for the better part of two decades. But they arrived at the World Cup looking kind of average. They were stunned in regional qualifying in November in Mexico, a team that hadn’t managed a win in its first 25 tries against its neighbor to the north, and had to beat Italy in a two-game playoff for the last spot in the World Cup.

They opened the year with a loss to Sweden, then fell to England for the first time in 22 years – so long ago Alex Morgan hadn’t even been born yet. Then, after easy wins in their first two games in Germany, the Americans lost to Sweden again, their first loss in World Cup group play.

“In the past, we’d always won everything,” captain Christie Rampone said. “Those losses made our team what it is today. We need each other and you feel that, from the locker room to the time we step on the field.”

Never was that faith in each other more evident than in their quarterfinal against Brazil. Down a player for almost an hour and on the verge of making their earliest exit from a major tournament, Abby Wambach’s magnificent, leaping header in the 122nd minute tied the game and sparked one of the most riveting finishes in a World Cup game – men’s or women’s.

The Americans beat Brazil in a penalty shootout and, just like that, the folks back home were hooked.

Hollywood celebrities, fellow pro athletes and people who don’t care about any sport, let alone soccer, have adopted the players. The Brazil match drew the third-highest ratings for a Women’s World Cup game, and Wednesday’s semifinal victory over France did almost as well – despite being played in the middle of the workday.

The Empire State Building is lit with the red, white and blue this weekend, along with Japan’s colors. The White House is sending an official delegation led by Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, and Chelsea Clinton, who just happened to be part of the Rose Bowl crowd 12 years ago, the last time the Americans won the title.

“We’ve proved everyone wrong,” Lloyd said. “Now I think everyone is starting to believe in us. We’ve won everybody over, which is tremendous because the support back home has been unbelievable.”

While part of the U.S. appeal is its success here, it’s the team’s spunk that has really charmed fans, a can-do attitude uniquely – proudly – American.

Japan has never beaten the Americans – draws in 2000, 2003 and 2004 are the best it has managed in 25 games – and has been outscored 77-13.

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