Los Angeles Soccer: Women's World Cup
There's always a “Group of Death” in any FIFA competition, or so it seems, and that group at next summer's Women's World Cup in Germany belongs to the U.S.
And to Germany. And to Brazil.
There are three “death” groups in this year's field, product of the rapid growth of women's soccer outside the traditional strongholds of the U.S., Germany, Scandinavia and the Far East.
The Americans, seeded Sunday atop Group C, welcomed North Korea, Colombia and Sweden into their quartet during Monday's WWC draw in Frankfurt. That's three legitimate contenders (for at least semifinal berths) for just two spots in the eight-team knockout bracket. And we'll see about Colombia.
And it gets worse: A quarterfinal awaits with Brazil or Australia or Norway (and we'll see about Equatorial Guinea), and the likeliest semifinal foe are the Germans, prohibitive favorites to win their third successive WWC.
It would have been disastrous had the U.S. missed next year's Women's World Cup. Careers ruined, heads rolled, a dark cloud hanging over the globe's most successful women's soccer-playing country for at least a generation.
At least, we figure, no suicides -- we're not the rest of the world. Yet.
Thanks to Amy Rodriguez, we don't have to worry about it.
The former USC All-American from Lake Forest (Santa Margarita Catholic HS) scored in the 40th minute Saturday afternoon to give the Americans a 1-0 triumph over Italy in Bridgeview, Ill., a 2-0 aggregate victory in the home-and-home CONCACAF/UEFA playoff series, and the last of 16 berths for next summer's championship in Germany.
Rodriguez knocked home a rebound after Megan Rapinoe's hard shot was spilled by Italy goalkeeper Anna Picarelli, a former Pepperdine standout from Long Beach who played at St. Joseph High School in Lakewood.
The U.S. has failed to qualify just once for a FIFA women's or girls tournament -- a penalty-kicks loss to Canada kept us from this year's U-17 to-do in Trinidad & Tobago -- and that was met with much hand-wringing in U.S. Soccer's Chicago headquarters and throughout the American women's soccer community.
The Americans' failure to reach the final four at this year's U-20 tournament in Germany was seen as a mighty catastrophe.
Not reaching the WWC, the biggest event in the sport … that would have been unimaginable. But Mexico's stunning upset in the CONCACAF qualifying semifinals earlier this year put the Yanks on the brink of missing out. Well, sort of.
The U.S. women had never lost a qualifier before, and the odds of it happening twice weren't very good. They conquered Costa Rica in the CONCACAF third-place game to advance to the home-and-home with Italy, which has greatly improved the past five or six years but still can't match the Americans.
Two 1-0 scorelines -- Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) scored the lone goal, deep into stoppage, in last week's first leg in Padua, Italy -- attest to how tight things have gotten in the international women's game. Assumptions are becoming useless, as China's failure to qualify and Equatorial Guinea's success in Africa's eliminations demonstrate, but we'll nonetheless assume the U.S. will contend for the title next year and that Germany, likely, will win a third straight WWC crown.
The U.S. has never finished worse that third. Titles in 1991 and 1999, third-place finishes in 1995, 2003 and 2007. Fourth or below next year will be failure.
The WWC will be played June 26-July 17. The draw is Monday in Frankfurt.
Here are the qualifiers (in order of finish within their confederatons):
CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean): Canada, Mexico, United States
CAF (Africa): Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea
AFC (Asia): Australia, North Korea, Japan
UEFA (Europe): Germany (host), Sweden, France, Norway, Italy
OFC (Oceania): New Zealand
CONMEBOL (South America): Brazil, Colombia
And it's a crime.
We get so much soccer on TV these days -- every MLS game, with the right package; every game from Mexico's Primera Division; dozens of matches from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France each week; regular telecasts of Australia's A-League; UEFA Champions League; CONCACAF Champions League; Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana from South America; Uruguayan, Argentine, Brazilian and Colombian league play; national team matches from around the globe; and, of course, wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup -- that it's easy to forget what it was like 30 or 35 years ago, when PBS's “Star Soccer” trimmed an English game of the week (usually involving Liverpool) to an hour, “Soccer Made in Germany” made Cologne fans of us with a weekly broadcast on Channel 22, and Univision offered a slow-paced clash each Sunday from what was a most substandard Mexican League. We could watch the NASL final each summer on ABC's “Wide World of Sports.”
The U.S. women were the biggest thing in America 11 years ago, when the Women's World Cup enthralled the country and Hamm and Co. toppled a superior Chinese side on penalties in a packed Rose Bowl. Now, not so much.
Hamm has retired. Brandi Chastain, whose bra-baring celebration of that title triumph over China, was the iconic moment of '99, is strictly an amateur now. Michelle Akers is better known as a horsewoman than as the greatest of all female players. Mission Viejo's Julie Foudy (Mission Viejo HS) is a television commentator. Huntington Beach's Joy Fawcett (Edison HS) is, primarily, a mom.
Aside from forward Abby Wambach (Hermosa Beach) and goalkeeper Hope Solo, no U.S. women's player possesses star power. Nobody in the American game can match Brazilian superstar Marta. There are some outstanding U.S. players, but none have caught the imagination of the public -- and none aside from Solo have offered much in the way of personality.
The best young women's player in America? Clearly, it's Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan, who came up huge in stoppage Saturday to give the U.S. an advantage in its Women's World Cup qualifying series against Italy.
Morgan (Diamond Bar HS), a 21-year-old senior at the University of California who had come off the bench in the 86th minute, raced into the Italian box in the 94th minute to finish a Carli Lloyd long ball flicked on by Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach to send the Americans home with a 1-0 lead midway through the home-and-home series.
The second leg is next Saturday in Bridgeview, Ill. The victor joins the 16-nation field in Germany next summer.
The goal was Morgan's fourth in eight international matches. Her college career closed last week with Cal's first-round loss to Duke in the NCAA Division I women's tournament, and she'll be one of three players -- along with Stanford Christen Press (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) and Portland's Sophie Schmidt -- vying to be the top pick in Women's Professional Soccer's draft.
Two players with local ties -- Hermosa Beach's Lindsay Tarpley and former UCLA star Tina DiMartino -- have been added to the U.S. women's national team roster for its Women's World Cup qualifying playoff against Italy.
Coach Pia Sundhage, who had a 20-player roster for the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Mexico, has 24 on her list for games Nov. 17 in Padova and Nov. 24 in Bridgeview, Ill. The winner will join the 16-team field for next year's WWC in Germany.
The Americans were sent to the playoff after losing the Mexico -- the biggest upset in modern women's soccer's 40-year history -- in the CONCACAF semifinals.
Tarpley, a midfielder/forward who was a surprise omission from the CONCACAF roster, is making just her second appearance with the team since tearing an anterior cruciate ligaments last year. She won gold medals at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics and played at the 2007 WWC.
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills
Lauren Cheney opened up the scoring in the U.S.'s 3-0 win over Costa Rica. Next up: a must-win home-and-home series against Italy later this month to qualify for the World Cup.
All is right again in the women's soccer world. The U.S. national team, stunned last week by Mexico in CONCACAF's Women's World Cup qualifying semifinals, dominated Costa Rica just as expected in Monday's third-place game to keep its Germany 2011 hopes alive.
Actually, hope doesn't begin to describe the Americans' situation or expectations. Not qualifying for the WWC, after winning twice and finishing third three times in the previous five, would be disastrous. Losing to Mexico, in Mexico, might be good for the game and for the U.S. program, but not so failing to reach the sport's most important event.
Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach scored two more goals -- her seventh and eighth of the tournament and her 116th and 117th in international play -- and former UCLA star Lauren Cheney also tallied in a 3-0 U.S. victory in Cancun. Other locals playing Monday were midfielder Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS) and forwards Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and USC) and Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar/Diamond Bar HS).
The U.S. will meet Italy in a home-and-home series -- Nov. 20 in Padova and Nov. 27 in Bridgeview, Ill. -- with the winner joining the 16-nation field.
Canada beat Mexico, 1-0, in the final on Christine Sinclair's penalty kick early in the second half. The Canadians and Mexicans claimed CONCACAF's berths for next summer's championship.
We've been hearing, and sometimes actually seeing, how the rest of the world has caught up to the U.S. in women's soccer, and no matter how much truth there is to the notion, it doesn't lessen the blow when something thought impossible occurs.
Such as the Americans' loss Friday night to Mexico.
It was an American -- San Mateo's Veronica Perez -- who knocked out the U.S. in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semifinal, her 27th-minute header finishing off a 2-1 triumph in Cancun that sends Mexico into Monday's regional final against Canada.
The Mexicans and Canadians, who crunched Costa Rica, 4-0, in the other semifinal, qualified for next year's WWC in Germany. The U.S. must beat Costa Rica in Monday's third-place game, then beat Italy in a home-and-home series for another berth. The Americans' failure to qualify would be disastrous and would -- absolutely should -- cost Swedish coach Pia Sundhage her job.
The U.S. has been in transition the past decade as the legends of the previous generation -- including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy (Mission Viejo/Mission Viejo HS) and Joy Fawcett (Huntington Beach/Edison HS) -- retired one by one, the Europeans began asserting their technical superiority and the sport's growth around the globe began to mirror what had occurred in North America a generation or two ago.
The U.S., as sure a sure thing as exists in Women's World Cup qualifying, needs only a victory Friday over Mexico to claim its berth in next year's championship in Germany. The Mexicans finished second in their group Monday, falling to Canada, 3-0, in the group-stage finale in Cancun.
Canada, which got goals from FC Gold Pride defender Candace Chapman, Josee Belanger and Jonelle Filigno, takes on Costa Rica -- the Ticas were second to the U.S. in Group B -- in the other semifinal Friday. The semifinal winners advance to the WWC, and the third-place team takes on Italy in a home-and-home series for another berth.
The U.S. has done its part, sweeping through Group B in CONCACAF's Women's World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico -- Monday's 4-0 victory over Costa Rica made the scoreline 18-0 -- and will discover Tuesday its semifinal foe.
Canada and Mexico have claimed Group A's final-four slots and their showdown in the last of the group games will determine the group winner (which will meet Costa Rica) and runner-up (which gets the U.S.). The winners of Friday's semis advance to next year's WWC in Germany; the third-place winner meets Italy for a berth.
LOCAL HEROES: Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS), a senior at the University of California, scored her third goal in five international appearances to finish off Monday's win. Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach (with her sixth goal of the tournament, a penalty kick), former UCLA star Lauren Cheney and Yael Averbuch also scored for the U.S.
Thirteen of the 18 U.S. goals have been scored by SoCal-bred players, residents or former area collegians.
It was Amy Rodriguez's turn to score three Saturday night -- and the U.S. is one win from another Women's World Cup.
Rodriguez, Lake Forest's premier soccer product, followed the hat trick in the region's qualifying opener by Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach with one of her own as the Americans decimated Guatemala, 9-0, in Cancun, Mexico.
Wambach added two more goals and Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) scored a goal and assisted the 88th-minute finale by Rodriguez (Santa Margarita HS/USC). The U.S. and Costa Rica, also 2-0-0 after a 3-0 win over Haiti, will meet Monday for the Group B title.
Wambach scored her sixth international hat trick and assisted a fourth goal as the U.S. women's national team opened CONCACAF's Women's World Cup qualifying tournament with a 5-0 dismantling of Haiti in Cancun, Mexico. Lake Forest's Amy Rodriguez (Santa Margarita Catholic HS/USC) added a goal, and Redondo Beach's Shannon Boxx (South Torrance HS) had an assist for the Yanks, who have Group B games remaining against Costa Rica and Guatemala.
The goals were Wambach's 110th, 111th and 112th with the U.S., which is expected to claim on CONCACAF's two guaranteed berths in next year World Cup in Germany. The third-place finisher in the regional tournament will meet Italy for an additional berth.