USWNT Olympic Qualifying

I have a riddle for you all…

What has infinite talent…endless options…38 goals scored…0 goals against…and a Baby Horse?

Correct…

The answer is the US Women’s National Soccer Team at the 2012 Olympic Qualifying tournament in Vancouver.  Did the Baby Horse give it away??

The USWNT took on Canada for the championship in Olympic Qualifying last night and dominated them 4-0.  We already were guaranteed a spot in the 2012 London Olympics, but 1st place for the current tournament was on the line which they secured beautifully.

First, I need to take a moment and speak just about Alex Morgan.  This past summer she gained the nickname “super sub” as she would come in late in games and score almost immediate goals many times.  I’m guessing Canada is wishing Pia had used her “super sub” as just that last night: a sub.  Because from the opening minute to the 90th, Alex Morgan was unstoppable.  Out of the 4 goals the USA scored she was involved in all 4.  With 2 goals and 2 assists on the night Alex Morgan came to play.  Her speed and her finishing abilities are obvious and widely admired.  But let’s move past her sickening speed and her ability to finish a goal faster than Kim Kardashian can sign a prenup.  She has proven her ability to take players on 1 v 1, control the ball, have the knowledge and vision to find open teammates, maintain the same brilliant level of play for a full 90 and fight off multiple defenders single handedly; and on top of all that, her hair looks great all the while.  Can we all please agree that this “super sub” is actually a “super starter all around player with finishing abilities, speed, agility and knowledge who can own a full 90 minute match”?  Hm, I fear that may not be as catchy a nick name.  I’ll work on it.

As if the fantastic night Alex Morgan had wasn’t enough for you…#20, one of the greatest female soccer players of all time, the one and only Ms Abby Wambach scored her 130th and 131st international career goals.  This puts her ahead of US Soccer legend, the incomparable Kristine Lily, now only trailing Mia Hamm.  There are no true words for Abby’s impact on the women’s game nor are there words for the inspiration she brings to others through her grit and determination to never be satisfied and always be searching for more.  As she sits on 131 goals the only thought in my head is, “I can’t wait for 132, 133, 134, 135, 136….” (you get the picture.)  Thank you, Abby for taking us on this journey with you.  This nation is captivated by you and immensely proud we get to see you wear that jersey day in and day out.

Abby’s leadership, dominance in front of goal and heading ability with Alex’s speed, finishing shot and 1 v 1 abilities paired up together they are unstoppable; there is no question.  There is also no question that this team has more depth than they even know what to do with.  It would be one thing if we scored 38 goals in 5 games and allowed 0, while only playing our starters.  But we played a wide variety of players, at different and new positions, trying different ideas in a new formation and still dominated.  The entire tournament was a shining example of the depth and skill set of this team.

Kelley O’Hara, aka the feistiest little leprechaun on the pitch, is a prime example of what this team is made of.  O’Hara is a forward…sorry I mean a midfielder, or no, I meant a defender…wait, no that’s wrong too.  Right, right, my apologies…O’Hara is a magical chameleon capable of playing any position she is asked to.  After the devastatingly harsh loss of Ali Krieger (to an ACL/MCL injury), our phenomenal starting right back, there was a spot open in our back line.  O’Hara, who has been practicing on occasion in an outside back position recently, stepped up.  For someone getting used to a new position she looked confident and in control.  Her recovery speed is fantastic which is a necessity if the outside backs are going to be moving up and getting involved in the attack.  She defended the right sideline, she got involved in the attack and she tackled hard and played hard.  I look forward to seeing her speedy little legs continue to keep opposing offenses in check while helping to start counter attacks for ours.

Now I just want to say one thing…Carli.  Freaking.  Lloyd.  I am a long time fan of Lloyd’s and this tournament from beginning to end was prime example of why.  Her passing?  On point.  Her shot?  A bullet.  Her endurance?  Sickening.  When she wasn’t connecting passes and finding openings for her teammates she was taking those openings herself and getting into scoring opportunities.  When she wasn’t putting pressure on the opposition’s goal she was helping our defense relieving pressure from our goal.  When Lloyd is on her game there is really nothing you can do.  Someone that strong in the center of the field means nothing but a nightmare of a night for the other team.  And after the display put on by her this past week I would have only one thing to say to upcoming opposing teams; Welcome to your nightmare. (And then I’d play some spooky music)

And then of course there is Lauren Cheney, who at this point I feel it is just a given that she is going to step up and play like the superstar that she is.  There is no question in my mind every time she takes the field that she will be a crucial part to an epic win.  And that’s that.  Becky Sauerbrunn looked like the cool and composed defensive fitness beast that she is, as always and it was nice seeing more minutes for her throughout the week.  Captain America, Christie Rampone did her thing (and by “thing” I mean she used her soccer machine robot lady skills to shut down anyone and anything trying to get past her).  Heather O’Reilly put on her HAO game face and made moves all week.  Her passing was impeccable and her 1 v1 speed and precision to get around players was as good as ever.  There is no denying that when she is on her game, magic happens.  And then awesome fist pumps and smiles happen which are equally as magical.  Sydney Leroux had basically the greatest start to a national career you get ever ask for as a forward with 5 goals in her first game.  All made even sweeter by the fact that some of the Canadian fans weren’t exactly thrilled with her (putting it mildly) for choosing to play for the US, being a Canadian born citizen.  But I think goal number 1 said, “That’s right I’m here to play for America.” Goal number 2 said, “Sorry, Canada…I can’t hear you booing over my teammates and fans cheering for my second goal.” And by goal number 5 I think it said, “THAT’S (fill in your favorite expletive) –ING RIGHT.”  All we know in America is that we are honored to have you playing for us and we will take on any Canadian crowd any day of the week to back you.

And last I want to mention the brick wall, the padlocked metal doors, the grand protector of our net…Hope Solo.  She wasn’t tested much earlier in the tournament but when she was, she owned that 18 yard box.  Against Canada every 1 v 1 situation went the same way:  Hope flying out with speed and aggression, sacrificing her body putting it on the line to stop the ball and then getting up calmly with a that confident bad ass stare she owns the market on.  As she played through a current quad injury, after a year of shoulder problems and obscene amounts of rehab and physical therapy, we see why she is the best in the world.  When we need her to come up big…she does.  There is no stopping this woman from stopping you from scoring.  Pia said it best, “We have Hope Solo.”  That’s really all that needs to be said.  Sorry world…better luck next time.

I would love to mention every player as I think the whole team just pulled together and really showed what they are made of.  But my fingers are tired and I am getting sleepy.  Sorry I could not come up with a better excuse for you…as I said…I’m sleepy.  This is a special team, with special players and exceptional amounts of talent that will not be silenced by anyone.  London, get ready because this team means business.  Prepare yourselves for a furious whirlwind of blinding ambition and power.  The US Women’s National Team is on the prowl for another gold medal and I have a feeling they are about to pounce.

Ali Krieger – The One and Only

I’ve written before about Ali Krieger, about the epidemic which has taken over the nation known as Krieger Fever.  I spoke of her beautiful smile, her impeccable skill, her undying determination.  Well now, given recent events I want to touch on that determination again.  And also that smile.  Because let’s be honest; it has literally been proven physically impossible to talk about Ali Krieger and not mention those pearly whites.

For anyone unaware; Ali Krieger, US Women’s National Soccer team starting right back, was recently injured in an Olympic Qualifying game in Vancouver.  As she struck the ball (quite beautifully I might add) and came down on her right foot a Dominican Republic player came in reckless, high, and late.  The result of this extremely painful looking challenge we have now found out is a torn ACL and MCL.  I don’t want to focus on the injury itself.  As much as I would love to rant about the irresponsibility of the ref for not calling this tackle and the player for such a reckless and dangerous challenge; I instead want to focus on how we all know that our girl, Alexandra B Krieger, is a warrior who will fight her way back to the top. 

In my last piece I focused on her playing abilities; on her amazing skill, composure and all around soccer brilliance (and her smile).  This time I want to look at the person behind it.

Beyond her obvious athletic prowess and her fierce determination she is also one of the nicest people you could imagine.  I had the privilege of meeting her briefly after a practice here in LA this past camp.  As she waited patiently for a fan to find their sharpie she struck up a conversation with the rest of us as if we were old friends.  “How was your Christmas?” “Did you enjoy your holidays?” “How have you been?”…were a few of the questions she asked as she genuinely waited for responses.  I will say that this entire team is filled with gracious athletes who all take ample time with fans and it is amazing to see.  I will also say I believe Ali is the perfect example of just how incredible they are with fans.  She has a kindness and a genuine likeability about her that just makes you feel welcome and thrilled to be around her.

Ali is also quite possibly the most positive person I have ever seen.  It’s true.  It’s actually kind of sickening.   A cynic wouldn’t stand a chance around her.  She would turn them into an optimist with a quick flash of her smile.  Her ‘#allsmiles’ hash tag tweets and her positive outlook in everyday life is something all of her fans love seeing; and what we admire about her so wildly.  This is why I am 100%, no…200%, eh, actually…infinity% sure (is that possible?) that she will come back from this quicker than anyone could ever imagine.  And when she does she will still be at the top of her game, smiling all the while.  The fact that she is a fitness monster will also undoubtedly help.  Ali is…well…she’s a freak of nature.  (As are many of the women on this team) Her dedication to her game and her physical fitness will shine through during this tough time.

When I call Ali a warrior or a fighter or a bad ass chick who could take down an entire army with one arm tied behind her back…I am not exaggerating.  (Well, maybe a little with the army bit.  Please don’t test that one out.)  She has proven her commitment to the game and her determination to fight back from all odds.  In 2006, at 21, she was hospitalized due to blood clotting in her lungs leading to 6 mini heart attacks.  Her dedication, determination and positivity all contributed to her rejoining her team at Penn State senior year to finish out her college career after this life threatening condition halted her momentarily.  This new injury is now just another bump along her road.  A road that we are all honored to get to watch roll out in the career of one of our greatest defenders of all time.  She’s like our  own real life Road Runner.  You can try to set as many traps and drop as many anvils on her as you want to, but it will do you no good.  There is no stopping her and this injury is no exception.

The few tweets I have seen from her since the injury happened have all been well spoken, inspiring and confident.  She knows just as well as anyone that this is part of the game.  Injuries happen, and quite often they unfortunately happen at the most inopportune times.

This is just another injury of another athlete but I felt compelled to write about it.  It was either write, or go hunt down the player who did this to her.  But I decided crossing Canadian boarders on a mission to orchestrate a hit on an international soccer player wasn’t the smartest idea.

Just as she is smart, composed and strong on the field she will be the same in her recovery I am sure.  Her presence will be missed greatly and no one can replace everything she has to offer in the right back position, but this is a deep team filled with overly capable players.  I know her presence on the sideline will be crucial as well though, being a motivational leader to her team.

Ali, we are all wishing you the fastest and most successful of recoveries.  I don’t mean to sound selfish, but we’re all going to be eagerly awaiting your return.  So…I mean…you should probably hurry it along…like really…hurry.  You’re an inspiration on and off the field and one of the best defenders in our history in my opinion.  So please come back to us soon.  Positive thoughts and wishes will be sent your way every day from your army of fans.  Thank you for your continued hard work and best of luck!

By the way…if you need any entertainment while recovering let me know.  I specialize in air guitar, dancing to 90’s pop music, lip singing to 80’s hair ballads and falling down / running into things (not by choice) which leads to entertainment for those around me.  Keep it in mind.

Tobin The Magnificent

Audience if you would; please look at the soccer ball. Do not take your eyes off of it. Do not look away or even blink. Tobin The Magnificent, is about to take the field and defy the odds of gravity, probability and logic using only her feet and this ball, wowing you with dazzling displays of skill.

That is the introduction I feel is necessary for one Ms Tobin Heath every time she takes the field. I suppose it may be a bit much to ask, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Tobin Heath for those of you who have had the distinct displeasure of not knowing; is a midfielder for the US Women’s National Soccer Team and also a member of Sky Blue FC in the Women’s Professional Soccer league. She comes from Tarheel blue, being alumni from North Carolina which automatically makes her a favorite in my book. She is a young player with skill on the ball which befuddles the average brain. When she steps on the field it is part soccer, part magic act, part dance routine. As she zigs, while making the defender zag, she dances over the ball and fluently disappears behind the defense putting herself into a scoring opportunity. I will admit, watching Tobin can be frustrating too though. When I first started seeing her play I blamed my TV for months that every time she got the ball the TV would skip and somehow make me miss something. But then I came to realize it wasn’t the TV. It was Heath making a move so quickly over the ball that the human eye cannot catch it. It’s like trying to keep up with an Italian on speed telling a story about their family; impossible. The moment you think you know what her next move is, is the moment you are left in the dust.

She is known for not only being a skillful player in the heat of battle when it counts, but also a crafty trickster full of unimaginable talent during ball trick battles with fellow team mates. If you ever get tired of watching sleeping animal videos on YouTube (I know, that’s not even fair though. Who gets tired of that?!) search for some of Tobin Heath’s trick battles and various YouTube trick videos. You will not be disappointed. Let’s just say, when Tobin goes for a simple walk it’s not quite as simple as you would think. Those of you who have seen her ‘Tobin Heath Walkabout’ video can testify to this fact. Those of you who haven’t seen it need to do yourselves a favor and begin living a life of fulfillment. You can start by watching that video.

Her shot placement is another factor to her game that leaves us all astonished. If you told her to get drunk, spin around in circles, blindfold herself and kick the ball from 40 yards out and hit the upper corner of the far post; she would not only do it successfully, but she would giggle about it afterwards which makes it even better. Tobin giggling makes everything better in the world, in case you were unaware. Her shot placement and control over the ball is just astounding. A thesaurus isn’t even going to come up with enough correct adjectives to describe how incredibly controlled and crafty she is. Trust me, I tried. I laughed at the thesaurus in its meek attempts to fully embody this skill in words. So I vote we create a new phrase of words. Tobin’s skill is…….Tobinifiably Heathabulous. Yes. That’s it. Lauren Cheney mentioned in an interview that Tobin is the craftiest player she has ever played with and I am sure that anyone who has played around this young phenom can agree. When she is not dribbling around defenders, or placing a perfect shot in the exact spot that she intended she is most likely creating some pretty nifty (yes, I am 24 and use the word nifty. Deal with it.) passes in the midfield. Her vision for the game is spectacular for being such a young player. She reads the game well and is able to find the connecting passes that will move the ball forward effectively. Her aptitude for this cannot be overlooked. Without connecting players like that in the midfield you just have defense and offense. With nothing in the middle connecting the two you are going to have one lousy game. The USWNT has a phenomenal midfield obscenely full of talent. Her passing abilities and calmness on the ball help control the game and bring fluidity to it that is needed

I briefly mentioned earlier, her undeniable ability to make the world a better place with her smile. Yes, this line should remind you of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song because Tobin Heath can, in fact also turn the world on with her smile. In fact, I say someone needs to just follow Tobin Heath around for a day playing the Mary Tyler Moore theme song. Just the thought of her walking around town, smile on her face, bobbing her head from side to side to that song makes me feel overwhelming happiness. Which brings me to my next point where I would like to address Tobin, directly.

Tobin, in my humblest opinion I feel you may be wasting a crucial asset. You’re skill and talent are undeniably phenomenal and I believe you can dribble your way out of just about any jam the world throws at you. But as a backup, in case you are ever at a loss of how to get around a certain defender, may I suggest simply stop, say hi to them, strike up a conversation, smile and laugh. Your laugh is as infectious as it is awesome. I dare anyone at that point to not let their guard down, relax and just want to give you a high five and laugh along with you. At which point, you will of course do the polite thing by giving them the high five they have asked for…just before blowing past them as they stand there laughing in a total state of joy, unsure how they got there. It’s just a thought…maybe run it by Pia…but I don’t see how it could fail. It’s basically bullet proof.

Tobin Heath is not only talented, skillful and impressively athletic; but also seems kind, gracious and to have a great head on her shoulders. The future of this young star is endless. I cannot wait to see what mind blowing goals and assists she has in years to come for us, as I know they will be plentiful. I also cannot imagine her being anything less than crucial to helping the team bring home a gold medal this summer. Each game she plays in begins a new act of her endless magic show that we are all lucky enough to be audience to. I for one, cannot wait for the next act to begin. So I am going to go grab some pop corn and get ready for Tobin The Magnificent to grace the stage again.

Our Very Own Captain America – Christie Rampone

The year: 2065. The planet: Earth. (Correct, we will make it past December 21st, 2012) The Headline: US Women’s Soccer Legend, Christie Rampone retires at the age of 90.

Those of you who think I am being hyperbolic obviously haven’t seen Christie Rampone play recently. She is 36 years old, has had two children and will smoke you up and down the field all day long. I’m really not even sure how to describe this amazing woman. (I use the term ‘woman’ because ‘soccer machine robot lady’ has not been properly copy written and trademarked yet. But I am fairly certain that is what she is.) Since I can remember, I have loved the US Women’s National Soccer team. I remember being a young girl watching stars like Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lily (who I believe also may be a ‘soccer machine robot lady’) grace the field. Right along with them was the rock, the solid force known as Christie Rampone. And here she is, more than a decade later still playing some of the best soccer you will ever see.

Rampone is a strong, reliable and communicative central defender. Aka Hope Solo’s best friend. Her presence cannot be underestimated. She is a physical presence on the field with talent oozing out of her pores and is also a vocal presence who directs, communicates and organizes this amazing team. Yes, if we did not have Abby and Alex and Lauren all scoring goals we would not win games. But if we did not have Rampone directing traffic, organizing the back line and mid field and shutting down every delusional attacker silly enough to think they will get past her; then our lovely ladies up top would never have the chance to score those beautiful goals. They say all offense begins with defense, I say all offense begins with Christie Rampone. I’m not sure if any of you remember that little game we played against Brazil this summer? I think there was a late goal involved…penalty kicks…something like that. Remember? Well go ahead and rewind about one minute before Abby buries that ball in the back of the net and take a look at who started that play. Take a look at who was hounding that Brazilian attacker relentlessly with determination shooting out of her eyes and tracking her every move until forcing the Brazilian forward to turn the ball over starting our attack. That’s right…our woman of steel, our Captain America female soccer version…Christie Rampone. All offense starts with Christie Rampone.

She not only offers up inspiration by the ton on the field but she is also an inspiration to working moms everywhere. I can’t really comment on the whole mom thing too much seeing as how I am not a mom. In fact I tend to veer away from children, as they are normally squeaky and sticky. (Christie, if you’re reading please understand I am not implying your children are squeaky or sticky. I’m sure they’re squeak and stick free.) But I can tell you that those who are moms; moms who want to achieve success in their career and still win a mom of the year award have Rampone to look up to. She has two awesome girls who travel with her and will be able to grow up knowing that they can do anything in life that they set their minds to. She is living proof of it through not only her amazing career but also her positive and inspirational outlook.

Now let’s just briefly talk about her fitness levels. She is…her fitness is…when she…because I mean…her level of…ok I thought I could put it into words but apparently I can’t. Let me try again. SHE IS THE FITTEST HUMAN ALIVE. Yeah, that works. Scientists, doctors, and any people of the medical profession: may I recommend doing some research on this specimen? Unlocking the secrets behind this perfectly trained and toned body could quite possibly lock in a Nobel Prize for whoever succeeds. She is a perfectly running machine that most 20 something year olds (myself included) would kill to be half as fit as. I know many other soccer fans will agree that when we sit down and watch those fitness training segments that US Soccer will post from time to time we are all left in awe of every one of these women. This team is filled with athletes who are beyond committed to their fitness levels. Watching Kelley O’Hara and Ali Krieger run a beep test until they are barely able to walk, or seeing Abby Wambach bench press what I estimate to be 5092 pounds, or seeing Alex Morgan and Heather O’Reilly annihilate sprint times is all just incredible to see. But I think we can also all agree that watching Christie Rampone just makes us all a little sick. Christie, I don’t mean to be rude, but you kind of disgust us; in the best way possible. It’s overwhelmingly amazing. You’re dedication to this team, to your fitness, to developing your skill and the skill of those around you is something that should never, ever be overlooked. When us fans sit down and watch these fitness training videos and see you just dominating everything it is truly inspirational.

Briefly, before I wrap this up I just want you to picture something for me. Imagine you are dribbling a soccer ball down the field. You have found a seam and gotten behind the defense. You look over your shoulder and see Rampone is the closest to you but is still yards away. You smile confidently knowing you just need to beat the keeper 1 v 1. But wait…all of a sudden you are on the ground, you don’t have the ball anymore, and the US has already started a counter attack. What happened?! You have been Ramponed, my friend. You can never, and I mean NEVER underestimate the abilities of this superstar. But let’s be honest; this scenario will only happen once in a great while anyways. Although her recovery speed and ability to back track is phenomenal her ability to not have to do either is equally as good. She puts up a wall in the center of that back line and basically says, “You are not getting anywhere near my goal and my goalkeeper. You can either face me and be humiliated or you can just hand over the ball now and walk away with your tail between your legs.” I do not envy any forwards who come across her path.

Determined, focused, humble, versatile, inspirational, passionate, abnormally talented and freakishly fit; a few words in a feeble attempt to sum up this American legend. Ecstatic, giddy, euphoric, joyous and proud; a few words in a feeble attempt to sum up what we all cannot wait to feel this summer at the 2012 Olympics when Christie Rampone leads the US Women’s National Team to victory.

Christie Rampone is now, and forever will be our very own Captain America and my absolute favorite soccer machine robot lady.