Women's World Cup semifinals: USA vs. France

Jul 13, 2011

Coming off a thrilling quarterfinal victory over Brazil, the American women sought their first trip to the World Cup final since 1999. They got what they were looking for. Chat about the game and what's to come with Post sports reporter Paul Tenorio. Ask Paul questions or submit your own opinions.

Hey everyone- Thanks for joining me here for a live chat after another thrilling USA win, this time in a semifinal against France.

After taking a 1-0 lead and seeing France pull even with a well-deserved equalizer, the U.S. found the net twice more against the run of possession to win, 3-1, and head back to the World Cup final.

What drama. What excitement. This is a team you have to love, only if even for the fact that they never stop fighting. I'll take your questions and comments now. Let's go.

Skill, drama...and officials that called the game very well without becoming part of the story. The U.S. just had more gas in the tank in the last 15 minutes. Still, you have to think the French proved how far they've come in a relatively short period of time. Boy, was that fun to watch!

Amen to all of that. I was taught that the best referees are the ones you dont notice. That certainly wasnt the case against Brazil, but it was against France.

Absolutely you have to give props to France. Not only have they shown how far they've come, they really dominated most of this game. The U.S. struggled to hold possession, and with players like former Washington Freedom star Sonia Bompastor and Gaetane Thiney there were threats all over the field for France.

Yet, as is often the case, the U.S. showed its fitness and energy late and pulled away with a clutch goal from Abby Wambach and cheeky finish from Alex Morgan.

Exciting Win for USA !!! Throughout the tournament, it has seemed evident that many team are now equal or superior to the USA in ball handling and that we have become far too reliant on the long ball - hoping that our strength and endurance will carry the day. Are we hurting overselves in the long run by not placing more emphasis on ball handling?

It's hard to answer this question with a definitive, "YES!", simply because the U.S. won and is in the final.

No doubt the Americans were relying almost exclusively on a very Route 1 style of play throughout the game, and for a while they suffered because France was holding possession and pressing. That caused the U.S. to defend for long stretches, which can wear teams down. Luckily for the U.S. some strong play from Hope Solo and poor finishing from France kept them alive.

Do I think that the U.S. needs to find someone that can hold the ball in midfield better? Yes. As we saw with the substitution late that brough Rapinoe in and pushed Cheney (I believe) into the middle of the park, it made a big difference.

Right now, though, the U.S. is proving that when it comes to fitness and ability to punish teams late they are still the class of the world.

Why did the USA team have to play with one man out in the quarter final against Brazil?

Buehler received a red card for her tackle in the box that led to a penalty. Was it a penalty? Maybe. Was it a red card? Certainly not.

They survived, though, and now are through to the final.

Why isn't Rapinoe starting? She's proven to be a far more effective option. Is she injured? Can she only go 25 minutes per game? Please don't give me the standard -- better off the bench excuse...

I dont think that's a standard answer. In fact, I think that's exactly why.

Both O'Reilly and Cheney have done well to use their speed on the outside to get behind defenders. That was on display on the first U.S. goal. And Rapinoe has been incredibly effective as a super sub, entering and changing the pace of the game on the outside past worn-out defenders who have been trying to keep pace all game.

Rapinoe was not nearly as effective in possession against Brazil as she was today, though her perfect game-winning pass made up for it. After today's effective job of holding the ball and creating through the midfield -- something the U.S. desperately needed -- perhaps she'll get the nod and one of the starting outside mids will slide into a central role.

Do you think Carly LLoyd's bad passes will get her a spot on the bench for the finals?

See above. Lloyd gave the ball away far too often and far too easily. She needed to be subbed out and finally was, and what a difference it made.

One of the worst things to do as a central midfielder is to lose possession in the center of the park. It often leads to man-down counters and, often, goals or clear goal scoring opportunities. That was the case today. They need to clean it up in the middle of the park in the final -- whether it's against Sweden or Japan.

Which team, Japan or Sweden do you think the US would rather see in the finals?

Uh...Sweden. This team is full of competitors who would probably not like to walk away from this World Cup without being able to say they exacted revenge on the one team that beat them.

How much do you think Coach Sundhage should consider (a) starting Alex Morgan over Amy Rodriguez or, admittedly a tad more of a stretch, (b) keeping Sauerbrunn in over Buehler?

I think probably more the latter than the former. Morgan is a young player who brings a change of pace to the game. Rodriguez has been quite invisible considering and comparatively, but Sauerbrunn was fantastic today. She rarely made mistakes and bottled up the French forwards so effectively in the first half that they made a halftime substitution for one of their best goal scorers.

Considering the U.S. had been shaky on the backline in the group stages, and I think you might see Sauerbrunn back in the first 11.

Paul, I thought Rapinoe coming on changed the look of the game. She's been a dervish for this team recently. That super-sub role really seems to suit her, but boy is it tempting to want to see her for 90...

Sure is tempting...but two games in a row she's made the difference as a super sub, not as starter. If it ain't broke...

To what (or whom) do you credit the change in play in the seventieth minute or so? (Rapinoe-Lloyd sub?)

Yep, this. They needed to be better in midfield play and that change did it. And as much as Rapinoe was effective on the wing, I think it was that pulling Lloyd brought a greater presence in the center midfield and allowed the U.S. to link through their midfield more instead of so often searching for Abby up top. Makes a big difference when you play a short pass to the midfield, spray it wide to Rapinoe and then find the forwards. Or at least it has the last two games.

It is inceasingly clear that some other countries -- like Brazil and France -- are technically superior to the US, and that we are winning based on fitness, drive, and a strong team culture. How long until other countries with richer soccer traditions on the men's side overtake us?

That France, Sweden and Japan reached the semifinal showed that the rest of the world is catching up to the superpowers. That France dominated much of the game today was further proof.

The one thing that will never change about the U.S., though, is their will to win and their penchant for outworking and out-fitnessing (I know, not a word) the opposition. That, plus wave after wave of young girls inspired by watching this team -- just as some of these players were inspired by the '99 cup -- has me thinking that the U.S. will continue to always be in the mix for the game's most important title: World Cup champion.

Makes me nostalgic for the days with Sonia Bompastor, Homare Sawa, Erin McLeod, Abby Wambach, and Becky Sauerbrunn playing at the Maryland Soccerplex for 3,000 to 5,000 fans. Any hope of WPS getting some bounce from the excitement of the USWNT? Next step--any hope of Washington getting a team if there is a WPS in 2012? Could the DC United Women step in to the void caused by the embarassment of "magicJack"?

I've been talking to a few people over the last few days regarding the impact this World Cup could have on WPS. As Goff said on his blog, this is the first time that there is a league in season during a World Cup. Never has happened before.

It's definitely sad that a franchise with such a strong history (the Freedom) wont be able to reap the benefits. Especially considering Wambach, Sauerbrunn and Solo all play on that team now. As magicJack, I'm not sure they have the same base set up to truly capitalize. We'll see.

(And yes, any Freedom fans were not surprised by what Bompastor showed today. She was just as good when she was in Washington. Check out this feature from 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/17/AR2009071702763.html)

Paul, the US' depth within each game and throughout the tournament has been a huge key. I thought Sauerbrunn was steady today, that's huge, having someone step up for a suspended starter, and the impact of Rapinoe and Morgan today was obvious...

Absolutely. It's always important to be solid 1-18 on a gameday roster, and to never have doubts about plugging one player in for another. You're always going to have issues -- suspensions, injuries, poor play -- and a manager has to be able to feel they can make a change and not see  a dip in play. That has certainly been the case for the U.S., and in fact they've probably seen improvement when subs enter.

While I'm happy the US won, I'm really concerned with their defense. Most times they seem so confused with multiple players covering the player with the ball leaving everyone else open. Thoughts?

I disagree. Early in the group stage the U.S. backline was shaky (see: Sweden) but today was fantastic. They got numbers behind the ball, didn't overcommit and took away several quality looks. Considering how much they were defending, it was a strong performance.

They'll need to be just as strong in the final, especially if they face a Sweden team that gave them fits when they tried to play a high line.

"Buehler received a red card for her tackle in the box that led to a penalty. Was it a penalty? Maybe. Was it a red card? Certainly not." If it was a foul, then it has to be a red card in that situation. Would you really argue that there was no obvious goalscoring opportunity?

I would argue that Buehler didn't really foul Marta. Marta flicked the ball over two defenders and went in alone. The foul, if any, occurred right away when Buehler turned and reached her arm out. The problem: so did Marta. Then they both left their feet trying to get a touch on the ball. Not sure if it was a foul. If it was, then yes, a penalty. But no, I don't think it was necessarily an automatic red card type of penalty kick. I've seen that type of play go without a red often in many years of playing and watching.

I'm like a lot of people, never really followed soccer but got interested in this team. Boy, did they miss the boat. No other sporting events on here (due to All-Star break), yet I could not find the game on the radio, or stream it on my iPhone. I finally found a "commentary" that gave me an idea of the game. Get these games on the radio, on the iPhone, etc.!!!!

Did you try ESPN3.com? Not sure if that's available via iPhone...

The U.S. really looked outclassed in midfield until the French keeper made, what seemed like to me, two huge blunders: (1) not coming out aggressively to punch out the cross that Abby slam-dunked into the goal (shouldn't she have been there WAY BEFORE Abby?); and (2) coming out aggressively on Alex Morgan in a 1 on 4 situation when she should have stayed home. Do you think the US was bailed out, to some extent, by bush-league goalkeeping?

There was a HUGE difference in goalkeeping between France and the U.S. and you saw the difference it made.

A goalkeeper should absolutely own her six-yard box on a corner kick. I don't have as much beef with the Morgan situation and the choice she made. Once she committed to coming out when Morgan was initially on a line towards goal, she couldn't back out. But yes, that Wambach goal probably wouldn't have happened had Solo been between the pipes.

We've been less skilled (but more "athletic" and certainly better conditioned) than the rest of the world for more than a decade. That 1999 final ended in a 0-0 tie. The world has caught up, but we're still good because unlike Norway (without Riise), China (Sun Wen) or Germany (with a declining Prinz) we have replacements when our stars get old. Sweden, actually, strikes me as the most similar to the U.S. in this regard. And guess what? They're still around, too.


The US has the best keeper and one of the top forwards in the world and very physical have great fitness & final 3rd service. Their will to win is awesome, good coaching. With all that said the French outplayed the US 2/3rd of the game, outshot 3-1, 2x corners and just looked better with the ball/shape/possession soccer. Is this just a phase for the US ? or something else happening to the US style. We just look like we are gutting it out not outplaying teams.

As I've said earlier, the U.S. really started to struggle when they bypassed their midfield and looked to connect almost exclusively through long balls. Part of that was the inability of the central midfielders to keep possession when they did happen onto the ball. The U.S. coaching staff recognized that, as well, and made substitutions that changed the game.

You can bet that going into the final there will be more of an emphasis on playing cleaner and more composed and holding some possession. You can't defend, defend, defend through several high-pressure games and get away with it over and over. It'll come back to bite you in the end.

Is it more prevalent and egregious in the women's game than in the men's? What sort of punishment will it take to effectively stop diving? (I'm thinking huge fines, or banishment from a significant number of games, but am not hopeful)

As bad as Brazil was (especially Erika's stretcher move, which may have been one of the worst things I've seen when it comes to faking injuries) I dont know if the women have caught up to the men yet.

It's something FIFA needs to clean up...

Any update on injuries going in to the final. Krieger, in particular, was down a couple of times. Finally, with the great endurance and fitness of USA, do you anticipate that being a big positive for us in the finals as both teams will be weary from some many games over the last two weeks?

Probably wont get any clear injury updates until tomorrow. Krieger came back into the game and probably has some bumps and bruises, but I don't know if you should worry about her missing the final in Frankfurt.

Lets have some fun. If Bornstein played for the USWNT today, how many goals would France have beaten him for? 3? 4?

Poor Bornstein, can't escape it even in a Women's World Cup chat.

One positive thing about Bornstein: The way Spanish announcers pronounce his name. Not as good as Sneijder, but fun nonetheless.

I have to admit, I was concerned when Pia made no changes going into the 2nd half. And then, when things when from bad to worse in the first 20 minutes, it seemed an especially poor choice. (I really wanted Lindsey in for Lloyd or Boxx.) So, is Pia a genius, who is patient and stands behind her primary players, knowing it will pay off? Or is this complacency or lack of imagination? I know, they won. But France dominated possession and this is supposedly what Pia has worked hardest at improving the USWNT.

I think a lot of observers were looking for a change somewhere in the second half, but not necessarily at halftime. I felt Lindsey might be the type of midfielder that could come in and hold the ball -- she was always a composed, smart player when I covered her with the Freedom.

That being said, Sundhage's substitutions have worked out pretty darn well over the past two games, so I'm not going to be the one questioning her decision making.

to say that the French lacked a certain, "je ne sais quoi" in the finishing department today?

Ha, yes. Very much so.

Poor defense by Japan, nice shot by Sweden. Looks like a rematch is in the cards.

An early goal, but 80 minutes left...have the U.S. women taught you nothing about "it ain't over till the fat lady sings,"??

We'll see. I'm sure USA wouldn't mind seeing Sweden again.

Paul, if the French had pressed on and had taken advantage of plenty of space behind the US defense it would have been different. As it was too often impatience ruled and either crosses can too quickly or shots from long distance were attempted. You can't trouble a world class goalie as Solo is with that approach. I'd put it on inexperience, but the future is definitely with the French and Swedes so the US better take advantage now. US soccer still relies too much on tenacity as a virtue and once the European women's teams mature I suspect the US to fall back. Can it be avoided as the talent certainly is present.

Sure it can be avoided. As the European teams advance so, too, do the Americans. I've seen plenty of very talented young players in this area alone coming up through the club levels and with an overhaul in the American youth development and emphasis on developing individual skill and quality over winning tournaments, I think you can expect the U.S. team to continue to improve its technical quality while maintaining that same U.S. spirit that has entertained so many from the 1999 final to Abby's header against Brazil to today's win.

Any chance ABC will broadcast the final for a true nationwide audience?

I haven't heard anything about this yet. I'll look into it, though.

What sort of punishment is likely to be meted out to her, if any? (Or is being on the losing team bad enough?)

It's a good question. There have been some fines handed out for dives in MLS (Charlie Davies) and you have to expect FIFA to start sanctioning players if they really want to see this end. Don't think Erika would be a bad place to start seeing how blatant it was.

Do you think the success of the national team will translate into more interest in WPS?

We'll end it on this one.

This is the biggest question mark surrounding the Americans run back to the final. For the first time ever, a women's pro league exists while a major tournament is going on. With wins that have made stars out of formerly inside-soccer names only (Hope Solo, Abby Wambach), will another title match the impact of the 1999 World Cup win? Speaking with some fans today, it seemed like it's undecided. But you can bet WPS will be looking to market the heck out of its teams and stars upon their return.

Interestingly, Solo and Wambach play together on a team that once had the most tradition, the Washington Freedom, but was moved to Florida and renamed magicJack. Maybe that will be the greatest indicator. Whether a team with a new fan base and new name can use the star power of this team's most impactful players to draw in more people.

In speaking with those that have coached within women's pro soccer, it's the largest test of all. To them, there is no doubt it will create another wave of young girls who want to be the next Wambach. The question is whether it can provide a boost to a league that has had its fair share of troubles over the last few years.

Thanks for joining me on the chat. Should be a fun final to watch, whether it's USA-Sweden or USA-Japan (which, by the way, just pulled back to 1-1).

To get a little credit here? How many posts talk about "being outclassed in the mid field" and "allowed too much space in the back" and all sorts of other fatal flaws. The USWMT is number 1 in the world, and have been for many months now. They were better holding their shape on defense, better in goal, better out wide, better on set pieces and, oh yeah, better at scoring goals!

Sorry, wanted to get this side of the argument in before I signed off.


Thanks again!

In This Chat
Paul Tenorio
Paul Tenorio is a sports reporter who has covered high school sports, including boys' soccer in the fall and spring seasons, for the past four years. Tenorio also covered the Washington Freedom from the franchise's start in Women's Professional Soccer in 2009 until they departed the area this season, and has helped cover D.C. United and the U.S. men's national team with Steve Goff since joining the Post in 2007.
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