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Why 2012 Was THE Year to Remember

It stung. It still was stinging. Every time I heard the sound of the ball hitting the upper left corner of the net, it sent chills down my spine. I looked down, I cringed. I couldn’t help it. There wasn’t a team that I’d rather have win if the U.S. had to lose, but that still didn’t mean it hurt any less. 2011 may have been Japan’s year, but that didn’t mean 2012 wouldn’t be ours.

Redemption, revenge, whatever you want to call it, the USWNT went into 2012 with one goal. Show the world they’re still number one. They buckled down, pressed forward, pushed themselves harder than they ever had before, and went head first in to competition making sure they did whatever it took to make it to the Olympics. 38-0. 38, that’s how many goals they scored. 0 goals, that’s how many goals they allowed in CONCACAF Qualifying.

We look at what all the achievements the USWNT had this year. Gold medal, only one loss, Volvo Cup Champions, undefeated Celebration Tour, 55 goals scored between Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan; it’s easy to forget everything the USWNT had to persevere through.

Ali Krieger tore her MCL and ACL in their first match of qualifying, they went down 2 goals against France in their opening match of London 2012, they lost against Japan early on, there were a lot of questions surrounding the backline, all this pressure was on the team heading into the Olympics. The USWNT has always had a storied program, never falling under second in the FIFA rankings. Everybody for the longest time had always assumed that they would win the gold in either the Olympics or World Cup. But several teams popped up on the radar, France, Japan, Sweden, teams that maybe didn’t always get the attention broke through and were threats. Heading into the Olympics, many people started to question if the USWNT could do it again, for the 3rd time in a row. They all hushed the critics with a 6-0 run scoring 16 goals and only allowing 6 in the Olympics.

Mia Hamm a legend of women’s soccer said it best. “True champions aren’t always the ones that win, but those with the most guts.” That’s exactly what this team had this year, not only on the field, but off. Possibly one of the most influential stories came with Megan Rapinoe. She came out to the world, knowing all eyes would be on her and her teammates in less than a month. She said, “For the record, I’m gay.” Coming out is hard when parts of society don’t fully accept it; in the sports world it’s harder. Sports are still a bit homophobic, but what Megan did was not only brave, but it changed the dynamic of women’s sports. She’s breaking down barriers, she’s proud to be who she is, and that’s something she can always hold on to. She won’t be able to play soccer forever, but she can hold onto the fact that she impacted the world. She is the reason that many young LGBTQ youth athletes are accepting of who they are. If their role model, an athlete representing her country, can come out and be proud, they can too.

2012 also was the berth of a dynamic duo that the game of soccer maybe hasn’t ever seen before. The A-Team. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan combined for 55 goals. Abby, at age 32, scored 27 goals. Alex, at age 23, scored 28. Alex also assisted 21 goals while Abby assisted 8. Both are nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, and both deserve it. Abby has been such a leader on the field for the U.S. and Alex is paving her way to become one. There is just no way to stop them. You can push and pull, tackle and slide, but one way or another they’ll get by you. That’s what they showed in 2012. From the very beginning of the year, everyone sensed something special was about to happen. Did anyone expect 55 goals to come out of this duo? No, but it was simply amazing to watch.

Enjoy the journey. Christie Rampone said her New Year’s Resolution at the beginning of 2012 was to enjoy the journey up to the Olympics. Each player embraced their role and won gold together. Sometimes we get caught up in an individual person’s performance and fail to acknowledge those who played a role too. And sometimes we get so caught up in a game that we feel what those players are feeling too. It’s real, raw emotion. It’s how you can tell you’re a true fan. And that’s why I thank this team so much. That’s why I stand in their corner every day. This team is the epitome class. I am so grateful that they continue to take us on the journey with them. They don’t have to let us in on their lives, they don’t have to stay after games for hours signing autographs for thousands of adoring fans, they don’t have to do any of this. But they chose to, not because they feel the need to, like if they don’t all the fans will leave, they do because they want to. And that’s special.

After the 2011 loss, some players said they didn’t know how long it would take to move on, a devastating loss, a tournament they poured their heart into, and it looked as if they might not ever move on; until 2012 came along. We saw a fire, a spark, a light in each player, to somehow keep marching on. From the fields of Old Trafford to Hampden Park and Wembley, the USWNT left all they had on the field. Their proof, a gold medal hanging around their necks.

2012 was a year to remember. Alex Morgan made a name for herself, Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe burst on the scene, and the USWNT finally redeemed themselves. Instead of hanging their heads, they worked, they practiced, they trained, they played, and they won. Thank you to every player for always making us smile, for never giving up, and most importantly, for being the epitome of sportsmanship, class, strength, and for giving us a year to remember. I know I’m looking forwards to a bright future, but if this team has taught me anything it’s to live in the moment, to never give in or give up, dream big, and to always enjoy the journey. No team has as much tribulations or obstacles as the USWNT. Then again, no team has so many players with never ending hope, determination, and perseverance. That’s not something you can coach. That’s not something you can practice. That’s a gift that you’re born with. It’s gift that few people possess. And maybe that’s something a little more valuable, a little more special, than an Olympic gold medal.    


FIFA Ballon d’Or

The FIFA Ballon d’Or Player of the Year could easily be seen as the most prestigious award a soccer player could receive. The USWNT has four players as nominees—Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe. Each player has had one heck of a year.

Carli Lloyd- What a tournament she had. 4 goals to her name including the 2 goals against Japan, she fought her way back from being on the bench to starting and making an impact every time she took the field. Her physical play and ability to strike the ball with pace makes her one of the most lethal midfielders in the game. Scoring both goals in the final and the go ahead goal against France gives her a good chance at the award.

Megan Rapinoe- London 2012 was the tournament of her life. She had a spark about her that we hadn’t seen before. Her first goal against Colombia was one of the best goals of the tournament. The player of the match against Canada, Rapinoe rescued her team twice from the depths of defeat. Her rare Olímpico goal and burner from 18 yards out were the best goals of her career. She played a vital part of the team’s success in the Olympics and should be in the conversation for the winner.

Alex Morgan- Without a doubt Alex has had one of the best years in USWNT history. With 24 goals to her name and tied for first in assists in 2012, she has done it all at age 23. Her London games were nothing short of inspiring, scoring the latest goal in FIFA competition history. Along with Abby Wambach they have formed the most dynamic duo in the game. Her speed and skill has made her one of the best players to grace the game. Not only can she score, but she is an assist machine, with 4 at the Olympics. Without a doubt, she will be at least in the top 3 for consideration of this award.

Abby Wambach- Abby Wambach has also had a great year. She scored in 5 consecutive games in London, tying the Olympic record. She has scored 23 goals in 2012 including the vital penalty kick against Canada. A vocal leader on the field and a role model off, the soccer world has so much respect for Abby. She is only 10 goals away from Mia Hamm’s record. The most dominant player in the air, every team that defends her says all they can do is brace for a collision. 3rd place in last year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or, this could be the year she brings it home.

My Pick: There is no doubt Alex Morgan has had a year to be remembered, but Abby Wambach has had a season nothing short of spectacular. Being only 1 goal behind Alex this year and a constant scorer in the Olympics, tying the record for continuous goals in an Olympic games (5), rest assured Alex will have her time, but I believe Abby Wambach just edges out Alex Morgan for the player of the year. Abby sets high standards for herself and the team while still playing with the grace and respect of a true athlete. She has been nominated for 2 years in a row now, and it’s finally time for Abby Wambach to take home the FIFA Ballon d’Or Women’s Player of the Year award.

We Did It

We did it. 3 simple words. They don’t quite describe what went on these past 2 and a half weeks, but some how they best encapsulate what happened. This team made a statement before the games started. They made it clear that this is redemption. As much as Pia said she didn’t want it to be only about that, she had to know it was fueling the fire. The road to gold hasn’t been easy by any means. This team has a way of making this heart pounding and emotional, almost as if they’re testing their fans abilities to stick it out and stay positive. Each player at one point in time was the reason the team was still in the tournament. They had their heroics, no matter how tired the were, no matter how much their body told them no more, they just kept going on.

Abby Wambach proved herself this tournament, even if she didn’t have to. She made it her responsibility to make sure she and her teammates were on the top of the podium. At times she carried her team, down 1-0, 2-0, 3-2, she refused to let them lay down, she pushed them to keep going, she leads by example. I hope that every single kid watches a game and one of her interviews. She is the prime example of how to carry yourself on and off the field. Scoring in 5 consecutive games, inching closer and closer to the record, she is the heart and soul of the team, she shows why they need her.

Megan Rapinoe had her best tournament ever. She was dangerous, she was crafty, if the world didn’t know it already, she’s world class. Often overshadowed by Alex Morgan or Hope solo, she broke out, knew the spotlight was on her, and most importantly, shined under it. She was the reason we won the game against Canada, twice pulling the USWNT out of the depths of defeat. We could go on and on about her, she left no doubt on the field, ever.

I want to say congratulations to Japan for an amazing, dignified tournament. They player their hearts out. They are true athletes of class. I remember when Abby got fouled by the middle of the filed. Homare Sawa, who didn’t even commit the foul, ran over from their 18 yard box and helped Abby up, then ran back. It wasn’t easty to see their tears at the end, but they should hold their heads up knowing they gave us a great match. These two teams have so much respect for each other. Before the game when they shake hands, they don’t just say good luck and shake hands like they normally do with any other team, they smile and even hug each other. That’s not something you see everyday.

What lies in the future is unknown. As gut wrenching as it is, this could be the last time we see some of these players on the field together. Heather Mitts has made it no secret she is ready to hang up the cleats. Pia’s contract is up and she may go back to Sweden. There is talk of a new pro league in 2013. It’s weird to think the next big tournament is in 2015. By then there will be new faces, maybe a new coach. While players like Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Lauren Cheney, and Tobin Heath are by all means ready to lead the team, it will take some getting used to when the veterans retire.

There will be the Algarve Cup and with the rise of popularity in women’s soccer probably more little tournaments like the Kirin Cup in Japan. But there will be 2 years of little international play. Maybe that’s a good thing. These players need a break. They need to be with their families, loved ones, and friends at home. It’s been a roller coaster of a 2011-2012. The physical demand, the emotional and mental toll an almost full year of being on the road can’t be easy for them or their loved ones. They need to be normal people for a while, live life at their own homes with their families.

I commend each and every one of you USWNT fans. I believe we are the strongest group of sports fans in the world. We never give up, we never lose faith, we never give in. We always stay positive and believe because we know we are rooting for a team that can fight through anything. The USWNT is the classiest, most sportsman-like, honorable group of players. That’s why it’s so easy to have their backs.

Going into the gold medal match, the game was going to be a remarkable night regardless of who won. I’m glad we could come out on top. Abby said she was going to leave her entire being in London. On the fields of Old Trafford, Newcastle, Wembley, and Hampden Park, lies a little bit of each player. Their sweat, tears, passion, heart. They left everything they had on the fields of UK. All for something that alluded them last year, a gold medal. This time, they’re leaving with a big smile and a gold medal around their neck. They’re no longer 2011 Women’s World Cup Runner-Ups, they’re 2012 London Olympic Gold Medalists.

USWNT v France

What a game! USWNT fought back from going down 2-0 very early to a dangerous France team.  But, as always, never lose faith in this team. If anything, it fuels them to go harder, faster, stronger, and fight their way to the back of the net, and that they did. Opponents should know that if you score a goal against the USWNT, they need to brace themselves because the US is coming at them, hard. Abby Wambach put the USWNT on the scoreboard off of a Rapinoe corner kick. Nobody was marking her, which is a big mistake and will be punished. She fueled the fire for Alex Morgan to equalize the goal. Unfortunately, Shannon Boxx went down and was subbed off by Carli Lloyd in the 17th minute. She has a hamstring injury, and more details are unknown at this point. I hope that she makes a very quick recovery and that the injury isn’t too serious, we need her on that field, not only for her physical play, but her knowledge and her wisdom. France looked very dangerous, but for the most part, other than a few slip ups and obviously the two goals almost back to back, the back line was pretty good.

Amy LePeilbet played one of her best games I’ve seen all year. She chased down balls, put pressure on players, and was very strong. Rachel Buehler also did quite well, she doesn’t have as much pace as Kelley O’Hara or Christie Rampone does, but she helped recover the ball and sent some up to the forwards. Kelley did okay as well, she is still trying to figure out her role as a defender, but seems to be doing alright. Her speed and playmaking ability really benefits the team. Christie Rampone saved us a few times, especially when Thomis of France broke away and only Christie Rampone and Hope Solo were in the USA’s half. She ran Thomis down and the ball went out for a goal kick. She’s still one of the fastest defenders in the world, she’s a mom, and she’s 37. Yeah, 37.

Carli Lloyd scored an absolutely beautiful game from long range where we know she loves to strike the ball. That ought to hush the critics for a while. She scored the go ahead goal, and then Alex Morgan scored the fourth goal. Tobin Heath sent in a tricky ball, Abby Wambach distracted the goalkeeper by basically sliding full speed and full force right at her, that would distract anyone I’m sure, and Alex finished it quite easily. Give credit to Abby for the distraction, if she didn’t slide in, the goalkeeper or defenders could have had a chance to recover.

There’s something about this team and the bond they have with each other that is unlike any other. They never get down on themselves or each other. They trust one another, they depend on one another, and they always fight on, TOGETHER. No one leaves anybody behind, the only way they know how to win is winning as a team.

There are some things that Pia, the staff, and the players will need to address going into the next game. Putting pressure on the ball will need to be emphasized. Getting Lauren Cheney, the playmaker and the one who can determine the pace of the whole game, more involved will be important. Rapinoe was very involved today and will need to continue that. Tobin Heath was fairly quiet today. She will need to impact the game more as well. The team is still shaky when the ball is in their box. They had the tendency to scramble and because of that, it resulted in a goal. They need to mark the opposing players closer and communicate with each other. Syd the Kid made her first Olympic appearance; Heather O’Reilly surprisingly did not play at all. Becky Saurebrunn who Christie Rampone has called the future of the backline, did not play either, and of course, we’ll need to see if Shannon Boxx will be in the starting lineup come Saturday. We could and probably should expect some changes in the starting lineup.

This was a big first win for the USA. They have a lot of momentum going into the game against Colombia.  Let’s enjoy this victory tonight; come tomorrow the focus will shift to Saturday. But today’s victory was their first step on the Road to Gold.

“Somehow we always like to make things a little dramatic for the fans, so you’re welcome.” -Abby Wambach

It’s Go Time

            In less than 24 hours the USWNT will be on the field, playing their first match against France. This marks the beginning of their road to redemption after coming up just short of World Cup gold. Will they do everything in their power to be on top that podium come August? You bet. Maybe the sting of a loss like they had in 2011 will stay with them forever, but a gold medal might be the one thing that can tone it down. It won’t be easy. France is a great team with many threats and a fun style of play, but that isn’t anything the USWNT won’t expect. They know how difficult their opening match is. It’s all about taking each game one at a time.

            As difficult as this is to say, this could be the last major tournament for some players. I’m not going to name names, because if they haven’t officially said this is their last tournament, I’m not putting words into their mouth. But, for those who may consider this their last hoorah, it would be nice to send them off with gold. For the young players, this is the chance of a lifetime.

            The lethal duo of Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach will need to be in top form, the backline which has struggled will need to maintain their ground, Hope Solo will have to be alert, the mid-field will need to maintain possession and play the crafty style we’ve seen the past few games. Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheney will have the opportunity to dictate the game. It seems like a lot to handle, but this team is ready. However, it’s not just about the 11 on the field, the players on the bench, the reserves, the coaches, staff, everyone plays a part.   

            The adrenaline is pumping. If I’m this excited, I can’t even imagine what the players are going through. It’s finally here. We’ve been waiting for what seems like a century, but tomorrow, they’re taking the pitch again, for something that eluded their grasp a year ago. Gold.  When they pull on that red and white striped jersey, look into the stands at the supporters screaming “USA, USA, USA!” a chance at redemption lies right in front of them. The team’s destiny is in their hands only; it’s their time to show the world that they are champions, because tomorrow, the road to redemption begins. Buckle up.

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

USWNT vs. Brazil One Year Ago Today

“Oh can you believe this?!? Abby Wambach has saved the USA’s life in this World Cup!!!”

One year ago today, Abby Wambach scored arguably the biggest goal of her career. A year ago today, Megan Rapinoe sent in the best cross of her life. A year ago today, the USWNT played a game that will never be forgotten. A year ago today, the USWNT captured a nation’s attention. 

Not only was this team fighting Brazil, a very good team, they were fighting the referees and Brazil’s antics to waste time. I think Hope Solo described it the best, “It seemed like there were 3 funerals on the field.” But the USWNT kept fighting. Down a goal, down a player, and down time on the clock, they never hung their heads. That shows how much heart this team has. All the frustrations they were probably feeling, they never showed. Instead, they just kept playing.

Erika blatantly dove on the ground, pretending she had a back injury, then jumped off the stretcher the first chance she had. It’s a little fitting that the time her “injury” took provided us just enough time to score. Starting all the way from Christie Rampone, then Ali Krieger, Carli Lloyd who passed it to Megan Rapinoe, she launched the ball and there stood (jumped) Abby Wambach who headed it into the net, less than 90 seconds away from a World Cup exit.

If Megan Rapinoe hit the ball 1/4 of a degree higher, it would have been caught. Abby Wambach had .05 seconds (the equivalent of one flap of a hummingbirds wing) to time her jump and direct the ball into the net. We could have been 1/4 of a degree and .05 seconds away from the earliest exit ever for the USWNT.

But, we went on to win 5-3 on penalty kicks. On the anniversary of the USWNT’s win versus China, Hope Solo saved the 3rd penalty kick just like Brianna Scurry did. When Ali Krieger kicked the last PK into the net, the whole nation went crazy.

Through all the ups and downs that this game had, the USWNT never gave up, they never were dejected. They fought back from sure diversity to win and captivate a nation.

“That’s best part about being on a team. It’s what makes this whole thing so much more special because I can look at somebody else and look at them and say ‘Can you just believe that that happened?’ and Hope says ‘Yeah, I can.’ -Abby Wambach

Olympics are Coming Fast

I can’t believe the USWNT leaves for London, TOMORROW. That means the Olympics are approaching, fast. Before we know it, they’re on a plane to England. I am so excited, I can’t wait for the games to start. If I can hardly wait, I can only imagine what is going on inside the players’ head. They said they don’t want to use the word “revenge”, I don’t either; it’s a pretty strong word, simply, it’s gold or bust. There are several newcomers, Megan Rapinoe, Amy LePeilbet, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, all of them are players who will have a huge impact throughout the tournament and add something extra that the team didn’t have four years ago. Abby Wambach is making her first appearance since her game winning goal against Brazil in 2004 and her leg break in 2008. Christie Rampone is returning to her fourth Olympics, setting a new record for Olympic game appearances.

In ’08, yes I was excited for the Olympics, but this year, it’s different. I think it’s because with the USWNT receiving more attention then they have had since ’99, the build-up for London has been extreme. Everybody can’t wait. All the excitement is mounting. The build up to the opening game is getting bigger and bigger. We all know they’re hungry for gold. Who would of thought that bringing home silver in a World Cup would bring this team more attention than a gold in the Olympics?

The team says there is unfinished business. We already know that the USWNT was a runner up in the 2011 World Cup. It’s true that I still kind of cringe whenever I see that last PK go in the net for Japan. But that’s done, it’s over with. They didn’t win, that result isn’t in their power anymore. They brought home silver to a country that looked at them as heroes. But, what is in their power is this time, now. London is their time. They’re coming into the Olympics, redemption on their mind and will do everything they can possibly do to win gold again.

All the eyes are on this team. It’s not going to be easy. Every ounce of what they have will be required. It’s going to take a lot of grit, guts, and stamina, but this team is up to the task. Come the end of the Olympics, I think we all hope that they are standing on that top podium. Reclaiming their gold medal once again.

“There is no better motivation than getting so close, inches away, seconds away from becoming a world champion. So now we have the Olympics on the horizon and for me, it’s gold or bust. I will be leaving my entire being in London, whether I like it or not.” -Abby Wambach