U.S. women in the World Cup semifinals: Decisions, decisions

Jill Ellis made three lineup changes for Friday’s quarterfinal win against China, two out of necessity. The result: Still just a 1-0 win against a team that had little attacking punch, but the team looked better and felt better.

And it was the kind of performance U.S. fans had wanted to see. Amy Rodriguez was buzzing around making things difficult for China, Alex Morgan was a looming threat, and Carli Lloyd was unleashed. Not that the trio was perfect — A-Rod shanked a great chance like a beginning golfer, Morgan didn’t quite have the scoring touch, and Lloyd had a few giveaways. But this was not the lumbering attack we had seen in the past. Abby Wambach gave some inspiration from the bench and was ready to go if needed.

Then two players stepped up in surprising roles. The versatile Kelley O’Hara was a menace on the flanks, and young Morgan Brian looked like a composed veteran in a holding midfield role.

So now what? What happens when the USA takes a giant leap up in competition from a young, easily rattled Chinese team to a ruthlessly efficient German team that absorbed a couple of hours of French pressure and fought back to win?

Player-by-player:

Rodriguez: Did the German defense look a step slow against France? If so, they could be tailor-made for the speedy A-Rod. Then again, Sydney Leroux has some wheels, too.

Morgan: You just sense that it’s coming, don’t you? She made pivotal plays against Colombia and has the potential to create something magical.

Wambach: She may have another clutch goal left on her head or in her feet. She’d be perfect to bring in against a tired German defense in the second half.

Megan Rapinoe: Has to play. She’s the most creative winger the USA has.

Lloyd: Has to play in the same role she played last night. Don’t forget who scored the winning goals in the last two Olympics, and she scored again last night.

Brian: Clearly the best option at holding mid now. Lori Chalupny can play there at club level, but she hasn’t been tested there at international level in a long, long time.

Lauren Holiday: Unfortunate. She was miscast as a holding mid for months, and now it might be too late to get her back on the field in another role such as attacking mid or second forward. But we would’ve said the same about O’Hara before last night, right?

Tobin Heath: Just isn’t turning those nifty moves into anything concrete right now.

O’Hara: Maybe the best option on the right flank? Her pressure, passing and willingness to test China with an occasional medium-range bomb were outstanding last night.

Christen Press: Can she bring the same tempo-changing ability as A-Rod?

The defense isn’t in question — Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn and Ali Krieger have been so outstanding that we often forget Hope Solo is even playing.

So those five are sure starters, and I’d add Rapinoe, Lloyd and Brian to that list. Everything else is up for grabs.

Here’s one reasonable lineup that builds on last night’s success:

football formations

And here’s one that’s a little wilder:

football formations

But I’m not sure Ellis needs to do anything that drastic. She has already shown the flexibility for which I was pleading at SoccerWire. They did not play “Whack it to Wambach” for 90 minutes last night.

And as a result, I’ve gone from thinking Germany is a sure bet to thinking we may see an epic on Tuesday.

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On the Women’s World Cup and Hope Solo, in that order

What a World Cup we’ve seen so far!

Stunning upsets: Nigeria tying Sweden, Norway tying Germany (this isn’t 1995), and Colombia over France.

– Moments of brilliance: Colombian keeper Sandra Sepulveda, the sequence leading to Karla Villalobos’ equalizer for Costa Rica against South Korea, and this free kick from Norway’s Maren Mjelde that couldn’t have been placed any better if she stood at the post with a stepladder:

– Overwhelming media coverage: Fox has gone all out to demonstrate that the next several men’s and women’s World Cups will be in good hands. Former rights-holder ESPN is also ramped up, matching or even surpassing their coverage from 2011, when they sent people like me to Germany to ride the rails and cover as many games as possible.

But we’re only talking about Hope Solo, right? So says Nancy Armour at USA TODAY, and I’m sure she’s not alone.

Most of my small band of Twitter followers would disagree. I’d say you could exclude the MMA folks in that band of Twitter followers, but actually, you can’t:

But let’s go beyond the anecdotal and look at Google trends: On Friday, the top trend was Women’s World Cup at 500,000. Hope Solo was at 100,000, tied for fourth with Alex Morgan. Gotta get injury updates.

Ratings? They’re good. (TV ratings, that is. U.S. player ratings, not so much.)

So I hope this is just taken as the polite, constructive criticism I’m intending. And frankly, my old paper is doing a terrific job covering both Hope Solo AND the Cup. Which makes Armour’s piece that much stranger.

More interesting stuff from the Cup:

– Abby Wambach is blaming artificial turf for the lack of U.S. offense, particularly her own missed chances. Maybe that’s better than Stephen A. Smith joking about Germany failing to stop Norway’s free kick because the players worried about their hair.

Stories like that are why I love Twitter:

https://twitter.com/soundbylaura/status/610131894504697856

(Laura also has a blog with some pointed insights on the Cup, Solo, etc. That includes a Google Map of women’s teams in the USA.)

On a more serious note — if Wambach isn’t comfortable playing on turf, should she be playing at all in this tournament? If I’m Jill Ellis, I read that and think, “OK, thanks — I’ll go with someone else.”

– But if I’m Jill Ellis, I take Jeff Carlisle’s advice on fixing the offense. Play a dadgum winger on the wing rather than letting Tobin Heath, who can inject some skill and creativity into the attack, rot on the bench. Get Lauren Holiday out of defensive midfield before a good team runs her ragged in the semifinals.

– And finally, on Hope Solo: Look, we all know her version of events is always going to be a little skewed to make her look better. She’s pretty good at spinning — even today, some people look back at the 2007 Women’s World Cup and think she’s the victim, just as she’s claiming she’s the “victim” here in a domestic dispute that most likely has plenty of blame to spread around too all parties involved.

But simply based on the facts, Sunil Gulati simply demolished Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Even after the Outside the Lines report on Solo’s family fracas and her apparently obnoxious behavior afterwards, we still don’t know how much we can trust her accusers. Is U.S. Soccer supposed to bench her now? Why? Because a senator finds it easier to make Solo a scapegoat than to tackle the circumstances that lead families to fight?

Yeesh. When’s the next game?

Western New York Flash make their own luck in loss to Spirit

Soccer karma does not exist, most of us have agreed. But can a team make its own luck?

Saturday at the SoccerPlex looked like a typical Washington Spirit game against the Western New York Flash for 45 minutes. The Spirit had a few promising moments — one difference from previous engagements would be the world-class goal from Jodie Taylor that gave the Spirit the lead. But the Flash led 2-1, and it could’ve been more.

In the second half, the Flash either forgot or declined to play soccer. They looked less like the Flash playing the Spirit and more like the Virginia Beach Piranhas bringing their “physical” presence against D.C. United Women.

Stating for the record: The Flash are not a dirty team. But it’s still stunning to watch a team riddled with world-class players and a history of accomplishment come in against the Washington Spirit and foul out of frustration and retaliation. Their petulance — and what coach Aaran Lines described as an inability to string three passes together — was costly.

And the Spirit made their own luck as well. A couple of tactical adjustments gave the home team quite a bit more of the ball, and they dominated the second half to a greater degree than the Flash dominated the first. Final score: 3-2 Spirit.

That’s a confidence-booster for the hosts. Jodie Taylor finally got her goals — two, nearly four. Yael Averbuch played her best game for the Spirit. Lori Lindsey got an extended run and fared well. Robyn Gayle defended well and was close to a goal and an assist. Ali Krieger did just fine at center back.

Referee Katja Koroleva had a puzzler, often allowing outright muggings while punishing the odd single-handed shove. Lines wasn’t happy: “The referee was inconsistent, regardless of the result. But that seems to be a tendency within the NWSL.”

But the Flash simply forced Koroleva to blow her whistle. She went nearly 45 minutes without calling anything on the Flash, but some fouls were just too obvious.

Here’s the video, and here’s how it unfolded:

FIRST HALF

6:15 –  Big flurry for the Flash as Ashlyn Harris can’t hold a hard shot.

7:15 – Hard sliding foul from Spirit defender Bianca Sierra on Sonia Bermudez. Sierra started at right back, with Ali Krieger going to the center to replace the injured Toni Pressley.

8:15 – Spirit midfielder Veronica Perez goes hard for a 50-50 ball, banging into the midsection of a Flash player.

8:20 – To paraphrase The Untouchables, she sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of hers to the morgue. The Flash’s Carli Lloyd clobbers Christine Nairn, who gets up and looks back as if to say “What the …?” Danielle Malagari, the Spirit’s color commentator, goes out on a limb and predicts a physical game.

But that’s the last foul called on the Flash in the first half.

10:35 –  Lori Lindsey sends a well-weighted ball ahead to Jodie Taylor, who finishes with a world-class chip. 1-0 Spirit.

12:55 – Adriana hits the crossbar for the Flash.

16:35 – The camera doesn’t quite catch the dubious decision involving Tori Huster, a required part of every Spirit game. Abby Wambach flings the Spirit defender to the grass like a Nickelodeon game show contestant ridding herself of slime.

16:55 – The unlucky Huster finds herself isolated against Wambach in acres of space, and Wambach simply heads exactly where she wanted it to go. 1-1.

19:00 – The crowd doesn’t like an offside call that nullified yet another Taylor goal. Replay is inconclusive.

29:25 – Lloyd wins a duel with Huster, then beats Krieger and Harris while avoiding Gayle. 2-1 Flash.

34:20 – Lloyd takes a knock to the eye or nose when she tangles with Averbuch. Hard to see what happened, but no one complains.

HALFTIME

Flash coach Aaran Lines was pleased with how the first half proceeded. But oddly enough, so were the Spirit players and coaches.

“We were really happy at halftime,” Spirit coach Mark Parsons said. “Really positive at halftime despite being 2-1 down.”

Parsons made a couple of changes. Krieger was already at center back, replacing the injured Toni Pressley. At right back, Sierra started but gave way at halftime to the small Swiss Army knife that is Crystal Dunn, who shifted back from midfield with the intent of containing Bermudez, a Flash’s Spanish international.

And the Spirit merely brought on one of the best players in the sport, Diana Matheson, who sat out the first half and spent halftime jogging and smiling at the parade of ODSL youth players being honored for sportsmanship. You have to hope they didn’t get any ideas from what they saw in the second half.

“We came out the second half and we were really flat,” Wambach said. “Credit to the Spirit for making changes and making life difficult for us on the other side of the ball. To be honest, the second half, we were defending the whole game.”

So the Flash tried to make life as difficult for the Spirit as the officials would allow. Matheson stepped into a hornet’s nest, credited with two fouls suffered but roughed up much more often than that.

SECOND HALF

55:25 – Save, Abby Wambach

56:05 – Lloyd clatters into Matheson from behind, drawing a whistle and some words from the ref.

64:30 – Lloyd gives a little “Who, me?” look after getting a little bit (not much) of Dunn’s foot along with the ball.

68:15 – Kristen Edmonds drapes an arm over Matheson and brings her down. Foul and a lecture.

69:15 – Gayle nutmegs a defender. Cross is partially cleared to Yael Averbuch, who beats Lloyd and shoots. Deflected, then Taylor fires up off the crossbar. Bounces off Kat Williamson’s back and in. 2-2.

72:45 – It’s nothing, really, but it’s funny to see Wambach reaching out to grab Matheson like she’s swatting at a fly. Just a slight size difference there.

73:05 – Harris comes out for the second time in a minute to deny an onrushing Flash attacker — Salem this time, Spencer earlier.

73:30 – Nairn shoots high while Lloyd slides through her legs. No whistle.

74:10 – Salem gets the yellow, again for a foul on the unfortunate Nairn.

77:05 – Nairn suffers another foul. And that eventually leads to …

77:30 – Averbuch flicks a header, Taylor finishes. 3-2

85:05 – Gayle seems to be attempting to jump OVER former teammate Jasmyne Spencer. Not quite. Ref starts to play advantage but then calls it back.

85:35 – The Wambach-Huster incident (replay at 87:15). We’ll come back to this.

89:05 – Ref doesn’t think Angeli fouled Lloyd

90:15 – Spirit commentator Michael Minnich isn’t imagining things. The sign on the fourth official’s table says “3.” But by the time he actually raises it, it says “5.” (No, there wasn’t a sub wearing No. 3.)

91:55 – Maybe this is karma. The call for a corner kick is clearly wrong. Harris sets up for a goal kick. What you don’t see is a very confused ballgirl. Then Harris makes a save off the corner kick. The rebound … goes wide.

93:45 – Hey, Spirit? Need help killing those five minutes? Sure — I’ll just slide through the back of Renae Cuellar here, drawing my second yellow, and I’ll be slow to get up while the ref holds my red card.

Lines faulted his player, Angela Salem, not the ref. “At that point in the game, to see Ang go in was unfortunate.”

But that was the story of the second half for the Flash. They played nothing that really resembled soccer.

Malagari, sometime in the second half: “I think the Flash have kind of dug themselves a hole here. They’re kind of playing, I personally think, for blood a little bit. The fouls have been pretty dangerous in and around their own 18.”

We can’t let the game go without mentioning the Wambach-Huster incident at the end. While Harris calmly collected the ball, Wambach raced past Huster. From the replay, it appears Huster was actually turning her body out of Wambach’s way. And still, they bumped into each other — in the same way that my car recently bumped into a concrete wall in a parking garage.

Did Huster embellish her fall? Hard to say. But from one reliable reporter on the sideline, Wambach didn’t exactly deny making contact:

https://twitter.com/hobwriter/status/467820819994136576

I thought at first Cynthia was kidding, like I was kidding last summer when I suggested what Alex Morgan could be saying and unleashed the wrath of Morgan’s Twitter followers on myself. Cynthia says no.

Tori, care to comment?

“Not really,” she said. “Just gotta leave that kind of stuff on the field. It gets heated. There’s not really not much to say.”

Rough game, though, right?

“They are definitely intense,” Huster said. “They can move the ball around, but they have that grit to them. So we were definitely trying to prepare for that in the week leading up. We knew we had to get stuck in the first five minutes and impose our rhythm.”

As she left, I reminded her to tend to the blood on her left wrist. Not sure how she got that.

Matheson was diplomatic. “They’re definitely a physical team. Lloyd and Wambach always come to battle. But in this league, every team is a physical team, so I don’t think it’s too different.”

But that physicality can be self-defeating. Look at the second half, and it seems the Flash literally took their eyes off the ball.

On concussions, Krieger, Wambach, etc.

The soccer community, much to its credit, is taking concussions seriously. Even those of us who are at the low rungs of the coaching ladder have been required to watch videos so frightening that the natural response might be to sit a player for life after he or she first heads the ball. We have high-profile ex-players like Taylor Twellman and Alecko Eskandarian whose careers were cruelly cut short but have stepped forward to talk about concussion safety for the betterment of the next generation of players.

So when Abby Wambach tumbled to the ground at the Maryland SoccerPlex early this season and no one took immediate action, astute observers like Stefan Fatsis (who was there and had a better view than I did) took note. Fatsis questioned the lack of response, followed up after a week of conflicting information, then covered U.S. Soccer’s comments concluding Wambach’s injury was mishandled on the field but then correctly handled afterwards.

Now another national team player, Ali Krieger, has taken a hit on the field. The immediate reaction July 14 in Seattle was drastically different — Krieger sat down right away. The next time I saw the Spirit practice, Krieger wasn’t there. Nor did she play in the Spirit’s games July 20 or July 27. She played 21 minutes as a substitute July 31 against Western New York.

So far, so good. But when Krieger was a late scratch from the August 3 game at Sky Blue, the questions started.

There’s no harm in asking questions. Fatsis was right to question the way the Wambach concussion was handled. The harm comes in assuming answers when the information is incomplete. If you’re not a doctor, don’t play one on Twitter.

What we DO know is that Krieger was taken out immediately and sat out the next two games. That’s plenty of time to keep running tests and then move her back into gradual activity when her symptoms cleared.

Some people view her substitute appearance with suspicion. They shouldn’t. When an elite soccer player takes several days off from training, you can’t expect her to ramp up to 90 minutes in a few days. Whether it’s a concussion, an ankle injury or a trip to Aruba, time off from training is going to limit someone’s ability to play a full game right away. (Note that a couple of the late signees to the NWSL — Sky Blue’s Ashley Nick and Washington’s Marisa Abegg — have been playing this summer, so they were fit and ready to go. Portland’s Tina Ellertson is a fantastic player, but she hasn’t been playing recently, so the Thorns didn’t sign her and toss her out in the starting lineup right away.)

What happened next is indeed curious. Krieger missed the next game. I can’t really explain why. But neither can you. It takes a strange sort of conspiracy theorist to come up with a reason why the Spirit, already mathematically eliminated, felt it vitally important to play Krieger for 21 minutes in one game if she hadn’t been medically cleared to play.

Let’s ask this question: Can concussion symptoms go away and then come back? Yes. Ask Marc Savard.

Now bear in mind — we don’t know the details of what’s going on with Krieger right now. Maybe she felt slightly off. Maybe she has full-blown post-concussion syndrome. (Don’t panic — from what I’m hearing, this is unlikely. Just stating it as within the realm of possibility.) We don’t know.

Perhaps teams and the NWSL in general should be more forthcoming with injury information. But until that happens, be very careful about filling the gaps with stuff we don’t know.

The evidence doesn’t suggest Krieger was recklessly rushed back onto the field. If anyone has any evidence to the contrary, by all means, share it.

The skill of Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach has an indomitable will. She has the ability to raise her game when the stakes are higher. She works hard and inspires others to do the same.

But let’s remember one thing: She’s also a danged good soccer player.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s too easy to forget. Too easy to think of her accomplishments as a simple function of a single-minded willingness to stick her head wherever it must be to meet the ball. Just as Brian McBride was called “McHead” — sometimes affectionately, sometimes not — in deference to his ability to score goals with his noggin and take a few facial reconstructions to do so, Wambach’s general soccer skill is overlooked as people marvel over the intangibles that sportswriters and ad agencies build into mythology.

Wambach, first of all, is perfectly capable of scoring magnificent goals without her head. Heading (sorry) into 2013, she had only used her head for 66 of her 152 goals.

Look at this:

Now consider this: This year, Wambach passed (geez, another horrible accidental pun) Tiffeny Milbrett for third place on the all-time assist list. (She’s roughly 40 behind Kristine Lilly and 80 behind Mia Hamm, so let’s not restart the #ChasingMia hashtag just yet.)

Some of those were surely with her head. To repeat myself: I’m not sure TV does justice to her ability to flick the ball into the path of an onrushing teammate with her head.

So let’s finish up by talking about her aerial ability. First of all, it’s not always that high in the air. Sure, she can outjump people to score. But she’s just as likely to score on a diving header, which requires an uncanny sense of timing.

And when she makes that dive, look at what she can do.

Even if that was Wambach’s FIRST goal, not her 158th, you’d have to say she’s a skilled player.

So as U.S. Soccer (women’s and men’s) tries to change its approach to develop more skillful players, not just athletes, Abby Wambach is and will continue to be someone to emulate.

Washington Spirit vs. Western NY Flash: Dan Borislow was wrong

Those of you who recall WPS may remember that Dan Borislow was an immense supporter of U.S. national team players. Other players, not so much. The idea of fans cheering for anyone other than Abby Wambach almost struck him as repugnant.

I never asked Borislow how much WPS he watched before buying the team formerly known as the Washington Freedom. He would have seen ample evidence that fans can embrace players who aren’t the U.S. stars. Washington’s crowd favorites included those who had put down roots with the organization (Rebecca Moros) and those from overseas (Sonia Bompastor).

Tonight proved the point once again. The fans turned up and screamed for Abby. By the end, they were also screaming for the home team, which got a late penalty kick and another 1-1 draw.

Make no mistake — Abby Wambach gave a complete demonstration of why she’s a star, and I don’t just mean the time she intimidated the experienced international referee Kari Seitz into blowing a whistle on a questionable call. (No such luck when she sprinted 80 yards, the fastest Wambach sprint I’ve ever seen, to complain about the PK call in the Spirit’s favor. Strange thing to do when you’re not even the captain.)

Wambach won balls in the air, as you’d expect. Someone a couple of seats away from me marveled at her accuracy and precision. Put the ball near her head, and she’ll flick it to a teammate in a good spot. I’m not sure TV does any justice to this remarkable skill.

She had her chances, too. One clanged off the crossbar. Another produced a jaw-dropping save from national teammate Ashlyn Harris. (Note to self: We forgot to ask Harris about that play in postgame, so remember to ask her some other time how the hell she managed to keep that ball out.)

So let’s spare a thought for Washington’s Tori Huster, who has drawn the most difficult and thankless job in women’s soccer aside from explaining it to Sepp Blatter. The midfielder had never played center back before preseason. Tonight, she spent 90 minutes going up against Abby Wambach. And she deflected praise for keeping Wambach scoreless on the season: “I know that I have the girls around me that will cover me.”

Wambach did get an assist, as Ashlyn Harris confirmed. A long Flash free kick floated into the box, and Wambach ever so slightly nudged it with her head. Sam Kerr was equal parts lucky and good, knocking it in as Harris scrambled to cover the post.

That was in the 85th minute. Shortly thereafter, the Spirit got a call in their favor, as Jasmyne Spencer fell in the box. Some Twitsters say dive. The Flash folks in the postgame interview wondered if the ball was too far away from Spencer. Come on — she’s Jasmyne Spencer. If the ball’s on the playing surface, she can get to it.

Adrianna Franch, the terrific young Flash goalkeeper, guessed correctly. But Diana Matheson placed it perfectly.

And the crowd went wild.

That’s a crowd of 4,569, packed into the Soccerplex stands and grass. The beer garden was full. The hill under the beer garden was full. And maybe a few fans showed up knowing no one but Abby Wambach, then learned to love some of the home team’s players.

Matheson continues to be one of the best players on the field, looking dangerous whenever she gets the ball. Ali Krieger gets forward to join the attack, then returns for timely defensive interventions. Lori Lindsey was an effective midfield general tonight.

Both teams will be better by summer. Good plays alternated with miscommunications. The young Spirit attack had an off night, though Stephanie Ochs had an entertaining battle all evening with right back/team president Alex Sahlen. Harris spoke frankly about her need to keep yelling to keep her young teammates dialed in. (If Harris switched to MMA and fought Ronda Rousey, I think Rousey would get her in an armbar, only to relinquish it in fear of Harris’s wrath.)

But this was a great night. The fans came out in strong numbers and got a dramatic, entertaining game.

Just one thing marred the evening. Around the 90th minute, a hard-struck ball nailed Wambach in the head. She slowly got up and kept playing hard all through stoppage time, but at the final whistle, she needed help. Diagnosing head injuries from afar is a stupid and pointless thing to do, but we can only hope she heals fully and quickly.

The Flash were the first team to play the Spirit in the Soccerplex, and they’ll be the first team to play here twice, returning in June. Maybe Wambach will get some time to spend with the fans then. And maybe the fans will know more of their Spirit team, which is proving to be more resilient and dangerous than the preseason prognosticators imagined.

NWSL stars: Home sweet home

Courtesy of Boston Breakers
Heather O’Reilly will spend less time in traffic than you will, unless you telecommute. (Photo courtesy of Boston Breakers)

A common theme running through the NWSL conference calls that stacked up Monday afternoon: Players are happy to be home.

Not just in the sense that they could easily be playing overseas or spending a lot of time in U.S. residency camp if no domestic league existed. For the national team players who chatted Monday, they’re thrilled to be playing close to their families.

But the three stories are a little different …

In the greater Washington-ish area, Northern Virginia’s Ali Krieger is thrilled to be playing close to home after spending a few years in Germany. (She did come back to the WPS Washington Freedom for a brief loan spell.) Even better, she’s healthy again, proclaiming herself at 100% after tearing the ACL and MCL in her right knee early last year.

In Boston, Heather O’Reilly admits she’ll miss New Jersey, where she grew up and later played for Sky Blue, but she enjoyed training with and playing a couple of games for the Breakers in her new hometown last summer. Her husband is a Harvard man, and she says the practice facility is almost literally across the street from her home.

In Rochester and Buffalo, Abby Wambach is going home, but it wasn’t a no-brainer. She confirmed that she bought a house in Portland and is in mid-remodel. She also admits the attention in Rochester can be overwhelming, and that partially explains why she’ll live in Buffalo.

“Fans will be fans. They’ll interrupt you in the middle of dinner. For the most part, it’s so sweet. I’m an extrovert. But … the privacy factor was a concern. The buffer between Rochester and Buffalo will help.”

But she’s happy to see her extended family, saying she wants to see nieces and other relatives through the season.

So can the Flash crash at her Portland place when they visit the Thorns?

In any case, all three players are happier than Megan Rapinoe, who isn’t unduly upset about her allocation but tells Grant Wahl she’s a little surprised to be in Seattle instead of Portland. (You’d think Portland and Seattle would simply swap Rapinoe for Morgan, which would be a more equitable distribution of forwards. And the talk last summer was that Morgan had some Seattle ties, but I’m not up on such things.)

Other bits of news from the Monday calls:

– The Washington Spirit haven’t worked out details on when and how they’ll get goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris from German club Duisburg, but they don’t seem concerned that she’ll miss much time.

– Wambach says friends from other national teams have asked her for contact info for coaches and personnel people through NWSL. She joked that she’s only putting them in touch with her coach with the Flash, Aaran Lines.

– Why did every USWNT Olympic player, including those thought to be retiring (looking at you, Heather Mitts) or perhaps indifferent, put their names on the allocation list? Why go through the grind of a league, facing the possibility of a new U.S. coach cleaning house or accumulated wear and tear proving too much to overcome, rather than go out on top? Here’s a great answer from Wambach:

“The minute you win something, it inspires you to want to do it again because all your hard work has paid off.”

On that note, the U.S. national team is in camp Feb. 2. The new cycle begins …

Very Good Things in U.S. soccer

No, the U.S. soccer scene isn’t all petty arguments over turf wars, business plans and what was said in 2007. A lot of Very Good Things have happened in American soccer recently — some well-publicized, some not.

– The U.S. men won for the first time in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium last night, getting a series of increasingly stupefying saves from Tim Howard and a clever goal — a strong run and cross from Brek Shea, a nifty backheel from Terrence Boyd and the finish from Michael Orozco Fiscal. The game was a friendly, not a World Cup qualifier or Gold Cup game, but there’s no downside to smashing a psychological barrier.

– Something I mentioned in my live blog of the women’s final but deserves more attention: Abby Wambach played her guts out as always in the Olympics in pursuit of her first major international championship in eight years. Has anyone done a complete story about what it means to her to come back from the 2007 Women’s World Cup and her 2008 injury to win this gold medal? I can hardly imagine what she’s feeling, but she deserves it.

– This book snuck up on me — Gwendolyn Oxenham, another of those hyperachieving Dukies who makes me wonder why that school ever let me in the door, has released Finding the Game, a book derived from the same travels that brought us the film Pelada. If you want to take a look at soccer beyond the spotlight, look here.

– The Seattle Soundersbusiness numbers are still impressive, well after the honeymoon period should be over.

– The San Antonio Scorpions have been a tremendous success in the NASL, a league that seems to have more life than the skeptics thought. Along with other healthy USL and NASL clubs, there’s life beyond MLS in men’s soccer.

And maybe D.C. United is getting closer to a stadium deal? Maybe?

 

Will WPS stars sign up for another season?

Here’s a bit of irony: iTunes, in shuffling through my music library, has just called up Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

If you look at the list of players who have and have not signed with WPS teams for 2012, you’ll see that an awful lot of players are in the “have not” category. That includes most of the U.S. national team assembled for Saturday’s revenge friendly against Sweden.

A couple of sticking points:

1. When will the WPS season take place? The Olympics fall rather inconveniently in late July and early August. (Yes, if things go awry in January’s qualification tournament, that could be a concern for the Canadian players and not the Americans, but we have no reason to assume such things.)

2. The league has no collective bargaining agreement at the moment. That’s also ironic in a sense, given today’s events — there’s no salary cap, so the league isn’t preventing owners from paying Borislow-style salaries to stack their rosters.

WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan had this to say in a conference call last week: “We certainly believe that a CBA is a vital component. At the same time, we have to kind of move forward as it stands. There’s a tremendous amount of talent.”

The union, though, is a little disappointed with progress so far. Here’s a statement:

This off-season the players union has been busy working with players on various matters, but talks with the league have seemingly stalled regarding scheduling, salaries, contract terms, and other issues subject to bargaining. The owners have not responded to player proposals regarding minimum salaries in any real way and are proceeding as if uninterested in a CBA. The players recognize WPS is in flux but find the league’s lack of responsiveness disappointing – a CBA would only contribute to the stability and professionalism of the league and there is no reason one could not have been reached before free agency opened. We are, however, moving forward with plans for next year and are hopeful and excited about the 2012 season and beyond.

The next key date for the league is Sunday. Each year, pro leagues and teams go through a review with U.S. Soccer’s professional leagues task force (in the past, that group has included USSF secretary general Dan Flynn, executive VP Mike Edwards and board member Carlos Cordeiro), which makes recommendations to the U.S. Soccer board. That board will meet Sunday before the MLS Cup final in Carson, Calif. For a thriving league like MLS, this review won’t generate any news. For a league that needs to apply for a waiver on the minimum of eight teams, there’s a bit more to discuss.

If you need to catch up on today’s news, check out the espnW story on Dan Borislow’s lawsuit and read the preceding two posts.