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Global May 13, 2008

US Women half way there with 6-0 win over Canada at RFK

Tomorrow may finally be here for the United States Women’s Soccer team. After failing to advance to the World Cup Final last year threatened America’s reign as the undisputed top women’s program in the world, things are finally going according to plan. In the past few weeks, the team has qualified for this Summer’s Olympic games, regained their number one world ranking, and have finally found someone besides Abby Wambach who can score goals in buckets – Hawaiian Natasha Kai.

All this was on display at RFK Stadium Saturday night in downtown Washington, DC as the next generation US team, with their first foreign coach, demolished Canada 6-0 in front of a loud, albeit disappointingly small, an announced crowd of just 9,332.

The convincing win, followed by thousands of young girls hanging over the stadium wall screaming for autographs nearly an hour after the game ended, must have been a welcome sight for area fans, administrators, and sponsors after a five year absence from RFK by the women’s team.

Wambach has done her best to fill the star void left when Mia Hamm left the game a few years ago, but it was an enormous void, larger than any one player will likely ever fill. Just like the team on the field needed to find ways to score without relying on Wambach alone, the program needed to find new ways to hook the next generation of women’s soccer fans on the eve of the second coming of a national professional women’s league that will begin play next summer.

Natasha Kai at RFK

Natasha Kai acknowledges fans after scoring 3rd goal of her hat-trick at RFK – (c) HummerSport

 

“You have no idea how relieving it is because it makes my job easier,” said Wambach after the match Saturday as she took a break from signing autographs. “We’re scoring a lot of goals. It’s making our attack and our play more dangerous and it’s a whole heck of a lot harder for us to be tactically broken down.”

Abby Wambach signing autographs at RFK

Abby Wambach signing autographs at RFK – (c) HummerSport

The convincing win at RFK on Saturday against the same Canadian team that had just taken the US women to Penalty Kicks in the final of last month’s Olympic Qualifying tournament in Mexico, evoked memories of an earlier team that deserved to dominate at the top of world rankings. The team we’ve missed, and appear to have found once more, is a team that holds possession and overwhelms opponents with the threat of world class goals by any player at any time, a team that never lets off the gas until the final whistle.

While odds are that they won’t win every game as convincingly, this is indeed a team transformed by Coach Pia Sundhage, who has brought a new vision, vigor and style with her from her native country of Sweden – itself an international power. The players are clearly responding to Sundhage’s program, having won every tournament they’ve entered this year, accumulating a 14-0 record in 2008 – but the work is by no means complete.

“I have European style and one word there is ‘keep possession’ and find the right moment to penetrate, to find that timing,” said Sunhage standing on the sideline basking in the glow of the win like a victorious general as she observed her players being swarmed by at least 3,000 autograph seekers. “I can’t do too much of a change that I confuse them, but I can’t do too little either because no one would notice, so I try to do something between, and this game I think we are halfway there, we are doing a great job.”

Pia Sundhage 2008

New Women’s Coach Pia Sundhage soaking in throngs of fans after 6-0 win – (c) HummerSport

After leaking six goals in two friendlies against the Australian team over the last two weekends, one can see where Sundhage is coming from in her assessment of only being halfway there. Fortunately, the American offense was up to the task in those encounters, matching the Matildas’ scoring output and then snatching injury time winners in each game.

Saturday night in Washington was the crescendo of a long stretch of hard work before the players take a week-long break before reconvening another training camp in preparation for the Olympics. Every goal came from a sustained possession through the run of play, a sure sign things are clicking. And while there may be plenty of work to do, Sundhage and her players should be able to rest well during this break knowing things are clearly moving in the right direction.

Editor’s Notes

Abby feels at home in Washington
This was the first time back at RFK for Abby Wambach since playing for the Freedom in the WUSA, but with the new Women’s Professional Soccer League due to start next summer (which will include the Freedom), Wambach told me she would like to come back. “It just makes sense,” said the 95-time goal-scorer. Despite her feelings however, she also confirmed what she had said publicly a few days earlier – that she’s willing to play anywhere and would defer to other players who may have more of a personal reason to play in any particular city. Time will tell, but Wambach certainly feels at home here in Washington. She observed, “It’s crazy how driving all around DC I knew exactly where I was going. I haven’t been back here in a couple years. It’s special being here and I have a special place in my heart for the city of DC.”

Beach FC alum Hucles in the house, hoping to play for Boston
While Wambach would love to return to our area, Angela Hucles – the only player with direct ties to our region as a former Beach FC youth star from Virginia Beach – said she would prefer to play for Boston, where she has lived for the past several years. “I don’t know for sure [where I’ll play]. Hopefully in the next couple of months we’ll figure out which players are being allocated and which are being drafted. I’m looking forward to finding out where I’m going to be.”