Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On To The Final

Yesterday, TigerBlog was talking about rooting for Donn Cabral.

Today, he's renewing his earlier statement that he's rooting for Jill Ellis.

And hey, if he has to root for the U.S. women's national soccer team, so be it.

Ellis is the head coach for the United States, and she has her team in the championship match at the Women's World Cup. The U.S. will take on the winner of tonight's England-Japan semifinal match in Sunday's final, after the Americans defeated the top-ranked team in the world, Germany, 2-0 in the semifinals last night.

Should the English win, then Ellis would be coaching the United States team against her native country.

Today's quick quiz - what country won the most recent Women's World Cup? If you guessed the U.S.A., you'd be wrong.

The answer is Japan.

Can you name the last three Women's World Cup winners? Japan, Germany (2007) and Germany (2003).

The first time the U.S. won was in 1991. The last time the U.S. won was in 1999, which was the first Women's World Cup, the one where Brandy Chastain knocked in the winning PK and then had her rather famous celebration.

The other Women's World Cup, in 1995, was won by Norway.

In other words, the U.S. isn't a lock to win every time there is one of these tournaments. The casual fan might think so, but that's not the case.

Of course, it's not like there isn't pressure on the U.S. to win each time out. Far from it. Had Ellis' team not won yesterday, even against the No. 1-ranked team in the world, there would have been a sense of failure around the team.

The Americans haven't accomplished their goal yet. The 2011 team reached the championship match against Japan and lost in PKs. Having that happen again would leave an empty taste this time as well.

So Ellis has to deal with the win-it-all expectations every time her team steps on the field. And then there's the whole balancing act that is being the U.S. coach, with all of the personalities and stars and newcomers and everything else.

Just handling a mega-star like Abby Wambach in the tail end of her career is challenge enough. Now factor that across the entire U.S. roster.

The best player, if no the biggest star, for the Americans now is Carli Lloyd.

TigerBlog was Princeton's women's soccer contact in 2004, when Ellis coached UCLA against Princeton in the Final Four, and is 2003, when the Tigers took on Rutgers on the first Tuesday in October.

TB remembers the game pretty well. Princeton was ranked 23rd nationally, and Rutgers was always a national power.

Rutgers had a really strong defense, one that had allowed one goal in 700 minutes prior to the game. TigerBlog didn't remember that part; he saw that when he read the recap of the game he'd written all those years ago.

Princeton led 2-0 after scoring two late first-half goals. TB did remember that.

He didn't remember who scored them, though it turned out to be Rochelle Willis and Emily Behncke.

The other thing he remembers about that game is that Rutgers came back to tie it 2-2. And he also remembered who scored both goals.

That's right. Carli Lloyd. She scored one goal seven minutes into the second half and then the tying goal with seven minutes left in the second half, turning a huge Princeton win into a less-than-satisfying tie.

As TB re-read the story he wrote about the game, he saw that there was a quote from then-head coach Julie Shackford, whose best friend is Jill Ellis.

Here's what Shackford had to say: "Carli Lloyd is a great player. She knows where to put the ball."

She certainly did against Germany last night, when she scored the first U.S. goal on a penalty kick.

Lloyd is the leading U.S. scorer with three goals in this World Cup. Megan Rapinoe has two, and no other American has more than one.

So yes, it seems that Shackford was right about her.

And now the U.S. has one game to go to win the Women's World Cup.

If the Americans get there, Jill Ellis better get the credit she deserves. This isn't just about rolling the balls out there and rolling to the championship.

Nope, this would be the first time in 16 years that America would have won.

It takes a special coach to pull that off.

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