Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Almost Independence Day

TigerBlog, as you know, went to Penn.

Also as you know, he's spent the last 30 years covering Princeton teams and he long, long ago converted to rooting for orange and black over red and blue.

He's not sure exactly when this happened, but he knows it didn't take long. He remembers that he was still in the newspaper business in the early 1990s when he covered a Princeton-Penn men's basketball game at Jadwin Gym and Chuck Yrigoyen, then of the Ivy League, asked him which team he wanted to win. He didn't even need to answer.

As such, he can sort of relate to what Jill Ellis went through yesterday, when she coached the U.S. women's soccer team against England in the World Cup semifinals, a game that the U.S. won 2-1. Ellis, after all, is a native of Portsmouth, England.

Like he said. Sort of.

It has to be pretty wild to coach a national team against the national team of the country in which you were born, especially on that stage. Of course, Ellis has been in this country for a long time, though it has to be a little strange at least, no?

Ellis moved to Virginia and then began to play competitive soccer there, winning a national club championship with the Braddock Road Blue Belles. One of her teammates there, and then at William & Mary, was Julie Shackford, who would spend 20 years as Princeton's head women's soccer coach and is now the head coach at their alma mater.

In fact, Ellis would coach against Shackford in the 2004 NCAA semifinals when Ellis was the head coach at UCLA and Princeton became the only Ivy team ever to get that far.

It was a great run, by the way. Princeton won four NCAA tournament games that year, all of which were played on old Lourie -Love Field, the last of which was a 3-1 win over the University of Washington to get the Tigers to the Final Four. There was a crowd of more than 2,500 at that game, as the team's success really resonated in the local community. 

The 2017 Tigers, led by Sean Driscoll, Shackford's replacement, almost matched that achievement when they reached the quarterfinals before also losing to UCLA. That 2017 team defeated North Carolina in the Sweet 16, which is one of the biggest wins any Princeton team in any sport has ever had.

The game between the U.S. and England was highly dramatic, that's for sure. England had a goal first called good but then ruled offsides after video review, and then the U.S. got a late save on a penalty kick to hold on.

The disallowed goal call got TB to wonder how many iconic sports moments might have been different had video review been around when they were played. He's not talking about famous blown calls, like the 1985 World Series or the Steelers-Oilers AFC Championship Game in 1979.

He's talking about games that might have turned on small changes like a disallowed goal that was offsides and how that might have affected entire games or tournaments or playoffs. There had to be quite a few of them.

The U.S. will now play the winner of today's game between Sweden and the Netherlands in Sunday's final.

The semifinal game, by the way, saw an England native coach the U.S. against the English on July 2, which is the day that the Continental Congress voted unanimously to declare independence and the day that John Adams said was going to be considered Independence Day.

Of course, American Independence Day is actually celebrated on July 4, which is the day that the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Congress.

In Sunday's final, Ellis will be attempting to do something that's only happened once before in World Cup history, and that's coach a team to two championships. The only coach who's ever done it before is Vittorio Pozzo, who coached Italy to the 1934 and 1938 World Cups. No women's coach has ever done it.

The championship game is Sunday, which is the seventh.

In the meantime, there's the game today and then the Fourth of July tomorrow.

So have a great Fourth. And a safe one.

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