Saturday Soccer: USWNT qualifies for Olympics & more

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Got a little Morgan in ya? Alex Morgan celebrates her late goal that clinched a U.S. spot in London’s Olympics Friday in Canada (AP Photo).

Diamond Bar’s fast-rising soccer star Alex Morgan further solidified her undoubted national team credentials by notching the third and final decisive goal:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The final goal in the game that put the U.S. women’s soccer team into the Olympics was scored by Alex Morgan, the super-sub who made her name at last year’s World Cup.

That’s the same Alex Morgan who wasn’t a sub at all in the Americans’ previous game, leading to an interesting moment in a meeting with coach Pia Sundhage.

The formality is that the U.S. beat Costa Rica 3-0 Friday night to earn a ticket to London. The game was quite a bit more suspenseful than expected, with the Americans overcoming some early sloppiness and waiting until deep into the second half to put the game away.

The real fun now begins over the next six months as Sundhage figures out how best to use the best, deepest roster of women soccer players in the world. For instance, the newest hot-off-the-presses talent is Sidney Leroux, who got the call instead of Morgan in the second half of the big win over Mexico three days earlier.

“I asked her how she felt when Sidney Leroux came in the game and she didn’t,” Sundhage said. “I wanted an honest answer. She said ‘I don’t think you want that answer.’ Great. That tells a little about how badly she wants to play.”

Morgan felt she got her point across.

“We both laughed,” Morgan said. “And she said ‘That’s all I need to know.’ … But that’s the great thing with Pia. She lets you feel you can be honest with her. She lets you feel very comfortable around her.”

Morgan’s goal in the 89th minute made the score 34-0 — the margin by which the Americans have outscored their opponents at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The only one that wasn’t as lopsided as the score was Friday’s London-or-bust semifinal.

“There were moments where I think Costa Rica were outplaying us, and it just shows you how important it was to all of us,” forward Abby Wambach said. “Nobody wanted to make that mistake. And luckily we didn’t.”

Tobin Heath scored in the 16th minute to give U.S. all the offense it needed, and Carli Lloyd (72nd) and Morgan (89th) provided the insurance.

But the top-ranked Americans were certainly not as crisp as they were when they were drawing criticism for running up the score. Bad passes led to giveaways in the first half, forcing goalkeeper Hope Solo to work harder than she has all tournament.

Then again, so much was on the line that some jitters were understandable.

“We know that sometimes under big game circumstances players can get a little tight,” Wambach said. “And you’ve just kind of got to deal with it. … It was almost as if we scored that goal and nobody wanted to get stuck into a tackle. We were kind of playing a little bit soft, and we fixed that in the second half.”

Costa Rica is ranked No. 41 in the world, has never qualified for an Olympics or a World Cup and has never scored on the U.S. in eight meetings.

Las Ticas proved to be scrappy opponents, however, occasionally frustrating the Americans with physical play and just missing on two solid scoring chances in the first half in the London-or-bust match. As the possibility of an upset lingered deep into the second half, the plucky team in red gained the rousing support of the Canadian fans at BC Place.

“We put together three great games in group play,” said Solo, who played despite a slightly pulled right quadriceps that had been bothering her all week. “You can’t play four, five, six. Not every team is going to play perfectly every single game, but we got the job done.”

The U.S. will be the two-time defending champions in London, having taken gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008. It will be the third straight Olympics in which the Americans will be trying to make amends for World Cup disappointment from the previous year. They finished second at last year’s World Cup in Germany, losing to Japan in the final.

The victory also puts the Americans into the tournament final Sunday, a bragging-rights-only game against Canada, a 3-1 winner over Mexico in the second semifinal.

Sundhage’s team arrived in Canada with a bit of apprehension. The Americans, having become somewhat complacent from years of uncontested success in the region, were stunned in a World Cup qualifier by host Mexico in November 2010, forcing them into a home-and-away playoff with Italy just to get for the World Cup. Also, the format for Olympic qualifying is such that everything hinges on one game — the do-or-die semifinals — regardless of how a team performs in the rest of the tournament.

Determined to take nothing for granted, the Americans had been full throttle for every game. They set a U.S. team record for goals in a game in a 14-0 win over the Dominican Republic, then nearly matched the feat in a 13-0 rout of Guatemala. Then came a 4-0 win in the much-anticipated rematch with Mexico to set up the semifinal against Costa Rica.

And even though the vital game didn’t go quite as planned, the outcome was all that
mattered.

“We,” Sundhage said, smiling, “are going to London.”

*Also, Chivas USA narrowly lost its opening preseason game Friday night in Ventura County.

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Next for Becks: the Olympics?

i-bd41a92ac8314e09f3b9fb2e9e4503c7-Beckhamtie.jpgYeah, you read right. Here we go again. Wonder what Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena is thinking?:

LONDON (AP) — David Beckham wants to play for Britain at the London 2012 Olympics, but doesn’t expect to play for a European club again.

The 35-year-old midfielder has put himself through a grueling schedule in recent years playing for AC Milan during the Los Angeles Galaxy offseason, but that took its toll as an injury ruled him out of the World Cup.

While accepting he has been pushing his body too hard, Beckham wants to play a role at the Olympics.

“If I’m still playing and I’m still considered to make a difference to the team I’d love to be
involved,” Beckham said Wednesday during a live Yahoo! video webchat.

A team of English-only soccer players is set to represent Britain. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations won’t be part of the team, fearing it would jeopardize their independence and voting rights within FIFA.

Beckham was at the World Cup in South Africa as a member of coach Fabio Capello’s support staff after being ruled out with an Achilles’ tendon injury. Beckham said he has been running for the past 10 days and should be back in action for the Galaxy within two months.

But when the season ends in November, Beckham will take a break, rather than seeking another loan to a top European club — which is a necessity to stay in Capello’s plans.

“I think it’s something I will have to think about carefully now — I don’t think it will
happen, to be honest,” Beckham said. “This injury came as a result of me pushing it too hard for the last two years — going to AC Milan when I could have had a few months’ rest.

“But I did it for a reason, I did it to be part of the England team and part of the World Cup … but this time around, when the season ends in LA, I’m going to have to take a rest and get myself fit.”

Beckham, though, still hopes to end his career at the 2014 World Cup — and score the winner in the final in Brazil.

Beckham fears that the England players who flopped at the World Cup — winning just once and going out in the last 16 — could be abused by fans when the new Premier League season starts next month.

“The players know it was disappointing because we didn’t perform,” Beckham said. “The manager can only do so much, then it has to be down to the players and when the players go on the pitch they know if they don’t perform they don’t win games.”

Beckham, who was hit by an intense public backlash after being sent off at the 1998 World Cup, didn’t want the current squad to face a similar fate.

“I hope not, but we do live in a world where that happens,” Beckham said. “You do enjoy the good times, but when the bad times come along you have to learn from them otherwise you just crumble … In 1998 it was tough and you just have to block it out.”

Beckham’s appearance on the sideline in South Africa led to suggestions that he could coach England one day.

“It’s not a passion of mine to be a manager of a football team,” Beckham said. “I’m passionate about the game and being there. I was wearing the suit — so people thought I’d be doing that (coaching).”

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Abby Wambach Speaks

Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach spoke to reporters today for the first time since breaking her leg in the final U.S. game before the Olympics July 16 against Brazil.

Here’s what she said she thought about when the injury occurred:

“I realized in that moment and accepted in that moment that my Olympic dreams were not going to be what I had planned. I accepted the reality of this situation. This was a deep down acceptance of my reality. A lot of the times when you freak out about stuff is when you are more unsure of reality. It was an all encompassing moment. I wasn’t freaked out.”

Quotes from the whole interview are here.

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Chivas USA-Santos Laguna SuperLiga Post-Game Notes and Quotes

Ante Razov’s deciding goal.
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Photo by Scott Varley

Before we get started, take a deep breathe and read this fine piece of journalism on Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan and his father.

I’ll wait.

But then we figured Kljestan would be going to the Olympics, didn’t we? The squad will officially be announced at 10 a.m. today (Thursday).

Other nuggets:
*Midfielder Paulo Nagamura, who suffered a mild concussion during the match, and defender Jonathan Bornstein will be suspended for Sunday’s game against New England because of yellow-card accumulation (2 apiece).

*We were discussing in the press box about the tie-breakers in SuperLiga given the possibility Chivas USA, the Revolution and Pachuca could end up tied on six points at the end of the games Sunday.

Colleague Phil Collin kindly researched the issue (based on last year’s rules):
1. points
2. head-head
3. point differential
4. goals scored
5. drawing of lots

Now here’s the catch: if after the first four criteria, a team qualifies, that team advances. Then the process is repeated. For instance, if Pachuca wins 2-0 and Chivas USA wins 1-0, Pachuca advances on goal differential. Then you go back to the top and play the string out with the two remaining teams.

Got that?

Curiously though, Sunday’s pair of games aren’t played at the same time: the Revs and Chivas USA game is later than Pachuca-Santos Laguna. Not that I’m suggesting anything.

The game story is here.

And (for those of you who read until the end of the game story) it looks like yet another foreign veteran (Wicky) is a total bust in MLS, doesn’t it?

On to the quotes:

*Preki on the economy of shots for Chivas USA:

“We got one shot on goal tonight – we scored. We’re going to take that. We’re not going to complain about that. Sometimes things don’t go your way, you lose. Tonight, I thought the ball bounced our way. Sometimes in this game you have to be lucky. You’ve got to get a bounce.”

*Ante Razov on the ball Kljestan served him that led to the goal:

“It was good work out on the wing with Sacha and we’ve developed pretty good chemistry as of late, especially. I just wanted to try to set my guy up and get to the near post, and fortunately I was able to get a piece of it, I also think the defender got a piece of it too. Great ball.”

*Did Santos Laguna Coach Daniel Guzman think the 90th minute goal his team scored was offside?

“It was a goal. There was no-one offside on that play. That’s when we started the whole debate with the referee, but it’s over now.”

On the loss:

“They had a goal-scoring opportunity. They put it in. Sometimes soccer is that way. You play well. You don’t win. You play badly, you win.”

*Preki on how the team came out:

“I didn’t feel like we got a grip of the game in the first 10-15 minutes. I thought they were the better team, I thought they were moving the ball a bit better than us, I thought we were nervous, but I was expecting that given the fact that we’ve changed quite a few players from the other night to tonight.”

Finally, here’s the first half sitter Christian Benitez of Santos Laguna missed in the first half with Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy and the net at his mercy.
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Photo by Scott Varley

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U.S. Leading Scorer Abby Wambach To Miss Olympics With Broken Leg

Abby Wambach, the top scorer for the U.S. Women’s National Team broke her leg in the final game before the Olympics against Brazil Wednesday in San Diego, and will miss the games in China.

“Obviously, it’s devastating, but above everything else, I’m only one player, and you can never win a championship with just one player,” said Wambach, a resident of Hermosa Beach. “I have the utmost confidence in this team bringing home the gold.”

Laudable comments from Wambach, but this is nothing short of a disaster for the U.S.

As the U.S. Soccer press release points out:

Wambach is the USA’s leading scorer this year with 13 goals and 10 assists. She has led the team in scoring in the last three world championships and is one of the top scorers in U.S. history with 99 goals in 127 games.

In other words, Wambach is quite simply irreplaceable and the American gold medal hopes have been dealt a crushing, and potentially fatal, blow.

It’s almost irrelevant, but the U.S. won the game 1-0.

Here are more details on what sounds like a particularly nasty injury and the game from the Associated Press.

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MLS Lost in Las Vegas, Becks on Leno Tonight & More

Just in case any reminder was needed regarding the peripheral role MLS plays in the sports mainstream in this country, a trip to Las Vegas on the opening weekend of the season provided it.

Avoiding news about MLS (so I could watch TiVo’d Galaxy and Chivas USA games Monday night and this morning respectively) was disconcertingly easy.

No mention of MLS on the ESPN bottom of the screen crawl during March madness on the ubiquitous televisions in casinos (and this is the league’s alleged broadcast partner?).

Most sports books don’t take bets on MLS games (the Station Casino chain is an exception).

And Fox Soccer Channel and others that carry the game simply aren’t one of the options at the gazillions of television choices at sports books.

So it wasn’t until Monday night I learned the Galaxy’s new look team looked a lot like their old ones in a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Rapids. That was L.A.’s worst loss since the waning days of the Steve Sampson era (May 6, 2006 to be precise). Exactly a month later, Sampson was fired.

Are you listening Ruud Gullit?

Perhaps even more drastic action needs to be taken in the case of increasingly embarrassing cart horse defender Abel Xavier, who is slowing down almost visibly with every game and was to blame on several of the goals. And I wasn’t thinking he needs to be put out to pasture.

Let’s see David Beckham laugh that one off at 11:35 p.m. this evening with Leno on “The Tonight Show.”

Meanwhile, the Galaxy announced today they will host a U.S. Open Cup qualifying game Tuesday May 27 against those same Rapids. Let’s hope Colorado doesn’t play another (ahem) “weakened” line-up. Tickets are on sale now for the 7:30 p.m. game.

Good thing Maykel Galindo and Chivas USA are likely to be a lot more diverting than the Galaxy again this year, the Cuban saving the point against Dallas Sunday with a late equalizer.

Condolences to classy Mexican veteran defender Claudio Suarez, a resident of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, who missed the game due to the death of his father.

Congrats to Downey High junior Briant Reyes, 16, named the winner of the Los Angeles portion of “Sueo MLS 2008: The Dream Continues.” The Salvadorian-American joins the Under-16 Chivas USA team.

And farewell to reserve Chivas USA forward John Cunliffe who got shipped off to San Jose for Canadian defensive midfielder Chris Pozniak.

Lastly, Shannon Boxx of Torrance, USC’s Amy Rodriguez and UCLA’s Lauren Cheney were all named Monday to the U.S. Olympic qualifying squad.

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Olympic Qualifying: Mexico Out, U.S. to Play Canada

Despite beating nine-man Haiti 5-1 Sunday night at Home Depot Center, Mexico crashed out of Olympic qualifying on goal difference.

The result means Canada, the second place finisher in Group B, plays the U.S. Thursday, while Guatemala faces Honduras.

In a game that featured wave after wave of Mexican attacks, El Tri could have scored several many more goals, but missed a penalty while Toluca’s Santiago Fernandez missed two point-blank chances within two minutes.

Cruz Azul’s Cesar Villaluz opened Mexico’s account with a diving header in the 18th minute before 12,824 mainly Mexican fans.

Edgar Andrade of Cruz Azul made it two in the 61st minute, while Haiti pulled a goal back two minutes later as Mexico got caught pressing forward.

Fernandez claimed Mexico’s third in the 70th minute and Club America’s Enrique Esqueda made it 4-1 seven minutes from the end of regulation.

Luis Angel Landin of Morelia scored Mexico’s fifth in the 90th minute, but despite five minutes of stoppage time, El Tri couldn’t score the sixth that would have propelled them to the semifinals.

Mexico finished with 24 attempts on goal to 14 for Haiti, with shots on target 14-4. Mexico was called offside 14 times.

Updated:

Well, Mexican Coach Hugo Sanchez didn’t resign after the game, though Mexican Football Federation officials held a press conference and said his contract would be discussed at a March 30 meeting. Still, they also observed Sanchez has a contract through the 2010 World Cup.

“Obviously, this is a failure,” Sanchez said. “I don’t like to use that word, but you guys are going to keep bringing it up until I do so I will.”

“We had hoped to make history,” he added. “Mexico has never won an Olympic gold medal (in soccer).”

Sanchez lamented the absence of his four European-based players their clubs wouldn’t release and then noted the U.S. and Canada had their European-based players for the competition, which isn’t quite true (the U.S. couldn’t secure the release of Michael Bradley from his Dutch club, for instance).

His counterpart, Haiti’s Wilner Etienne, was quite blunt about the performance of some of his team.

“There are some players who can play at a high level and there are some players you can’t count on,” he said.

Canadian Coach Nick Dasovsic, who had said he wouldn’t comment on the U.S. until after the Mexico game, was quite voluable when I bumped into him in the Stadium Club en route to the Mexico-Haiti press conference. It probably helped he was on his third beer.

“When (Haiti) went down to nine men, I thought we were done,” he said. “I think I died eight times. It was like something out of a movie. We’re through, though, we’re going to Tennessee.”

“It’s a one-game cup final and (if we win) we go to the Olympics,” he added. “The guys will be up for it.”

“They’ve got quality,” he said of the U.S. “It’s going to be huge for the guys.”

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