Wednesday Kicks: Olympic tickets, Hope Solo on ice & more

*Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza and the U.S. plays Panama at 5:30 p.m. today live on Galavision.

*Mexico faces Chivas USA’s Alejandro Moreno and Venezuela in Houston (live 6 p.m. KMEX). More here.

*FOX Soccer announced today it will air live the FA Cup showdown between Americans Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey when Everton and Fulham meet at noon Friday in the fourth-round game. JP Dellacamera and Eric Wynalda will commentate marking the first time Americans have called an FA Cup match on the channel.

*Individual tickets went on sale today for the Group B matches of 2012 men’s Olympic qualifying in Carson.

Here’s the details from the HDC: The group consists of Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. Doubleheader events involving these four teams will be held March 23, 25 and 27. The top two finishers from each group will advance to the elimination round in Kansas City.

Fans can order tickets online at ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, at local Ticketmaster ticket centers in the venue cities, and at the respective stadium ticket offices during their local business hours.

*USMNT goalkeeper Hope Solo is a doubt for the crucial Olympics qualification decider _ and her “Dancing with the Stars” stint was a contributing factor in the injury. AP Sports Writer Joseph White has more:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Hope Solo has an ailing leg, the result of some extra work she was putting in to get back into playing shape after “Dancing With the Stars.”

The timing isn’t the greatest. The U.S. women’s soccer team is about to play the game that determines whether it goes to the Olympics.

“We have to make a decision whether she is 100 percent to go or not,” coach Pia Sundhage said Wednesday. “And if she isn’t, we have a tremendous backup goalkeeper.”

The United States plays Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. The winner goes to London; the loser stays home for the summer.

Solo was clutching her right leg during the Americans’ 4-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday and was wearing on ice pack on the leg after the game. She said she had a “little quad pull,” suffered a few days earlier in practice and aggravated during the first half against the Mexicans.

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Cold as Ice: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo adjusts an ice pack on her leg following a 4-0 win over Mexico Tuesday in Olympic qualifying (AP Photo).

“Toward the end of the game I was a little worried that I was going to have to come out, but being qualifying and only having three subs, you don’t really want to sub the goalkeeper,” Solo said after the game. “So I definitely knew I could maintain for another 15 minutes.”

Solo has said she lost some of her muscle strength during her two-month run on “Dancing With the Stars,” an appearance that capitalized on the U.S. team’s popularity following last summer’s World Cup. She finished in fourth place with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but the moves involved in executing the perfect cha-cha aren’t the same as the ones needed to stop a header at the far post.

“I’m trying to get my quickness back, and my sharpness back, and my kicking back, so I’ve been focusing a lot on my kicking,” she said. “And I think it just fatigued and it pulled a little bit.”

Solo has played every minute of the Americans’ three games at the tournament, but she hasn’t had to do much. The U.S. team has outscored its opponents 31-0, and Solo didn’t have to make a save against Mexico.

And, on paper at least, a less-than-100-percent Solo or backup Nicole Barnhart should be more than enough to hold off Costa Rica.

Las Ticas are ranked No. 41 in the world have never beaten the U.S., having been outscored 34-0 in seven meetings.

But the Americans are wary about the game because they slipped up in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying 14 months ago, losing to Mexico for the first time ever. The defeat forced the U.S. into a playoff to earn a trip to the World Cup in Germany.

There is no such playoff available in Olympic qualifying, so an upset on Friday would keep the world’s top-ranked team out of the Summer Games.

Solo and her teammates got a needed day off Wednesday following a grueling stretch of three games in five days.

“Luckily going into the next game, the most important game, I’ll have an extra day of rest,”
Solo said Tuesday night. “So I think things should be fine. I’m hoping things will be fine.”

While Solo’s dancing stint brought invaluable attention to women’s soccer, Sundhage admits she was apprehensive after finding out that her goalkeeper was taking part.

“I was scared. High heels?” the coach said with a laugh. “It doesn’t matter what I think.
Obviously she wanted to do it. Obviously it was fun for her, and a lot of attention to the
goalkeeper of the national team. But, honestly, I was scared. That outfit? It was so different from the soccer player Hope Solo I know.”

So was the coach rooting against Solo, perhaps hoping for an early elimination?

“I didn’t vote for her,” said Sundhage, laughing again. “I’ll tell you that.”

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Tuesday Kicks: Hermosa Beach’s Wambach named AP Athlete of Year & more

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Winner Wambach: The South Bay resident, seen here posing today at Home Depot Center where the U.S. Women’s National Team is currently training, becomes the first soccer player – male or female – to win a national AP award. See the full story below (AP Photo).

*There was no column today; my editors opted to keep a end of year column I wrote for next Tuesday. And to answer a reader’s question, blogging will indeed be light during the holidays. I’ll Tweet when necessary at twitter.com@lasoccerblog.

*Chivas USA will play in a preseason tournament in Portland in late February and early March. Full details here.

*Thanks to all who participated in another successful Daily Breeze ball drive.

*Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach was named today by the Associated Press as its U.S. Female Athlete of the year.

AP National Writer Nancy Armour has the full story:

CHICAGO (AP) — With the final seconds ticking down and the Americans on the verge of their earliest exit ever from the Women’s World Cup, Abby Wambach kept waving her index finger at her teammates.

One chance, she screamed, all they needed was one chance.

When it came in the form of a left-footed cross from Megan Rapinoe, Wambach pounced. With one vicious whip of her head, she changed the course of this year’s World Cup and sparked a frenzy rarely seen for women’s sports in the United States.

Wambach’s performance at the World Cup made her the clear choice for the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year in the United States, selected by members of The Associated Press. The U.S. forward received 65 of the 214 votes cast, while teammate Hope Solo (38) was a distant second and basketball player Maya Moore (35) was third.

Wambach is the first individual football player — man or woman — to win one of the AP’s annual sports awards, which began in 1931. The U.S. women’s team won in 1999, when their World Cup triumph at the Rose Bowl transfixed the nation.

“We, as a team, did something that no team since Mia Hamm was able to do,” Wambach told the AP. “Even the team that won the (Olympic) gold medal in 2008 wasn’t able to inspire and get people excited about women’s soccer. It goes to show you the impact drama can bring.”

Wambach’s four goals in Germany give her 13 in three World Cup appearances. That’s the most by an American, topping Michelle Akers by one, and puts her third on the all-time World Cup scoring list behind Brazil forward Marta and Germany striker Birgit Prinz. The 31-year-old American ranks third on the U.S. career scoring list with 125 goals, trailing only Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130).

“When she’s on top of her game,” United States coach Pia Sundhage said, “she’s one of the best in the world.”

Wambach was certainly at her best at the World Cup, leading the Americans to the final, where they lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

“I’m not a person who cares much about (individual) awards, but I really appreciate you guys recognizing this team,” Wambach said. “It helps keep this sport alive, and it’s really
important.”

The Americans are the defending Olympic champions, and Wambach and her teammates are currently training in Carson for next month’s regional qualifying tournament.

“I have to say, of all people, I think she is one of the best role models: interacting with
fans, saying good things about the game, saying good things about this country, saying good things about her teammates,” Sundhage said. “I’m very proud of the fact I’ve had the chance to coach her for so many years. It will be a highlight of my career.”

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Galaxy’s Stephens and Chivas USA’s Villafaa go camping & more

If its winter, it must be time for soccer camps.

Here’s a run-down:

*The Galaxy’s Michael Stephens and Chivas USA’s Jorge FloresVillafaa was called into the week-long U.S. Under-23 camp scheduled to begin a week from today in Florida. The 2010 first round draft pick is one of 28 players participating. The full roster is here (and look at all those German-based players again).

An update on Jorge’s name change courtesy of Chivas USA:

“He has legally changed his last name to Villafaa. The Anaheim native made the decision to change his last name in honor of his mother who raised him as a single parent. This camp will mark the debut of Villafaa with the U-23′s as well as his new last name on his jersey.”

Which is a sweet gift at this time of year: Feliz Navidad to Senor Flores‘ Villafaa’s madre. (Thanks to a reader for the correction).

*Looking for a little vacation in February? You could head to Arizona where the Galaxy will play in the four-team FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup that begins in late February against the New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake.

A press conference announcing the tournament details was held this morning. Details will be found here (once the website is updated).

Updated 1:20 p.m.: The Galaxy provided a few details via a news release -

The Galaxy will take on the Revolution in the opening game of Desert Diamond Cup on February 22 at 5 p.m. (PT). Three days later, the club will return to action against Real Salt Lake on February 25, again at 5 p.m. (PT) before facing the New York Red Bulls on February 29 at 7 p.m. (PT). A championship match and a third place match will be held on March 3 at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PT), respectively.

All games will be played at the Kino Sports Complex, a 155-acre multipurpose venue that includes the 11,000 seat main stadium, as well as 12 additional fields, clubhouses, and other amenities.

“The LA Galaxy are excited to participate in the 2nd annual FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup,” LA Galaxy Head Coach and General Manager Bruce Arena said. “Tucson is an outstanding venue for our preseason as we prepare for the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS regular season. We look forward to the outstanding weather, facilities and hospitality that Tucson has to offer and look forward a challenging competition.”

*Lastly, Torrance’s Shannon Boxx and Rolling Hills Estates’ Whitney Engen are among the locals participating in the U.S. Women’s National Team camp now under way at Home Depot Center. The complete roster and full details are here.

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Friday Football: Waiting for the weekend

i-a9f47a00c9749f17716ae8019bb51d27-boxxcanada.jpgU.S. holding midfielder Shannon Boxx of Torrance shadows Canada’s Kelly Parker Thursday in Portland (AP Photo).

*Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach paced the U.S. with a brace as the Americans beat Canada 3-0 Thursday in the second of two-game post-World Cup series between the two nations. The game drew 18,570 in soccer-crazy Portland, the largest crowd to watch the U.S. women on American soil since the days of Mia Hamm.

*The Galaxy visits the Crew on Saturday (4:30 p.m. live on FSN) where two of the top three scorers in the league will be on display.

Incidentally, the Galaxy will begin selling discounted two-game playoff packages at 10 a.m. Monday. Packages start at $42 for the home leg of their conference semifinal series as well as a potential conference championship game.

*Hapless Chivas USA, their playoff hopes fading fast, are at home against Toronto (who have a modest two-game win streak going) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Home Depot Center (live on KDOC and KWHY). The best reason to watch the game may well be to get a first-hand peek at Toronto’s two designated players who joined the club in July, Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, who has six goals in seven games, and German midfielder Torsten Frings, (he of the missed goal line handball in the 2002 World Cup that contributed to the American exit from the competition).

Will this be more enjoyable viewing for Chivas USA fans? The Chivagirls are on the ABC show “Everyday Health” at 11 a.m. Saturday.

*Games on TV this weekend include three Saturday EPL match-ups involving Manchester City (against Everton at 4:30 a.m. on ESPN2), Arsenal (against Bolton at 7 a.m. on Fox Soccer) and Manchester United (against Stoke at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Soccer).

BTW, last Sunday’s first of three taped-delayed Barclays English Premier League matches this season on Fox – Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat of Chelsea – was the most watched EPL match ever in the U.S., with a combined audience of 2.4 million viewers on a trio of Fox channels.

Other games include Sporting Kansas City-Philadelphia Union at 5:30 tonight on Fox Soccer and modest Tijuana visiting mighty Club America at 2 p.m. Sunday on KMEX. Click at top right for a schedule of all the games.

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Tuesday’s Column: Men’s game could learn from the women

i-1daf3aa223a37d47ac909d167d06f8de-abbyWCfinal.jpgHead scratcher: Abby Wambach and the rest of the U.S. women’s team were left to rue what could have been after Sunday’s World Cup final loss to Japan (AP Photo).

You could talk about the jillion wasted first half chances the U.S. women missed in the first half of a World Cup final they would eventually lose to Japan.

You could talk about the coaching wisdom of having defensive players (Shannon Boxx?) step up first for the penalty kicks rather than strikers to put the pressure on the opponent in a pressure-filled situation.

You could talk about the fact the rest of the world has made significant progress in the women’s game while the U.S. has in large measure appeared to tread water.

You could, but I chose not to in today’s column.

For me the Women’s World Cup was a welcome breath of fresh air in comparison to some of the men’s games I’ve seen recently (and don’t even get me started on the disappointing showings of the likes of Brazil and Argentina at Copa America).

Read the column here.

Look ahead to next year’s Olympics and the prospects for the USWNT here

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Sunday Soccer brunch: Destiny awaits U.S. women at World Cup

Pregame is at 11 a.m. on ESPN and kickoff is around 11:45 a.m.

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* Preview

*Here’s the latest from the WNT blog.

Earlier:

*U.S. grooves on unfamiliar spotlight ahead of World Cup final.

*The shadow of 1999 (and the Megan Rapinoe YouTube video).

* Japan’s strength is its system, not stars.

*Has women’s international soccer come of age on the World Cup stage?

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Has women’s international soccer come of age on the World Cup stage?

i-e0f2cc71ae2d06592996ac58e20b5f02-japansupport.jpgRising sun: Japan, a nation that is a sentimental favorite of many soccer fans because of the recent disasters the nation has endured and a former lightweight in the sport, is now a legitimate World Cup contender displacing such former powers as China (AP Photo).

Associated Press National Writer Nancy Armour explores the new world of international women’s soccer that can be summed up in one word – parity:

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — It wasn’t long ago that you could predict the lineup for the final four at the Women’s World Cup even before the tournament began.

The Americans were a given. The Germans, too. Brazil’s been there to the bitter end in recent years, and Sweden or Norway were never a bad bet. This year? Not many predicted Japan playing in its first final and France making the semis.

“It’s amazing to see a team like France, a team like Japan in the final. Germany knocked out. Brazil knocked out,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said Thursday. “It’s amazing to have that (parity) — and that we are still right there, at the top.”

Yes, the Americans are the lone constant in this topsy-turvy tournament.

The world’s top-ranked team, the U.S. is trying to become the first country to win three World Cup titles when it faces Japan on Sunday. This may be the Americans’ first appearance in the final since 1999, the last time they won it all, but they’ve won two Olympic gold medals in the interim and had a two year-plus winning streak going until November.

“It is a great opportunity for us,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said after the Nadeshiko beat
Sweden 3-1 in the semifinals, their second big upset of the tournament. “It is going to be a huge opportunity for us and a big platform.”

For all of women’s football, really.

Back when Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, and Kristine Lilly spearheaded the U.S., the World Cup often wasn’t a fair fight. Some of the scores in the group stage were laughable, and the gap between the elite and the second tier was more like a chasm. In the first World Cup, in 1991, the Americans routed Taiwan (7-0) and Brazil (5-0) while Sweden romped to an 8-0 win over Japan.

Four years later, eventual champion Norway won one game 7-0 (Canada) and another 8-0 (Nigeria). Even four years ago, Germany gave an 11-0 thrashing of Argentina.

But unlike softball or women’s ice hockey, where the rest of the world has failed to keep pace with the one or two dominant teams or had no interest in doing so, countries all over the world have been pouring money and resources into their women’s football teams. The results could be seen clearly in Germany as, slowly but surely, the gap between good and great narrows.

There were few routs in the tournament, the 4-0 wins by Japan over Mexico and France over Canada the most lopsided of the matches. There were 19 draws or one-goal victories in the first 30 games, and the scoring average is down to just 2.63 per game from 3.81 in 1991 and ’95.

“France is obviously a bit of a surprise but, when we played them, we gave them a lot of
respect in the locker room,” said Abby Wambach, whose header in the 79th minute broke what had been a tense tie with France, which reached the semifinals in its second World Cup appearance.

“All of us were talking about what pretty soccer they played, how exciting it was to watch
their front four or five players. Not that we want to play like anybody else, but it was
exciting to see.

“This game has come a long way, a long way since ’99.”

And should continue to do so.

Colombia and Equatorial Guinea made their World Cup debuts in Germany. Though each exited after the first round, neither embarrassed themselves. The Americans had to win a playoff just to get a spot in Germany after being humbled by Mexico in qualifying, El Tri’s first victory over its neighbor to the north in 25 tries.

“Sometimes, it’s frustrating for us. If we don’t smash every team or win every game, it’s
like, ‘What’s wrong with U.S. Soccer? What’s wrong with the women’s side?’” Rapinoe said. “We see it as a good thing. I don’t want to beat every team five-nil. I would rather lose a few games and have the games be much more equal.”

At least the Americans made it to Germany.

China, a traditional powerhouse, failed to qualify for this World Cup. Italy, one of Europe’s strongest teams, went undefeated in winning its qualifying group and it still wasn’t good enough to get the Azzurre a trip to Germany. As for the Germans, not only did they bow out in the quarterfinals here, they won’t be going to next summer’s London Olympics.

Sweden, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist, got one of UEFA’s two spots. The other went to France, which has never appeared in an Olympic Games.

“The growth of soccer has been amazing,” said U.S. captain Christie Rampone, the lone holdover from the 1999 squad. “It’s just amazing to see Japan in the final and the growth of soccer and support behind it. All these teams putting more effort and time and training. … All these games are tight. You can see the pressure’s out there. There’s great goalkeepers, great attacking players, great defense.

“You don’t see blowouts,” she added, “which is great for the sport.”

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U.S. – France FIFA Women’s World Cup semifinal preview

i-a92a964c66242f37b32e0926c3fa5833-limberingup.jpgFit to be champions? The U.S. team stays limber on the eve of the Women’s World Cup semifinal showdown Wednesday against France (AP Photo).

The game kicks off at 9 a.m. Wednesday on ESPN and is preceded by a 30-minute pre-game show.

Incidentally, ESPN said today that the U.S.-Brazil quarterfinal was seen by 3.89 million viewers, making it the third most-viewed Women’s World Cup match ever in the U.S.

Associated Press National Writer Nancy Armour has the preview of a game and team that has caught the imagination of the American public:

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) — The Americans feel just fine, thank you, not tired a bit. The high they were on after that epic Brazil game? That’s so yesterday.

The U.S. women are one game away from reaching their first World Cup final since 1999 — the last time they won soccer’s biggest prize — and the only thing on their minds now is beating France.

“Losing is not an option,” Abby Wambach said Tuesday. “We want to win this thing, and France is standing in our way right now.”

The Americans are the top-ranked team in the world and defending Olympic gold medalists, yet they were almost afterthoughts when the tournament began two weeks ago. Two-time defending champion Germany was considered the heavy favorite, sure to get a boost playing on home soil. Then there was Brazil, runner-up at the last three major tournaments and led by Marta, FIFA’s player of the year five years running.

And the U.S.? They had to win a playoff with Italy just to get here, and they’d been
uncharacteristically inconsistent with three losses in a five-month span.

But the Germans are now spectators, stunned by Japan in the quarterfinals. Brazil is gone, too, losing to the Americans in a penalty shootout in one of the most exciting games ever at the World Cup, men’s or women’s. And the U.S.? They’re still playing, and they go into Wednesday night’s semifinal with more than a touch of swagger.

“We have what it takes,” Wambach said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”

The biggest uncertainty for the Americans isn’t their fitness, it’s their backline. Rachel
Buehler has started all but one game the last two years, and her bruising style of defense — she isn’t called the “Buehldozer” for nothing — has been vital. But she’s suspended for the semifinal after getting a red card for taking down Marta in the box in the 65th minute Sunday.

While U.S. coach Pia Sundhage wouldn’t say who will play in Buehler’s place, Becky Sauerbrunn was working with the starters during training Tuesday.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with her (with the WPS’ magicJack) so we’re very connected that way,” said Christie Rampone, the U.S. captain and its other central defender. “Becky and I feel confident together. We’ll watch some film on France today, see what little tactics they have, what little tendencies they have with their forwards, communicate with each other and we’ll be fine.”

i-23ee63647a9f1726e93169ea07338290-hopesolo.jpgSolo star: A determined U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, one of the stars of the American victory over Brazil, trains Tuesday in Germany.

They will have to be because, much like Brazil, France has creativity and flair.

Playmaker Louisa Necib, she of the silken touch and deft passes, has been likened to Zinedine Zidane, the highest compliment a French player can get. Her control of the midfield is masterful, the driving force behind France’s quick, fluid offense. Les Bleues often appear seamless — no surprise considering 10 of the 21 players are teammates at Olympique Lyonnais, which won this year’s women’s Champions League final.

“For us, it’s very important to be patient,” Sundhage said. “We need to pick up the rhythm and dictate the tempo, and we need the midfield to get more involved. I don’t want to make it a stretch game. Or make it a (physical) fight.”

But France has struggled against bigger, more physical teams in the past, and they don’t come much stronger than the Americans.

“It’s true we’ve had one additional day” of rest, French coach Bruno Bini said. “I think it’s
quite fair because the American team is in better shape.”

While the Americans have their quickest turnaround of the tournament, getting just two days rest between games, France hasn’t played since Saturday. But Les Bleues had an emotional doozy, too, beating England 4-3 on penalties after scoring in the 88th minute to tie it 1-1.

“It’s very easy after a victory to be in shape again, especially when you’ve already seen
yourself packing to go home,” Bini said. “After that, it is very easy to get highly motivated
for this match.”

Unlike the Americans, who have reached the semifinals at each of the six World Cups, this is the first trip for Les Bleues. And they have never beaten the Americans, going 0-11-1 in their previous meetings. The U.S. has scored 38 goals in the 12 games to just eight for France.

Of course, Mexico had never beaten the Americans, either, and look what happened in regional qualifying.

But the “bumpy road,” as Sundhage likes to call it, has made the Americans stronger, their success even sweeter. Their grit and determination is one of the reasons they’ve become such a huge hit back home, with Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and folks who’ve never seen a soccer game before all rallying behind them.

Should the U.S. beat France, it would face either Japan or Sweden in Sunday’s final, with a chance to become the first team to win three World Cup titles.

“I always think it’s important for a team to go through adversity. Then you realize how much it hurts,” said Torrance’s Shannon Boxx (South High). “We watched some of the games day before (Brazil). You saw the faces of the teams that didn’t win and you don’t want to feel that way. I think that’s a huge motivator right there.”

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Instant Classic: Wambach of Hermosa Beach leads never say die U.S. to heart-stopping famous World Cup victory

i-942849e24aa75a5fa8afdb857371535f-wambachwcgoal.jpgHead and shoulders above the rest: U.S. forward Abby Wambach scores the latest goal in a game in Women’s World Cup history and sends the quarterfinal against Brazil to penalty kicks in Germany (AP Photo).

It was quite simply, one of the most enthralling, drama-filled, soccer games I’ve ever seen.

Striker Abby Wambach, a Hermosa Beach resident, scored an equalizer deep into stoppage time of extra time and a 10-player U.S. went on to win on penalty kicks today over Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals.

ESPN2 will show a replay of the game beginning at 9 o’clock tonight.

Torrance’s Shannon Boxx also played a pivotal role in the game.

It’s twelve years to the day since the U.S. won the 1999 Women’s World Cup in Pasadena on a Brandi Chastain penalty kick.

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