At the National Soccer Coaches Association of America annual convention this year, there were whispers of change in the air. Having witnessed the number one ranked women’s national side struggle to qualify for the 2011 World Cup — the U.S. needed a playoff victory against Italy this past November — there was a strong push for a review of the overall guiding philosophy for coaching young female soccer players. Out with the faster, stronger more aggressive model, and in with a bit of Brazilian flair on the ball.
Fast-forward six months and it is the former of those qualities that once again bailed the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team out at the World Cup. Mirroring the scenes from a year ago when a late Landon Donovan goal gave the men’s team a crucial victory against Algeria, Abby Wambach’s towering header against perennial powerhouse Brazil plunged an entire nation into wild scenes of celebration. American heart and hustle had triumphed over the much-lauded Brazilian flair.
In a match that had everything — dodgy refereeing decisions, spectacular goalkeeping, a red card and a penalty or two — the turning point came at the midway point in extra time. Having been down to 10 women after Rachel Buehler’s red card in the 68th minute, plus being a goal down, one would have expected the team that sat on the ground grasping for bottles of water and a rub down would be the Americans. And yet it was the Brazilians rather than their American counterparts who looked worse for wear. It was here that the seeds for a late game revival were sown. Criticized in the past for being workmanlike, the Americans’ superior fitness levels going into the last 15 minutes of the contest gave them a crucial advantage.
Wave after wave of attack was launched by the 10-woman U.S. side until at last in the 122nd minute, Wambach rose highest to power home a Megan Rapinoe cross and send the game the game to penalties. Here, the U.S.’s relentless focus was once again on view as each of its five penalty takers slotted their shots away with consummate ease, leaving Hope Solo the task of saving one penalty from the Brazilians and seal a semifinal match up with the French.
Goals from Wambach — now tied with Michelle Akers with 12 goals in World Cup play, making her the leading scorer in World Cup matches for the U.S. along with Akers — Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan sealed a straightforward 3-1 semifinal win over France. This means that for the first time since the dramatic scenes at the Rose Bowl in 1999, the U.S. will contest for the highest honor in the game — a World Cup Championship — against a resurgent Japanese side July 17 in Germany.
On the home front
In a busy week for soccer, Drexel’s own soccer programs both announced their schedules for the upcoming 2011 season.
The 2011 men’s schedule reads like a statement of intent as it features nine out-of-conference games, with five of those coming against sides who finished in the upper reaches of their respective conferences. Starting away at Fairleigh Dickinson Aug. 21, Doug Hess’ Dragons (7-10-1, 3-8 Colonial Athletic Association in 2010) will be on the road for their first five games of the season before the home opener Sept. 14 as they host Lafayette.
With eight games — two at Vidas and six on the road — between the commencement of the Dragons’ season and the first CAA match against William & Mary Sept. 24, it promises to be a challenging start to the season for Hess’ young charges.
The key game for Drexel will come Sep. 4 against Elmar Bolowich’s Blue Jays. The Dragons face a Creighton side that was ranked as high as 14th in the nation by an NSCAA poll and have returned eight starters from the 2010 team that lost out to Southern Methodist University on penalties in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This game should serve as a good indicator for the preseason form of the young Dragons.
Across the small hallway in the Daskalakis Athletic Center, Drexel women’s soccer head coach Ray Goon and his assistant Don Overmier enter the 2011 season with a squad that boasts nine returners from last season — the Dragons finished last year with a record of 3-7-1 in the conference and 7-11-2 overall.
The experience on the Dragons’ side is reflected in a schedule that starts off with a tough road trip to 2010 Big East tournament finalists Rutgers (10-9-1, 5-5-1 Big East) Aug. 21. This game is followed by another road trip to play La Salle Aug. 26 before the Dragons return to the Vidas complex for their home opener against Delaware State Aug. 28.
Goon’s Dragons then face a run of five non-conference games on the road before returning to Vidas on the Sept. 23 for their first CAA game against Georgia State. The Dragons will also face UNC-Wilmington Sept. 25 at the Vidas complex.
The key to the women making their first CAA tournament appearance would appear to be the run of three conference road games at the end of the season. If the Dragons can still be in contention come that run of games, it will be interesting to see how far they can get this season.