WPS is back in full swing, but there is one game this weekend that will dwarf anything WPS will do or has ever done. That of course is the World Cup final pitting two-time champion United States against Japan. And while it may seem like a legitimate world power running into a one-shot Cinderella, Japan should not be underestimated in this match. They were outplayed by Germany but prevailed due to their gumption in the box, composure on the ball, and unwavering devotion to game plan. They started slowly against Sweden but eventually worked themselves into being the better side and rightfully prevailed.
The United States will provide an entirely new set of challenges, but so too will Japan provide new challenges for PIa Sundhage and the US. For starters, Japan is the best possession side the U.S. has played yet including Brazil, who underperformed in the tournament. Homare Sawa’s best in this World Cup has been better than what any United States midfielder has produced.
The U.S. is also accustomed to winning the fitness battle. It was clearly a factor in the second extra time period against Brazil, and while it may not have been blatant against France, the U.S. held up exceptionally well with one less day of rest following a grueling two hours of soccer against Brazil (France had also played the maximum two hours, and won on penalties over England.) The U.S. also boasts Hope Solo, who is the best player in the world if you consider the gap between her and everyone else who keeps goal.
When the dust settles and the trophy is awarded Sunday evening, the result is likely to be based on where the ball spends the most time. If Japan pulls off another monumental upset you can be sure the ball spent most of its time on the ground. Of course the U.S. could still prevail in that case, but the same cannot be said for Japan if the ball is airborne for too long. In the quarterfinals Germany was never able to exploit their aerial advantage. The U.S. has the same advantage and will win the World Cup if they can utilize it.
The buzz on women’ soccer here seems to be at its highest since right after the famous 1999 final against China. Now the newest Asian power stands in the way of the United States’ third World Cup triumph.
Now for a look at the weekend ahead in WPS:
Saturday: Philadelphia Independence (7-2-3, 24 points) at Atlanta Beat (1-9-3, 6 points)
The Beat are essentially reduced to playing spoiler the rest of the way while the Independence will be hoping to avoid a letdown after two wins last week vaulted them into first place. The match will be three months to the day from the Beat’s only victory of the season.
KEYS TO THE MATCH: An in-form, aggressive Independence side should not lose to the Beat. It will take a lucky break and/or some amazing effort for the hosts to take three points here.
Western New York Flash (6-2-2, 20 points) at Sky Blue FC (3-4-4, 13 points)
The Flash list Marta and Maurine as questionable a week after they were shocked by the United States wearing Brazil kits, ending their World Cup. The re-entry cannot possibly be easy, especially for Marta, the face of Brazilian soccer which remains without a major trophy despite arguably the most talented roster over the last five years or so. To make matters worse, a rented big screen will show the World Cup final in the parking lot as a prelude to the match.
KEYS TO THE MATCH: The Marta factor is a big one. She is the best player in the world and has tormented Sky Blue no matter where she has been. If she sits, or is rusty, that is a huge tilt toward Sky Blue. Her running mate, Christine Sinclair, is still on the mend from a broken nose suffered in Germany. If Sky Blue can contain both they can keep their unbeaten home mark alive.
Three points of interest
1) One interesting point about Japan was how little they celebrated after knocking out Germany. They were clearly not satisfied, and that clearly makes them a more dangerous opponent going forward.
2) France is relegated to Saturday’s third place match against Sweden, but they made a tremendous showing over the last few weeks and look poised to become one of Europe’s elite women’s soccer programs.
3) Abby Wambach’s current popularity in the United States is as high as any female soccer player since Mia Hamm.
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