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USWNT overcomes distractions while Colombia struggles

Julie Johnston, left, and Crystal Dunn after the U.S. throttled Colombia again. (photo copyright:  EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

Julie Johnston, left, and Crystal Dunn after the U.S. throttled Colombia again. (photo copyright: EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

The comparisons between the UConn women’s basketball team and the U.S. women’s national soccer team – brought to the fore again this week by the complete dominance of both (although not too long ago, we were told parity was ending both, but I digress) – have some merit.

For me, the most apt resemblance is the way both just destroy, mentally and physically, overmatched opponents with a cold, clinical, heartless professionalism. There had to be some sympathy for Colombia from the U.S., just four days after crushing them 7-0 in Connecticut with Colombia missing many of their stars (more on than in a second) and woefully out of game shape seeing as Wednesday’s game was its first since last July.

[MORE: Johnston braces leads U.S. over Colombia again]

Instead, the U.S. swarmed Colombia from the opening kickoff, using a high press that was conspicuously absent from some of the early games of the Jill Ellis era to make the Colombians miserable at every turn. In the end, it finished 3-0 at a sold out Talen Energy Stadium just outside Philadelphia, but with some better finishing – and without a spectacular goalkeeping performance from Miami’s (and Boca Raton native) Catalina Perez, it could have matched the 7-0 score from earlier in the week.

The UConn/USWNT comparison falls apart a bit, though, when you realize that many of the other 350 Division I teams chasing UConn have most of the same resources (thanks to Title IX) to do so. While UConn enjoys a few advantages, like previous success and a large fan base, hypothetically all the other major conference teams should be spending almost as much money to try to catch up.

Meanwhile, Colombia played without many of its best players. Without disrespecting FOX, who did a fine job at the World Cup, it seemed that Julie Foudy and Monica Gonzalez had a little more information on Colombia’s plight, including that Lady Andrade (who is in Western New York camp and was reportedly at the game in Hartford Wednesday) and Daniela Montoya were being “punished” for “misbehaving” by coach Felipe Taborda for speaking out about the lack of pay and training Colombia had.

Even with a little wiggle room for translation, those are not words a coach of adults should be using toward his players, and benching people for speaking their mind is not generally going to win over many fans (after they had captured so many at last summer’s World Cup). Adding insult to censorship, Taborda sat Yoreli Rincon Sunday until the 87th minute playing in front of her trainer (and Carli Lloyd’s) James Galanis. Taborda denied benching Rincon after the match, but when you get comments like this from others, it makes you wonder:

Foudy and Gonzalez also reported one of the main reasons that Colombia played zero games in nine months was because Taborda is also the coach of the U-17 and U-20 squads and they (both pretty successful, all things considered) had important matches. Taborda couldn’t be in two places at once. Paying another coach would cost money after all.

So while it is nice to see the U.S. back to its dominant ways (playing much more attractive soccer in the process) and they certainly deserve much more compensation from its federation, it would be nice for other countries to at least give their women a chance to reach their full potential.

Someday, I guess. But not soon enough.

What else did we learn from Sunday’s game?:

1) Not as complete a performance from U.S.

Granted, if Christen Press and Lloyd finish chances in the first 10 minutes, it might have been a bit different and Colombia threatened so little that Alyssa Naeher touched the ball exactly twice in the first half, but there were some flaws evident. Press’ goal came off a Colombian mess in the back and the other two U.S. goals were on set pieces, so they weren’t exactly clinical.

Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh, both outstanding Wednesday, were not as crisp in the second game of the week, with Pugh being put on the left and showing she does not as of yet have a strong left foot (she was much more dangerous when put at attacking mid for the final 20 minutes, for what it’s worth). Press did score, but also failed to capitalize on a couple of other chances and even Lloyd failed to tally (gasp).

There obviously should be little reason to panic in a game that means next to nothing going forward, but there are few chances left to fight for starting positions (or spots on the squad), so while Lloyd can be Sharpied into every Ellis lineup card, Press, Horan, and Pugh would have liked to be a little better in this one.

Sam Mewis had a chance to impress at the holding mid role with Morgan Brian still out, and Mewis actually looked natural in that spot, which is a change for the USWNT. I think that gives her an advantage over Allie Long for one of the final Olympic spots, but it probably could go either way.

2) Tobin Heath the right back

It was a worthy experiment from Ellis, who reportedly (ESPN) said she wanted to start the game like the U.S. was down 1-0. Heath obviously spent most of her time in the offensive end, which was fine against Colombia and allowed Press to play more central, but I’m not sure it is the right way to go against Germany, France, et al. To be fair, Ellis probably doesn’t, either.

Mewis was outstanding breaking up Colombia’s attempts to clear and keeping the ball in the final third for seemingly minutes on end, but again, it’s hard to project what that means against better competition.

3) Julie Johnston and set pieces

I pointed out at the World Cup that it seems like literally every U.S. set piece is aimed at Julie Johnston and almost all of them involve her going toward the front post. Yet it worked twice more again on Sunday (although the second one was pretty offside, but hey), and she was able to do it in front of her fiance (Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz). It should not go unnoticed that both of the set pieces were taken by Heath, which is another good reason for her to be on the field.

By the way, how dominant was the U.S. in this match? Johnston’s center back partner, Becky Sauerbrunn, was actually called offside early in the second half in the run of play.

Bonus) Olympic boycott?

While Lloyd took her case for fair compensation to the New York Times Sunday, Sauerbrunn made perhaps the most newsworthy statement of the weekend, telling ESPN that a full boycott of the Olympics would not be off the table if negotiations between it and the USSF dragged on through the summer.

Still there are myriad reasons that seems unlikely. It would not sit well with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and it would be a risky PR ploy that could backfire long-term. But thus far, the players have played the PR game extremely well, and having Sauerbrunn utter those words gives them an immediate seriousness.

If it were to happen, the USSF would likely attempt to field a team of “scab” players, and neither of us wants to imagine that scenario, so let’s just walk away for the time being and hope the USSF puts a fair deal forward soon, shall we?


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