Was Jill Ellis Playing Possum?
Was Jill Ellis Playing Possum? avatar

Were Jill Ellis and the U.S. WNT playing possum? The question came to mind as the U.S. outplayed the world’s number one ranked team, Germany, Tuesday night on the way to a 2-0 victory and a World Cup Finals rematch against Japan this Sunday.

It seems far fetched, but then how likely was it that Ellis, who had coached cautiously to that point, would change formations with berth in the World Cup Finals at stake.

 (Getty Images)

Ellis is one of the few coaches that still puts faith in the 4-4-2 (Getty Images)

Ellis had previously kept faith with the good ol’ 4-4-2, the formation that U.S. has long been identified with, even as Germany and its 4-2-3-1 had become the standard in the women’s game.

Years earlier Jose Mourinho had put it rather simply saying that his three central midfielders would beat your two every time. Eventually even Alex Ferguson would concede and the 4-4-2 was reduced to a fringe formation.

The formation hasn’t fallen from favor as dramatically in the women’s game, in part because of the highly rated Americans stubborn adherence to the set up.

As Canada 2015 unfolded, the United States won games and racked up negative reviews in equal measure, but the 4-4-2 remained. Television commentator and former U.S. WNT coach Tony DiCicco led the chorus of pundits calling for a switch to a 4-3-3, but Ellis held firm.

It wasn’t that Ellis was afraid of change, the coach had shuffled the deck throughout the World Cup as she searched for the right combination to unleash the stagnant U.S. attack.

The U.S. have not looked very convincing thus far. (Getty Images)

Ellis has stuck with 2 up top.  (Getty Images)

Abby Wambach started, Wambach sat. Christen Press was played as a wide midfielder, then as a forward. Sydney Leroux got a start up top with Press against Sweden, when the duo failed to click it was back to the bench for Leroux.

Players came, players went, the 4-4-2 remained. The crux of the problem was the center midfield position. Namely the lack of a defensive midfielder to absorb pressure, make the simple pass and allow Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd the freedom to push forward, the freedom to attack.

Yellow card problems benched Holiday and offensive talisman Megan Rapinoe for the Round of 16 match against China, forcing Ellis’ hand.

The only player on the U.S. World Cup roster with the job title defensive midfielder embossed on her business card is 38-year old Shannon Boxx, whom Ellis has entrusted with just 16 minutes against Nigeria in this tournament.

Instead the coach turned to Morgan Brian against China, sending the team’s youngest player out with explicit instructions, defend and defer to the veteran Lloyd.

An attacking midfielder herself, the youngster filled her role as asked and Lloyd at last began to resemble the force that has terrorized opposing defenses for so long.

Against China the U.S. also broke out a few wrinkles in its set piece game, but then coaches have been to known to keep at trick or two up their sleeve for the latter stages of tournament play.

Those minor set piece adjustments hardly foretold the bold gamble Ellis had saved up for the Germans, but when the U.S. lineup was released twitter lit up like a slot machine that had hit jackpot.

Lloyd has led her team to the Finals. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan and Lloyd celebrate the winning goal against China. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis’ lineup elicited so much clamor because she had included the veterans Holiday and Lloyd while still finding a place for the youngster Brian. With Rapinoe and Tobin Heath also in the lineup and just Alex Morgan from the team’s stable of forwards in the starting 11 it was clear that Ellis had rolled the dice.

Those dice came up with a 4-3-3, though others labeled the formation a 4-2-3-1. Whatever it was, it was clear what it was not. It was not a 4-4-2.

In practice Lloyd joined Morgan in the attack at times and at others roamed slightly behind the speedy striker. Holiday and Brian shared the defensive midfield duties better than Holiday and Lloyd had, and in fact better than they themselves had in several pre-World Cup tuneups.

That the U.S. got more than a little help from the officials against Germany is not in doubt, but it is just as certain that the U.S. were the better team on the night.

Also true was that the Americans played by far their best game of the World Cup, against by far their toughest opponent. The U.S. had improved as they got deeper into the tournament, but this was a performance that few had predicted.

Then Ellis showed her hand and her team backed her bold play. Like a riverboat gambler, Ellis pushed all of her chips to the center of the table and came up trumps.

Ellis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis’ tactics have led her team to Sunday’s World Cup Final.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Had Ellis been playing possum all along or had the coach simply adjusted her tactics to the opposition. Either way Ellis has led her team to Sunday’s World Cup Final against Japan, a final the U.S. must now be favored to win.

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Heartbreak as England Bow out to Japan
Heartbreak as England Bow out to Japan avatar

Whatever team you root for, tonight your heart must go out to England defender Laura Bassett whose lunging touch in added time ended up in her own goal, sending England home and Japan on to the World Cup Final Sunday against the U.S.A. with a 2-1 win.

Bassett was inconsolable after the heartbreaking exit. (Getty Images)

Bassett was inconsolable after the heartbreaking exit. (Getty Images)

Bassett’s own goal hushed the crowd, putting something of a damper on the win by the defending champions, who were outplayed by England for vast stretches of tonight’s semifinal match.

England showed no fear against the defending champs, coming out aggressively creating a chance in the first minute when Jodie Taylor came close.

Until that shocking ending two referee decisions looked set to be the talking points as the game seemed headed inevitably toward extra time.

Once again another poor call by the referee. (Getty Images)

Once again another poor call by the referee. (Getty Images)

Japan were the beneficiaries of the first call, a 31st minute foul committed by Claire Rafferty on Saori Ariyoshi. Rafferty clearly pushed Ariyoshi in the back, but just as clearly that push was initiated outside the 18 yard box.

But like Carli Lloyd last night, Japan’s Aya Miyama was rightly unconcerned about the justice of the call and banged her penalty kick home accordingly.

Japan might have been expected to take over at that point, but England weren’t ready to concede. Fara Williams and Toni Duggan were pushing forward as England fought for an equalizer.

Farah Williams scored made no mistake with her spot kick. (Getty Images)

Farah Williams scored made no mistake with her spot kick. (Getty Images)

With England swarming the second pk of the match was awarded when the Three Lionesses’ captain Steph Houghton went to ground under slight contact on a call that could have gone either way.

Like Miyama, Fara Williams made no mistake with her effort and the game was level after 40 minutes. That would be the halftime score after what had been a somewhat sluggish opening 45 minutes.

That sluggishness might have been explained when FoxSports reported that the temperature on the field was 120 degrees. This despite a temperature in the 70’s at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

England proved that they deserved their semi spot and caused Japan a lot of trouble. (Getty Images)

England proved that they deserved their semi spot and caused Japan a lot of trouble. (Getty Images)

England subbed in Ellen White for Jodie Taylor at the hour mark and almost had a breakthrough in the 62nd minute when Duggan rattled the crossbar. White came close with a powerful shot two minutes later, but the draw held.

The action was almost all going England’s way before Japan introduced Mana Iwabuchi in the 70th minute. Iwabuchi immediately provided Japan with a threat on the left wing, waking up Japan’s attack in the process.

But Japan’s star player Miyama had spent too much of the match isolated on the right wing, making for a quiet night for England keeper Karen Bardsley.

England turned to Karen Carney in the 85th minute, a move by coach Mark Sampson that looked like one for extra time.

Japan move forward to the Finals. (Getty Images)

Japan move forward to the Finals. (Getty Images)

But then fate, and Laura Bassett’s misplaced foot intervened and extra time never came. England were cruelly eliminated, and Japan’s defense of its World Cup title was still alive.

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

Last week was a big one in MLS as the league set near neighbors against each other and then sat back to watch the revenue from big crowds roll in.

Just about all of the Rivals came through.

• The Grandaddy of Them All

When it comes to MLS rivalries none can match the history of Cascadia Cup battlers Seattle and Portland. The Pacific Northwest habitues have been cultivated a deep enmity for one another, in a soccer sense, going all the way back to the 1970’s – decades before Major League Soccer came to be.

Started in the NASL glory days, continuing through the the relative anonymity of the USL and finally on to MLS, this is the one that all MLS rivals seek to emulate.

This year’s model had the added benefit of coming just a couple of weeks after the U.S. Open Cup debacle that saw Seattle finish a 3-1 loss with just seven players on the pitch.

Clint Dempsey has been in the headlines.(ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

Clint Dempsey has been making the headlines for the wrong reasons.(ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

Clint Dempsey’s antics and subsequent suspension got most of the attention then, with some feeling that the U.S. international had gotten off lightly.

The Sounders wouldn’t agree. MLS sat Dempsey down for the three league games and on Sunday, Seattle lost the third of those matches.

Seattle was also without Obafemi Martins and Ozzie Alonso and without that trio Portland ran away with the match. Fanedo Adi was the hero, scoring twice in front of Portland’s usual enthusiastic crowd, although the attendance of 21,144 was not quite a sellout.

2) Sounds So Nice I’ve Got to Say It Twice- New York, New York

NYCFC vs. NYRB. This one was a sellout. 48,047came out to Yankee Stadium providing an atmosphere worthy of two teams with a much longer history of bad blood.

Red Bulls, the original New York MLS club, shook off an early NYC goal from Tommy McNamara to run out decisive winners 3-1.

The Red Bulls were just too strong for NYC. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

The Red Bulls were just too strong for NYC. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Red Bulls got goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Duval and Matt Miazga, and a great performance from two assist man Sacha Kljestan.

Coming NYCFC DP’s Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, were seen enjoying the game and were warmly greeted by the crowd. And the new team’s supporters groups did their part in the tifo war, unfurling a pair of banners that depicted a mockup of a Broadway Playbill greeting the Red Bulls as the “Jersey Boys.”

These are early days yet and NYC still has a tricky stadium situation to sort out, but history or no, this matchup already feels like a rivalry.

3) San Jose Stun L.A. 3-1 at Stanford in Front 50,422

The defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy strutted into this California Clasico with the Earthquakes fresh off of a 5-0 win over Portland and a 5-1 shellacking of Philadelphia.

L.A. struggled against San Jose. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

L.A. struggled against San Jose. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Oddly though, L.A. haven’t won on the road in 16 MLS games, dating back to the 2014 playoffs. Meanwhile it turns out that San Jose are pretty good at home, wherever that home may be. In fact, if the Quakes are in the market for a theme song they should consider the old Marvin Gaye/Paul Young song, “Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s My Home.”

Saturday’s Clasico win over the Galaxy is the fifth home win on the trot for San Jose, those home games having been played at Stanford, Avaya Stadium and Levi’s Stadium.

4) Texas Derby to Dallas

Fabian Castillo (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

Fabian Castillo (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

This one didn’t quite live up to the hype drawing, just 15,037 to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas well below the stadium’s 21,193 capacity.

The home fans were treated to the Fabian Castillo Show, a production Houston will be unlikely to re-watch on DVR. The speedy and elusive winger caused Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor’s own goal when he bamboozled his defender before his cross caromed in off of the hapless Taylor.

Castillo received full credit for Dallas’ second goal when he raced through the heart of the Houston defense before neatly slotting home from Mauro Diaz.

Dallas is near the bottom of MLS in attendance and it’s a shame because in Castillo and Mauro Diaz FCD have at least two players well worth watching.

5) New Rules, Gio, and Cup Play

Soccer, soccer, soccer. There is so much of the beautiful game being played around the world and here at home that it can be hard to keep up.

Domestically, most eyes are trained on the Women’s World Cup, but we also have MLS league games, the U.S. Open Cup and Coming Soon – The Gold Cup.

Three U.S. Open Cup games took place last night (Tuesday), with three more on tap for tonight. On Tuesday night Orlando beat Columbus 2-0, Houston topped Colorado 1-0 and Chicago eliminated USL club Charlotte Independence 3-1.

Lloyd has led her team to the Finals. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd has led her team to the Finals. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. National Women’s National Team contest the World Cup Final on July 5, then the focus turns to the men’s game as Gold Cup gets going two days later.

And what about the rules and Gio? Here it is, the Galaxy are said to be close to bringing Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos to Los Angeles under a soon to be unveiled signing mechanism to be known as a Core Player Rule.

The Core Player should be made official by MLS owners by August and would appear to be a fourth Designated Player under a different name.

With recent Galaxy signing Sebastian Lletget, signed as a Homegrown Player, looking like a winner the Galaxy attack should be formidable.

Bruce Arena can already call on Robbie Keane, Gyasi Zardes, soon to arrive Steven Gerrard, and Alan Gordon. It would be a shame to see young American attackers Jose Villarreal, 21 and Bradford Jamieson IV, 18 fall down the pecking order with the new arrivals, but they are professional and however young, they will have to fight for every minute of playing time.

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Lloyd Leads U.S. to Final
Lloyd Leads U.S. to Final avatar

The U.S.A. is going back to the World Cup Finals after beating Germany 2-0 tonight at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis boldly switched up her team’s formation and was rewarded with what was by far the best performance by the U.S in the 2015 World Cup to date.

(Getty Images)

Ellis chose to bring back Holiday and Rapinoe into the starting line-up.(Getty Images)

Ellis veered from the team’s usual 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 or maybe a 4-2-3-1, depending on who you ask. As the coach herself said afterwards, it’s not the formation, it’s the players.

Morgan Brian got a second straight start with Lauren Holiday coming back after sitting with a yellow card suspension against China. Megan Rapinoe slotted back in too, with Alex Morgan as a lone striker.

Germany troubled the U.S. in the early going with its high press, but the Americans settled quickly giving the German’s some of its own medicine with its own aggressive pressure.

A packed Olympic Stadium was being treated to women’s soccer at its highest level with the world’s number one and number two national teams putting on a show.

The Americans had golden scoring chances early only to be foiled by German keeper Nadine Angerer. Angerer made a huge save just seven minutes in when Julie Johnston got on the end of a Rapinoe corner kick, throwing her leg out to somehow keep the U.S. off of the board.

Rapinoe was once again a threat for the U.S. (Getty Images)

Rapinoe was once again a threat for the U.S. (Getty Images)

The Americans were asserting control of the match, although Rapinoe couldn’t get any power behind her seventh minute shot.

The Americans missed another huge opportunity in the 15th minute when Tobin Heath sent Alex Morgan through with a perfect pass. Facing Angerer one on one Morgan was denied by the keeper, although the American didn’t get much on her shot.

With the U.S in control Germany earned a free kick that nearly had dire consequences for both teams when Brian and Alexandra Popp clashed heads in a scary incident.

The two stayed on the ground receiving treatment for several minutes with Popp bleeding heavily from a nasty cut to her head. Brian looked unsteady as she walked off the field, but both players quickly returned to the field after presumably being medically cleared.

When the halftime whistle blew the Americans had to be disappointed with the 0-0 scoreline. Inevitable comparisons to Germany’s quarterfinal win over France were made and one had to wonder if the U.S., like France, would regret its failure to convert first half dominance into something more tangible, like a goal or two.

That thought was on everyone’s mind when Julie Johnston made her first mistake of the World Cup, misjudging a bouncing ball and pulling Popp to the ground for a penalty.

Celia Sasic was too busy high-fiving her team rather than focusing on her pk. (Getty Images)

Celia Sasic was too busy high-fiving her team rather than focusing on her pk. (Getty Images)

Germany, who had never missed a penalty in the Women’s World Cup, sent Celia Sasic to the spot. Hope Solo tried to get into her opponents head, going on a bit of a walkabout, but Sasic simply sneered.

Then, with Solo diving the wrong way, Sasic blasted her shot wide of the net and the U.S. were off the hook.

The U.S were off the hook as well when the referee handed Johnston a yellow card and not the red she could well have presented the center back with for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Solo could have been yellow carded for time wasting, but no discipline was forthcoming.

Germany had come out well on the restart and despite Sasic’s miss the Americans were chasing the game. Then the Americans got another break, maybe.

Alex Morgan raced at German center back Annike Krahn and was taken down at the edge of the 18 yard box. The referee pointed to the spot, but replays showed that the initial contact had been outside the box.

Lloyd made no error placing the ball perfectly into the net. (Getty Images)

Lloyd made no error placing the ball perfectly into the net. (Getty Images)

After the game some experts said penalty, some said no. In any event Carli Lloyd did what Sasic could not and buried her chance.

The Americans were in control now and seemed disinclined to surrender that control. Ellis, who had herself a pretty great night, went to the bench in the 75th minute for Kelley O’Hara to take over for Heath.

O’Hara had been excellent against China before going off with a bloody nose and she made her coach look like a genius nine minutes after checking in when she scored her career first U.S. goal, effectively sending the Americans to the World Cup Final.

The clinching goal came from a bit of brilliance from Player of the Game Carli Lloyd, who has turned this teams fortunes around since being set loose by Ellis for the China match.

O'Hara poke the ball in the net from Lloyd's cross. (Getty Images)

O’Hara poke the ball in the net from Lloyd’s cross. (Getty Images)

With Lloyd in possession in the box, she cooly resisted the urge to shoot and twisted her marker into the ground before crossing. O’Hara got on the end of Lloyd’s cross leaving Angerer no chance.

The U.S. comfortably closed out the final six minutes plus booking its place in a second straight World Cup Final. 2011 ended with a heartbreaking penalty kick loss to Japan.

Four years later the pair could meet again. England will have something to say about that when the two meet tomorrow night in Edmonton.

Whichever team wins tomorrow night will more than likely enter the final as the underdog against a U.S. team that has improved almost beyond recognition as this World Cup as progressed.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 2 2
GER 0 0 0

USA – Carli Lloyd (penalty kick) 69th minute
USA – Kelley O’Hara (Carli Lloyd) 84

USA: 1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 19-Julie Johnston, 22-Meghan Klingenberg; 12-Lauren Holiday, 14-Morgan Brian, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 15-Megan Rapinoe (20-Abby Wambach,80), 13-Alex Morgan (2-Sydney Leroux, 90+3), 17-Tobin Heath (5-Kelley O’Hara, 75)
Subs Not Used: 3-Christie Rampone, 6-Whitney Engen, 7-Shannon Boxx, 8-Amy Rodriguez, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 16-Lori Chalupny,18-Ashlyn Harris, 21-Alyssa Naeher, 23-Christen Press
Head coach: Jill Ellis

GER : 1-Nadine Angerer (capt.); 4-Leonie Maier, 5-Annike Krahn, 3-Saskia Bartusiak, 22-Tabea Kemme; 6-Simone Laudehr, 20-Lena Goessling, 11-Anja Mittag (10-Dzsenifer Marozsan, 78), 16-Melanie Leupolz, 18-Alexandra Popp; 13-Celia Sasic
Subs not used: 2-Bianca Schmidt, 7-Melanie Behringer, 8-Pauline Bremer, 9-Lena Lotzen, 12-Almuth Schult, 14-Babett Peter, 15-Jennifer Cramer, 17-Josephine Henning, 19-Lena Petermann, 21-Laura Benkarth, 23-Sara Daebritz
Head coach: Silvia Neid

Stats Summary: USA / GER
Shots: 12 / 15
Shots on Goal: 5 / 1
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 8 / 4
Fouls: 10 / 11
Offside: 1 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
GER – Leonie Maier (caution) 34th minute
USA – Becky Sauerbrunn (caution) 38
USA – Julie Johnston (caution) 59
GER – Annike Krahn (caution) 69

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Decision Time for Jill Ellis
Decision Time for Jill Ellis avatar

Decisions, decisions. United States Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis has some big ones to make ahead tonight’s World Cup semifinal showdown with top ranked Germany, so let’s take a quick look at Ellis choices.

Rapinoe has been the most creative player for the U.S.. ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Rapinoe has been the most creative player for the U.S.. ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Against China Ellis was forced to do without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday and she chose to replace Abby Wambach with Amy Rodriquez in a tactical move.

Although they only beat China 1-0 the Americans played far and away their best match of the tournament leaving Ellis with a bit of a conundrum. Does she stay with the lineup that impressed against China or does she go with her regulars?

Let’s break it down. First off Rapinoe is a lock to return to her left midfield position. The peroxide playmaker has been outstanding in this World Cup and has made herself an automatic.

Holiday would normally fall into that same category, but she and Carli Lloyd have not been a comfortable fit in the center of the American midfield as the two gifted attacking players have struggled to define their roles.

Morgan Brian, herself an offensive midfielder by trade, filled the d-mid role to perfection against China, while Lloyd reveled in her new found freedom.

Morgan brings pace to the frontline and proved a handful for Columbia and China.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan brings pace to the frontline and proved a handful for Columbia and China.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis’ third big decision for tonight’s game is whether to continue with the active, if misfiring Rodriguez alongside the improving Alex Morgan, or to install Wambach or one of her other strikers to the lineup.

Assuming Rapinoe’s reinstatement, let’s look at the central midfield. Ellis was an assistant coach on this team for years before moving into the big job and has generally been loyal to her veterans.

For that reason it seems unlikely that Holiday will be jettisoned for Brian, the team’s youngest player. One possible wrinkle Ellis could employ would be to play both. Ellis could play the two side by side in a 4-2-3-1, but I don’t see Ellis abandoning the tried and true 4-4-2 at this point.

Lauren Holiday is a favorite of Ellis and should see her back in the starting line-up. (Getty Images)

Lauren Holiday is a favorite of Ellis and should see her back in the starting line-up. (Getty Images)

Ellis could elect to play Holliday as a wide midfielder, leaving Brian to reprise her d-mid role. The versatile Holiday could contribute offensively while helping to curb the dangerous German attack, and Lloyd flopped in the wide role in the World Cup build up.

Ellis surprised most observers when she played Kelley O’Hara in that wide position versus China with Tobin Heath moving to the left side after manning the right flank earlier in the Cup. O’Hara was outstanding before a collision left her with a bloody nose and ended her day.

Against China O’Hara brought to mind DeAndre Yedlin with her searing runs, quality crosses and capable defensive backtracking. And like Yedlin with U.S. MNT, O’Hara might find herself tasked with providing energy off of the bench tonight.

Tobin Heath could simply switch wings again. Heath has been steady since being installed in the starting lineup against Nigeria three games ago. Heath has also provided some moments of quality and some telling passes, especially against China when she, like most of her teammates, gave her best performance.

Ellis could also go with Christen Press as her right midfielder, the coach did turn to the natural striker when O’Hara was bloodied against China.

And finally, Heather O’Reilly is perhaps the lone “pure” winger on the U.S. roster, but when Ellis went with O’Hara versus China the veterans bench role was all but confirmed.

Up top Wambach has looked slow in her appearances, Leroux and Press failed to spark as a duo against Sweden, while Rodriguez’ hard work contrasted with her poor finishing against China.

Rodriguez earned her first start in this tournament for the U.S. against China. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Rodriguez earned her first start in this tournament for the U.S. against China. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

If Ellis elects to press the German defense, and I think she should, Rodriguez may be her best option. Press and Leroux have the speed to play a similar part and both are better goal scores than ARod, so Ellis could turn to either alongside Morgan.

Then there is Abby Wambach, soccer’s all time leading international goal scoring, man or woman. Given her uneven play in Canada it is hard to see Ellis going with Wambach from the start against Germany. If she does those Wambach is the real coach rumors might break the internet.

So who will Ellis decide on? Here is my best guess at the U.S. WNT starting 11 for tonight’s semifinal showdown with Germany.

Hope Solo

Ali Krieder
Julie Johnston
Becky Sauerbrunn
Meghan Klingenberg

Lauren Holiday
Morgan Brian
Carli Lloyd
Megan Rapinoe

Alex Morgan
Amy Rodriguez

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England take on Current Holders in Wednesday’s Semi
England take on Current Holders in Wednesday’s Semi avatar

Defending World Cup Champions Japan have been flying just below the radar for most of this tournament, even while reaching the semifinals as the only team to have won all of its games.

Japan have definitely played the prettiest soccer but have not looked the most dangerous. (Getty Images)

Japan have definitely played the prettiest soccer but have not looked the most dangerous. (Getty Images)

How can that be? Well following that 2011 World Cup win and a silver medal one year later at the London Olympics, Japan had slipped down the FIFA Rankings, unreliable as they may be, in the last few years arriving in Canada as the world’s number four rated team.

Most of the pre-Cup buzz went to the top three teams, Germany, the U.S. and France, with home nation Canada also earning plenty of ink, virtual and otherwise.

Even as Japan went on to win all five of its matches, the defenders haven’t necessarily excited. Three 1-0 wins and two victories by a 2-1 margin are hardly intimidating and for that reason England are in with a chance.

But there is virtue too in Japan’s low key approach. The ultimate team ,Japan has scored seven goals while conceding only two. No Japanese player has scored more than once, not even midfielder and captain Aya Miyama. Miyama converted the game winning pk in Japan’s 1-0 opening win over Switzerland, and has seamlessly accepted the mantle of team star from 36 year old legend Homare Sawa, who has accepted a bit part with class.

England have proven to be the team with the most strength and depth as they have now fielded 22 of their 23 squad. (Getty Images)

England were the last team to beat Japan at a World Cup when they walked away 2-0 winners in Germany 2011. (Getty Images)

For England this trip to the semifinals is a step into unchartered territory. In each of its three previous World Cup appearances the Three Lionesses have fallen in the quarterfinal round.

England opened its World Cup with a 1-0 loss to a very good France team and have won every game since, oddly enough by the same 2-1 score. England beat quality sides in Norway and Canada, but Japan is a step up in class.

The question for Mark Sampson and his team is, can England handle that step at this World Cup? Sampson has a deep and talented squad, one that has shown character in coming back to defeat Norway, while also eliminating Canada in front huge home crowd.

Karen Carney and Jodie Taylor look to be in good form up top for England, Fara Williams leads a talented midfield and the defense is solid and may have a rising star in fullback Lucy Bronze, who has scored in consecutive matches.

Goalkeeper Karen Bardsley coughed up the rebound that led to Christine Sinclair’s goal for Canada, she can’t afford a similar lapse against Japan in what figures to be a tight match.

Jodie Taylor could spoil Japan's party. (Getty Images)

Jodie Taylor could spoil Japan’s party. (Getty Images)

Neither of these teams have won a game by more than one goal so far in this World Cup, so extra time or even penalty kick’s are not out of the question. But the thought here is that someway, somehow Japan will find a way to win and the Nadeshiko will be in Vancouver’s BC Place defending its World Cup title on July 5.

Japan vs. England
Wednesday, July 1 at 7pm ET
Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton

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U.S. Face Old Foes in Tuesday’s Semi
U.S. Face Old Foes in Tuesday’s Semi avatar

This match is a battle royale between the giants of women’s soccer. Germany versus the United States, the only two teams to have won the World Cup twice, the number one and two ranked teams in the world, and hopefully it will be special.

Hopefully, because for all of their accomplishments neither of these world powers come into this semifinal match in entirely convincing form.

Wambach has failed to reach the heights of the previous world cup. (ISI Photos)

Wambach has failed to reach the heights of the previous world cup. (ISI Photos)

This may be a surprise if you have been following the narrative that paints the U.S. as bunch of clueless hoofers hoping to bounce the occasional ball off of Abby Wambach’s head and into the opposition goal.

The second part of this narrative suggests that Germany are an unbeatable force who have scored 20 goals in this tournament while playing the beautiful game at a much higher level than the crude Americans.

And some of that is true, or has been true at times throughout this tournament, a tournament that has now stretched into its fourth week.

Germany’s trajectory was headed straight up from game one, a 10-0 beat down dealt to the unfortunate Ivory Coast. A 1-1 tie with Norway let some air out of the German Zeppelin, but after a 4-0 pasting of Thailand the Germans were risers once more.

Hope Solo made 2 world class saves that helped change the course of the match. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Hope Solo made 2 world class saves that helped change the course of the match. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Meanwhile the U.S. struggled to a 3-1 win against Australia, yes 3-1 was a struggle. Hope Solo kept the U.S. in the game long enough for Megan Rapinoe to conjure up a bit of magic, allowing the Americans to secure the three points.

0-0 to Sweden was no ones idea of impressive and even as the U.S. won its next two games against Nigeria and Colombia, onlookers were growing frustrated with coach Jill Ellis’ conservative approach and the teams continued reliance on the long ball.

Germany were in the ascendance again with a 4-1 Round of 16 thrashing of Sweden, against whom the U.S. had managed just that goalless draw. But Germany were outplayed by France in the quarterfinal, and only poor finishing by the French allowed Germany to make it to penalty kicks and on to this semifinal showdown.

Meanwhile the trajectory for the U.S. has been that of a slow riser. After emerging from a difficult group the Yanks handled cocky, young Colombia by a 2-0 score as signs of better, more thoughtful play became visible if you looked close enough.

Then China. With two top performers sidelined for picking up two yellow cards over a four game span, yes I find this a ludicrous rule, Ellis had to shuffle the deck.

Morgan Brian was very disciplined in her role. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Morgan Brian was very disciplined in her role. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Unable to rely on Rapinoe to make something out of the nothing that had too often passed for the U.S. offense of late, Ellis unshackled Carli Lloyd. With Lauren Holiday sitting alongside Rapinoe in the sin bin, Morgan Brian was stationed in front of the back four and Lloyd was given license to roam.

She didn’t have to be told twice. Lloyd attacked, Brian was solid and surprise starter Kelley O’Hara provided a direct approach that relied more on taking on attackers than floating balls into the box.

Ellis also turned to Amy Rodriguez in place of Wambach, looking for more speed up front. And although Rodriguez misplaced her shooting boots, with Alex Morgan ARod allowed the U.S. to play a pressing style that kept China on its heels for most of the match.

Against China the Americans looked like a team that could challenge for this World Cup for the first time since landing in Canada.

Except for one thing, goals. The U.S. dominated a young China side without a single player with even one minute of World Cup experience, and yet the U.S. only won the game 1-0.

Germany are the team that looks the most dangerous in this tournament.(Getty Images)

Germany are the team that looks the most dangerous in this tournament.(Getty Images)

Germany will be the favorite in Montreal, they have earned that. But they are not unbeatable. Germany have gifted attackers in Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic, just two of a group of dangerous attackers.

Where Germany might be vulnerable is in defense. France opened the German defense up, especially when flyer Elodie Thomis ran at the German fullbacks.

The U.S. doesn’t have a winger quite as fast as Thomis, but Ellis can choose among several wide options with speed. Players like O’Hara, Heather O’Reilly and Christen Press have the pace to trouble Leonie Maier and Tabea Kemme, who it must be said are very good players.

Defensively the U.S. back four has been virtually impenetrable, surrendering just one goal in the tournament, none over the last 423 minutes.

Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston are the rock solid core of the defense. Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg the versatile fullbacks who get up and down the flanks while never forgetting that it is defense first.

Mittag has looked dangerous and has scored 5 goals thus far. (Getty Images)

Mittag has looked dangerous and has scored 5 goals thus far. (Getty Images)

Can they hold off Mittag and Sasic? What about creative supersub Dzsenifer Marozsan, powerful Alexandra Popp and the rest?

Both teams are more effective when they press. Sauerbrunn and Johnston may be better suited to handle the press than their German counterparts Annike Krahn and Babett Peter, who struggled at times under French pressure.

With so much at stake the two teams may elect to play it safe, but if Ellis and Germany’s Silvia Neid send their teams out with an aggressive plan we could in for a thriller.
We could be in for something special.

U,S.A. vs Germany
Tuesday, June 30 at 7pm ET
Olympic Stadium, Montreal


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AYSA ODP and YOP Tryouts
AYSA ODP and YOP Tryouts avatar

Courtesy of AYSA

Courtesy of AYSA

It’s time for Arizona Youth Soccer ODP and YOP pool tryouts. Check out the details below, and for registration information please visit the AYSA website.

2:00-4:00pm - YOP Boys, 2003 Boys, YOP Girls, 2003 Girls
4:00-6:00pm - 2001 Boys, 2002 Boys, 2001 Girls, 2001 Boys
6:00-8:00pm - 1999 Boys, 2000 Boys, 1999 Girls, 2000 Girls

9:00-11:00am - YOP Boys, 2003 Boys, YOP Girls, 2003 Girls
11:00am-1:00pm - 2001 Boys, 2002 Boys, 2001 Girls, 2002 Girls
1:00-3:00pm - 1999 Boys, 2000 Boys, 1999 Girls, 2000 Girls

YOP – Players born in calendar years 2004 & 2005
Players born following December 31, 2005 are not eligible to participate


Grande Sports World
12684 W. Gila Bend Hwy
Casa Grande, Arizona   85193

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Referees Represent KYSA at National President’s Cup
Referees Represent KYSA at National President’s Cup avatar

Kentucky Soccer Referee Association and Kentucky Youth Soccer are proud to announce that two Kentucky Referees have been chosen to attend the National Presidents Cup event in Overland Park, KS based off of their performance at Region II Presidents Cup.

Kentucky sent six referees to the Region II Presidents Cup in St. Charles, MO.  Of the six that attended, four were chosen to represent Kentucky in the Finals.  Jason Cerra and Parker Lawson were Centers for the U15 Girls Final and the U17 Boys Final respectively.  Cerra and Lawson’s performances at this event earned them spots to attend the National Presidents Cup.  Congratulations to Jason Cerra and Parker Lawson – Good Luck at Nationals!

Original story on Kentucky Youth Soccer Association website.

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NWSL Week 11- Recap and Goals of the Week
NWSL Week 11- Recap and Goals of the Week avatar

A number of world Cup players returned to their teams in time for another exciting round of fixtures in the NWSL.

Whilst the NWSL is going on the U.S. Women are through to the World Cup Semis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Whilst the NWSL is going on the U.S. Women are through to the World Cup Semis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Nine goals were scored across the four games, which included a rematch of last year’s final and a matchup between the first and last placed teams.

The Portland Thorns missed out on the weekend’s action, a week after their goalkeeper scored in stoppage time.

Spirit Earn Narrow Victory Over Dash

Crystal Dunn scored the only goal of the game as the Spirit handed the Dash their first defeat since May 2nd.

Tori Huster had a golden chance to give Washington the lead in the 47th minute but her shot was cleared off the line by a Dash defender.

Minutes after Kealia Ohai had a shot turned around the post by Spirit goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, Dunn’s tenacity and aggressiveness led to the go-ahead goal.

Crystal Dunn has been outstanding for Washington. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Crystal Dunn has been outstanding for Washington. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

A ball was played to Dunn in the corner, who faced immediate pressure from Toni Pressley. After beating her defender, Dunn charged towards goal, cut inside on another challenger and found the back of the net via the crossbar.

Bianca Henninger had no chance to stop Dunn’s shot, which is the forward’s 7th of the season.

The Dash could only muster one more quality chance to level the game, but Wys did well to save Ohai’s shot again after the forward cut in on her right foot and shot towards the far post.

The win leaves Washington in 3rd place on 17 points, while the Dash are a spot lower and have 13 points to their name.

Reign End Slump Versus Kansas City

Seattle beat Kansas City in a rematch of the 2014 NWSL Championship Game to claim a first victory over their rivals in 5 matches.

Even though the first half finished without a goal for either side, there were numerous opportunities for both sides.

Jessica Fishlock had a couple of shots for Seattle, but put both narrowly over the bar, while Kim Little had a great shot that was well saved by Nicole Barnhart.

The last chance of the half fell to Fishlock again, with the midfielder’s long-range shot heading for the top corner before being tipped over the bar by Barnhart.

Beverly Yanez was once again on the scoresheet for Seattle.  (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Beverly Yanez was once again on the scoresheet for Seattle. (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

The Reign took a deserved lead in the 62nd minute when Beverly Yanez shot past Barnhart after a scramble in the box.

Kendall Fletcher played a great ball to the near post to find Yanez. The forward settled the ball while falling to the ground, but got back up quickly to rocket a ball into the back of the net.

Seattle didn’t wait long to add a second goal with Kim Little scoring her second goal in less than a week.

After Yanez intercepted a pass from Kansas City, she put the ball out wide on the right to Danielle Foxhoven, who swerved in a cross to an unmarked Little on the edge of the area. The 2014 MVP settled the ball with her chest and volleyed past Barnhart in goal to extend the Reign’s lead.

Shea Groom cut Seattle’s lead in half thanks to a beautiful finish in stoppage time, but it was too late to lead to a comeback from the defending champs.

Frances Silva played a simple ball to Groom on the edge of the 18. The forward had it all to do from there, cutting inside and lifting the ball over a helpless Haley Kopmeyer in goal.

Seattle continue their rise up the standings with the win, sitting in 2nd place, while the loss leaves Kansas City in 7th place with only 11 points from 10 games.

Boston Lose At Home To The Flash

Boston lost their second home game in a row,, falling to the Western New York Flash 2-0 Sunday afternoon.

It was a fairly even game through 18 minutes, but a blunder from Boston goalkeeper Jamie Kranich gifted the visitors the lead.

Lynn Williams made no mistake in converting her shot. (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsmapes)

Lynn Williams made no mistake in converting her shot. (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsmapes)

Kranich had the easy task of saving Jamia Fields’ shot from an angle, but spilled the shot, allowing Lynn Williams to tap into the empty net.

Elizabeth Eddy double their advantage in the 42nd minute, scoring on a breakaway after being put through on goal by Williams.

Jasmyne Spencer nearly added a third in the 57th minute, but her header from 7 yards went off the post.

The Flash sat back for the final 25 minutes, inviting the Breakers forward to make the game interesting, but they could not find a way past Chantel Jones in goal.

Jones made seven saves on the night, most notably a save from Bia vas e Silva’s free kick in the 86th minute.

The win lifts the Flash over their opponents into 5th place, while Boston fall a spot into 6th.

Chicago Demolish Sky Blue On The Road

The Red Stars continued their great start to the season with a 3-0 win over Sky Blue FC in New Jersey.

Even though the Red Stars have been without 8 key players due to the World Cup, they have remained atop the table for the whole season thus far.

Abby Erceg was one of those players, but she started for Chicago for the first time since New Zealand was eliminated from the World Cup.

Huerta scored a brace for Chicago and earned her team a point. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

Huerta had two assists for Chicago and earned her team all 3 points. (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

Chicago wasted little time going ahead, with Vanessa DiBernardo scoring 6 minutes in after Sofia Huerta dispossessed a defender in the box and squared the ball to DiBernardo. The midfielder had the easy task of side-footing the ball past Brittany Cameron in goal.

Sky Blue had numerous chances to level the scoreline in the following 20 minutes, but every shot was saved by Michele Dalton.

That was until Katy Freels hit a curling shot that was inches away from going in, but went off the crossbar instead.

After Chicago weathered the storm, Huerta tallied another assist, passing to Jen Hoy for her 2nd goal of the season.

Rachel Quon dribbled forward and found Huerta on the edge of the box, but rather than shooting, the former-Mexican international passed to Hoy, who put the ball in the empty net.

Alyssa Mautz put the game beyond doubt in the 62nd minute after good work from Hoy. The forward dribbled towards goal and cut inside. After some hesitation, Hoy passed the ball to Mautz, who took a touch before shooting. The ball deflected off a Sky blue defender, leaving Cameron with no chance.

Nadia Nadim almost scored the goal of the season in stoppage time for Sky Blue FC, but her acrobatic shot went off the crossbar.

The teams remain at opposite ends of the table, Chicago sitting on 18 points, while Sky Blue languish at the bottom of the table with 7.


Games Played


































Western New York














Kansas City














Sky Blue FC








Goals of the Week: Week 11

Every week, GotSoccer will give you the top three goals of the week. We will factor in skill, difficulty, and importance to determine the top three finishes of the week.

#3: Kim Little (Seattle Reign) vs. FC Kansas City 6/27/2015

The forward has started out the 2015 season slow compared to her MVP 2014 season, but she appears in GotSoccer’s NWSL Goals of the Week for the second straight week after a well-executed chest to foot volley for the winning goal versus FC Kansas City.

#2: Shea Groom (FC Kansas City) vs. Seattle Reign 6/27/2015

While the stoppage-time goal didn’t do much to change the result, Groom’s well-hit shot gave the visitors a glimmer of hope of getting a point. The forward made a great run to make room for herself and did extremely well to lift the ball of the goalkeeper to the far post.

#1: Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit) vs. Houston Dash 6/27/2015

Dunn has been on a tear so far this season, netting 7 goals in 10 games for the Spirit. A lot of her goals come down to her being the fastest player on the field, but this goal also involved her physical side. She did very well to muscle Toni Pressley off the ball and ventured towards goal looking for a cross, but instead cut inside and powered a shot off the crossbar and in.

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Hope Solo – The World’s Best?
Hope Solo – The World’s Best? avatar

Hope Solo – The World’s Best?

She may need to be if the U.S. are to beat Germany on Tuesday. Two years ago German keeper Nadine Angerer was awarded the Ballon d’Or, yet Solo is often referred to as the best goalkeeper in the world, particularly in the U.S.

Hope Soloa (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Hope Solo has a solid tournament but will come up against her biggest challenge on Tuesday when the U.S. face Germany.(ISI Photos/David Bernal)

In Tuesday’s semifinal showdown between the top two ranked teams in the world Solo will likely have to outperform her rival at the other end of the Olympic Stadium pitch.

Her recent controversies apparently behind her, Solo and the airtight American defense have racked up four consecutive shutouts. Solo has not been beaten since Australia’s Lisa De Vanna put one behind her in the 27th minute of the first U.S. match.

The long time U.S. number one made two huge saves early in that World Cup opener, saves that allowed her teammates time to play their way into a game that the U.S. would go on to win 3-1. Since those two saves things have been pretty quiet in the U.S.A. goalmouth.

Since that Australia match the U.S. has not conceded a goal in 423 minutes of World Cup play. Impressive. Less impressive? In those four games the stacked American offense has scored just four goals of its own.

China were no real test for the U.S. defense and never ever looked likely to score.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

China were no real test for the U.S. defense and never ever looked likely to score.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. impressed versus China, yet managed just a single goal. Angerer and her defense won’t be easily breached, so the pressure will be Solo and her group to keep that shutout streak going.

Do the Americans need to keep a fifth consecutive clean sheet to make it back to the World Cup final? Not necessarily, but after four fairly uneventful games Solo’s teammates may need their keeper to show that she is in fact the best.

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U.S. Beat China to Advance to the Semi-Finals
U.S. Beat China to Advance to the Semi-Finals avatar

The United States defeated China tonight 1-0 to advance to a dream semifinal matchup with the world’s number one ranked team Germany.

The U.S. came out aggressively tonight at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Stadium pinning this young China side back in its own half for most of the match with its high press.

Rodriguez earned her first start in this tournament for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Rodriguez earned her first start in this tournament for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

The Americans had to make due without two top starters in Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, who were lost to yellow card accumulation. Coach Jill Ellis further shook things up by replacing Abby Wambach with Amy Rodriguez in the starting 11.

As expected Morgan Brian stepped in to the center of the park for Holiday, but Ellis turned a few heads by selecting Kelley O’Hara to deputize for Rapinoe.

The Yanks were on top from the start and Rodriguez should have had the U.S. on the board in the game’s second minute. Carli Lloyd sprung the speedy stand in who found herself in alone on Chineses keeper Weng Fei, but ARod badly scuffed her shot.

Rodriguez bounced back well and with her fellow newcomers played a big part in this impressive performance.

Rodriguez was a mobile partner up top for Alex Morgan and the duo had the China defense on its heels throughout.

Brian put in a decent performance for the U.S. and helped dominate the midfield. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Brian put in a decent performance for the U.S. and helped dominate the midfield. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Brian was a calming influence in a U.S. midfield that resorted to the hopeful long ball far less often than usual, while O’Hara teamed nicely with fullback Ali Krieger to dominate the right side of the field.

The Americans were virtually in complete control throughout the opening half, but as has been the case in this World Cup, the goals wouldn’t come.

After a bleep worthy sideline pep talk from Wambach the U.S. stormed onto the field looking for that elusive first goal.

ARod shot wildly two minutes into the second half before the favorites misfired on a corner kick. A 51st minute foul on the elusive trickster Tobin Heath led to the badly needed breakthrough for the U.S.

Lloyd runs to celebrate her game winning goal. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd runs to celebrate her game winning goal. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Klingenberg’s pass switched the field, finding Julie Johnston on what looked like a planned play. Johnston floated a well placed long ball into the box where Lloyd out leaped the defense to power home a powerful header.

With almost 40 minutes left to play the U.S. looked likely to add to their lead against the youngest team in the tournament.

O’Hara took a bang on the nose, and badly bloodied had to be replaced. Christen Press got the call and was dangerous once she checked in.

At times China left observers wondering if they wanted to win this match, sending very few attackers forward even when a chance seemed to be on.

A second U.S. goal was not on the cards tonight, but the impressive American defense pitched its fourth shutout in a row and have given up just one goal as they head to the semifinals.

German players run to celebrate their penalty shoot out victory. (Getty Images)

German players run to celebrate their penalty shoot out victory. (Getty Images)

Germany will be waiting for the Americans having escaped with a penalty kick victory in the quarterfinals despite being outplayed by misfiring France.

The quarter finals conclude tomorrow with defending World Champions Japan facing upstart Australia, before England challenge the host nation Canada.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
CHN 0 0 0

USA – Carli Lloyd (Julie Johnston) 51st minute

USA: 1-Hope Solo; 11-Ali Krieger, 19-Julie Johnston, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 22-Meghan Klingenberg; 5-Kelley O’Hara (23-Christen Press, 61), 14-Morgan Brian, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 17-Tobin Heath; 8-Amy Rodriguez (20-Abby Wambach, 86), 13-Alex Morgan (9-Heather O’Reilly,81)
Subs Not Used: 2-Sydney Leroux, 3-Christie Rampone, 6-Whitney Engen, 7-Shannon Boxx, 8-Amy Rodriguez, 16-Lori Chalupny, 18-Ashlyn Harris, 21-Alyssa Naeher,
Not Available: 12-Lauren Holiday, 15-Megan Rapinoe
Head coach: Jill Ellis

CHN: 12- Wang Fei; 5- Wu Haiyan (capt.), 14- Zhao Rong, 6- Li Dongna, 2- Liu Shanshan; 21- Wang Lisi, 19-Tan Ruyin (3-Pang Fengyue, 58), 16- Lou Jiahui (11-Wang Shuang, 35), 23- Ren Guixin, 18- Han Peng (13- Tang Jiali, 18); 9- Wang Shanshan
Subs not used: 1- Zhang Yue, 4- Li Jiayue, 7- Xu Yanlu, 8- Ma Jun, 10- Li Ying, 15- Lei Jiahui, 17- Gu Yasha, 20- Zhang Rui, 22- Zhao Lina
Head coach: Hao Wei

Stats Summary: USA / CHN
Shots: 17 / 6
Shots on Goal: 4 / 2
Saves: 2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 4 / 3
Fouls: 11 / 10
Offside: 7 / 2

Misconduct Summary:
CHN – Wu Haiyan (caution) 50th minute

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On to the Quarterfinals as U.S. Face China
On to the Quarterfinals as U.S. Face China avatar

They started with 24 nations, the most to ever contest the Women’s World Cup. Eight of those countries had never competed at the highest level of the women’s game, and at times it showed.

First timers Ivory Coast and Ecuador took some early lumps, but made a marked improvement before heading home after the group stage. World number one Germany humbled the Ivory Coast 10-0, while Ecuador took took it on the chin by scores of 6-0 to fellow debutants Cameroon, and 10-1 to Switzerland in its first two games.

Cote D’Ivoire were better in losing 3-2 to Thailand, another first timer, and then gave well established Norway a contest in losing 3-1. For their part, Ecuador salvaged a bit of its bruised pride by finishing up with 1-0 loss to defending World Champions Japan.

Three of the newcomers, Cameroon, the Netherlands and Switzerland advanced to the round of 16, although none of the three could extend its World Cup dream any further.

The Australians were worthy winners over Brazil. (Getty Images)

The Australians were worthy winners over Brazil. (Getty Images)

Which brings us to the quarterfinals, where only Brazil are missing from the pre-tournament list of likely winners.

Australia surprised Brazil in the round of 16 as time begins to run out on 29 year superstar Marta’s World Cup dream. Australia, China and England stand as the long shots of the group, which includes two time winners Germany and the United States, defending champions Japan, host nation Canada and highly touted France.

Here are the matchups.

Friday, June 26 at 4:00pm, ET
Olympic Stadium- Montreal
Germany vs. France:
This is the big one, the one we’ve all been anticipating since the draw was laid out, and now it is here.

Two teams capable of putting on a show, featuring the top four goal scorers at this World Cup. Germany’s Anja Mittag and Celia Sasic have scored five goals each to share the lead in the Golden Boot race.

France could shock Germany if the players can reciprocate their club form. (Getty Images)

France could shock Germany if the players can reciprocate their club form. (Getty Images)

Eugenie Le Sommer and Marie Laure Delia have scored three apiece for France along with Australia’s Kyah Simon. So there will plenty of firepower on display at the Olympic Stadium this evening.

And there is this. While the U.S. has been labeled as boring for a reliance on the long ball, Germany and France have been embraced by purists as playing “the right way.”

It is all highly subjective, of course but while Jill Ellis has been roundly criticized for the U.S. tendency to grind out results, Germany’s Silvia Neid has been praised for her style and more substantively, her team’s style.

France coach Philippe Bergeroo has kept a lower profile, but his team has earned plaudits for its free flowing play.

For all of its talent France has never won this tournament, has never won an Olympics. For some years Les Bleus has been the team that couldn’t close the deal. Can they beat the mighty Germans today? Yes, but they probably won’t.

Germany are the favorites to win the tournament. (Getty Images)

Germany are the favorites to win the tournament. (Getty Images)

Germany look to be on course to become the first country to win the Women’s World Cup three times. From goalkeeper Nadine Angerer to creative sparks Dzsenifer Marozsan and Renate Laudehr and up to that potent strike force, the Germans have it all covered and should be too much even for this talented French side.

Friday, June 26 at 7:30pm, ET
Lansdowne Stadium, Ottawa
China vs U.S.A.

Seldom are the U.S. WNT considered the supporting act and the placement of this game as tonight’s nightcap indicates that red white and blue, actually the white, black and neon yellow, are still the big television draw.

So let the purists have Germany vs France, the main attraction is still Abby, Alex and company.

The U.S. have not looked very convincing thus far. (Getty Images)

The U.S. have not looked very convincing thus far. (Getty Images)

The question has become though, is this team good enough to carry the weight of those expectations, and the answer to date has not been promising.

The Americans are expected to win, and they are expected to win tonight against China. After failing to qualify for the 2011 World Cup China has been working to get back to top echelon of the women’s game.

China play a good possession based style and have talented players in two goal scorers Wang Shanshan and Lisi Wang, as well as the ever dangerous Peng Han.

The Americans will be without Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, two hugely important players. Rapinoe leads the U.S. with two goals and has been far and away the most creative player on Jill Ellis’ team. Morgan Brian will slot in for Holiday and Ellis can go with Heather O’Reilly or Christen Press in Rapinoe’s wide right spot.

Ellis may have tipped her hand when she used Press, a natural forward, to replace Pinoe for the final 15 minutes against Colombia.

China are a team in transition but (Getty Images)

China are a team in transition and held U.S. to a draw when they last met in November 2014. (Getty Images)

Either way the U.S. still has enough to get past China. If they do Germany or France will be waiting, but let’s not get ahead ourselves just yet.

Saturday, June 27 at 4pm, ET
Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton

Defending champions Japan remain the only perfect team at this World Cup, winning all four of their matches so far. The Nadeshiko has won twice by a 1-0 scoreline, and twice 2-1.

The legendary Honore Sawa is playing on her sixth World Cup, a record she shares with Brazil’s Formiga. Sawa is a complementary player now, the torch has been passed to captain Aya Miyama.

Japan has still been able to play their impressive style of soccer on the turf fields. (Getty Images)

Japan has still been able to play their impressive style of soccer on the turf fields. (Getty Images)

The midfielder exemplifies Japan’s skillful passing, possession game.

Australia survived the group most commonly labeled as Canada 2015’s Group of Death with a 2-0 win over then high flying Nigeria and a 1-1 draw with Sweden earning a trip to the round of 16 where the Matildas shocked Brazil.

Kyah Simon scored the game winner against Brazil but the Aussies had heroes all over the pitch. Lydia Williams earned her shutout and is a quality keeper. Eloise Kellond-Knight won Player of the Game honors for her defensive effort against Matra et al. Caitlin Foord, Steph Cately and Samantha Kerr are just a few of Australia’s quality players, and then there is De Vanna.

Lisa De Vanna scored four goal at the 2011 World Cup in Germany, four more at China 2007 and has two so far in Canada.

Australia (Getty Images)

Australia will be hoping their success can continue. (Getty Images)

This Australian team plays with the gritty style all its countries teams are noted for, allied with no small skill. This game will be close, but I think the defending World Champions will find a way of making it through to the semifinals.

Saturday, June 27 at 7:30pm, ET
BC Place, Vancouver
England vs. Canada

So far this World Cup has not been the hoped for coming out party the Canadian women’s soccer team had hoped for with Christine Sinclair and company having failed to reach the expected standard.

With a nation behind them Canada has gutted out results, advancing from group play with one win and two draws. The home team then got past a pesky Switzerland to set this date with England.

Sinclair has struggled to make an impression at this World Cup. (Getty Image)

Sinclair has struggled to make an impression at this World Cup. (Getty Image)

Canada’s English coach John Herdman likes to tinker and when he finally returned Josee Belanger to forward from fullback, it made the difference. Belanger scored the only goal in the round of 16 game with Switzerland and with Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi forms a potentially dangerous forward line.

England opened its World Cup by playing well in a loss to highly touted France, before moving on with 2-1 wins over Mexico and Colombia.

Like Canada’s Erin McLeod, Karen Bardsley is solid in goal and England has a solid defense led by captain Steph Houghton.

England constant rotation has built up a great team momentum and individual confidence. (Getty Images)

England constant rotation has built up a great team momentum and individual confidence. (Getty Images)

England has players capable of worrying the hosts in Karen Carney, Fran Kirby and Fara Williams and with the pressure firmly Canada, England could spring a surprise.

And that is the call here. The expectations will be too much for the home team and England will squeak out a narrow win over Canada.

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

They call this the silly season in soccer circles, the summer transfer season when tall tales and genuine transfer talk mix freely. In the U.S. maybe we should just call it the busy season.

World Cup action, Women’s and Men’s U20, Gold Cup play and of course MLS.

• Dempsey Gets 3 Games for Ref Rip

I’m not really sure if this item falls into MLS – Big 5 territory, being that Dempsey transgressed in US Open Cup action.

That was the question when Dempsey pulled his he man act, ripping up the referee’s notebook during Seattle’s 3-1 loss to Portland.

(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Dempsey will miss 3 games for Seattle but will still be available for international duty.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

In the end MLS adjudicated, handing Deuce a three game ban, leaving the U.S. MNT captain available for the Gold Cup.

Many felt the ban was not harsh enough citing the league rule which characterized the taking of the officials book as as assault, a charge that comes with a three month ban.

Big 5 is cool with it though. Why? Because Dempsey’s actions were many things, stupid, childish, did I say stupid. One thing Dempsey’s actions were not is assault.

2) Seattle Drop Match to San Jose as West Race Tightens

The results of Dempsey’s suspension were soon felt when Seattle fell 2-0 at home to the Quakes.

 Martins sealed a convincing win for Seattle. (ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

Martins picked up an injury and Dempsey suspension meant Seattle struggled up top.(ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

The Sounders also lost Obafemi Martins to a groin injury during that wild game against Portland, so Sigi Schmid had send out a lineup with Lamar Neagle as the lone striker versus San Jose.

The win is a big one for the Earthquakes who now sit just one point behind FC Dallas and a playoff spot. S.J. are only two back of SKC and three behind L.A. and third place Portland.

Seattle and Vancouver are level on points with 29 at the top of the Western Conference, just seven points clear of seventh place San Jose.

3) Pirlo?

It has been reported as a done deal that the great Italian midfielder was set to sign with New York City FC. No deal is signed yet, but already there are reports that NYC bosses Jason Kreis and Claudio Reyna wanted a younger DP only to be overruled by their Manchester City Football Group superiors.

Pirlo (Getty Images)

Pirlo looks set to join the MLS. (Getty Images)

There is much to consider here. A midfield headed by Pirlo and Frank Lampard does have a lot of age, not a great idea in the rough and tumble MLS. Then again, could NYCFC really turn its nose up at the bearded magician?

Stay tuned.

4) NYCFC and NYRB in Role Reversal

Should Pirlo join NYC he will be joining a team that has improved its circumstances considerably in recent weeks. And while NYC have been moving up the table cross river rival New York Red Bulls have been sliding down the standings.

The Red Bulls have struggled to find their rhythm thus far. (ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

The Red Bulls have struggled to find their rhythm thus far. (ISI Photos/Joshua Weisberg)

The Red Bulls have a home game Wednesday night before a June 28th showdown at Yankee Stadium with their new neighbors. NY 1 has not won since they defeated NYC 2 at Red Bull Arena May 10.

RBNY drew with Dallas on May 15 and have since lost three straight.

Meanwhile the new kids on the block were getting the hang of this MLS thing, winning three on the trot, and playing a nice brand of soccer.

The pair are level on points with 14 and sit 6th and 7th in the East. The Bulls hold the advantage having played two fewer games, but at the moment NYCFC are clearly the team on the rise in this budding rivalry.

5) 12 of the 23 Man U.S. Gold Cup Roster Come From MLS

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/2007), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake/2011, 2013), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)

DEFENDERS (7) : Ventura Alvarado (Club America), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC/2009), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy/2013), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers/2011)

MIDFIELDERS (9) : Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake/2009, 2013), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/2011, 2013), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/2007, 2011), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo/2005), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC/2013), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4) : Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/2011), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC/2005, 2007, 2011), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes/2011, 2013)

For a man sometimes accused of hating MLS, Jurgen Klinsmann has picked a lot of the league’s players to defend the U.S. Gold Cup crown.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are back to lead the U.S. attack, some had speculated that Klinsmann would use the recent Dempsey controversy to “move on” from the nation’s best forward.

Zusi is back in the squad.(ISI Photost/John Todd)

Zusi is back in the squad.(ISI Photost/John Todd)

Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi are back, but Matt Besler remains out in the cold while Ventura Alvarado and Tim Ream both made the cut.

Tottenham fullback/defender DeAndre Yedlin has been selected at midfield, where Klinsmann has generally played the speedster.

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