Women’s World Cup Final – USA vs Japan
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
7 p.m. EST
Official Pittsburgh area “American Outlaws” Watch Party at Claddaugh at South Side Works
The United States Women’s soccer team has been on a mission since losing to Japan in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany — in a match that was decided on a penalty kick shootout.
Today they will have their shot at redemption, and to become the first soccer nation to lift the Women’s World Cup for the third time.
And playing a prominent role is Gibsonia’s Meghan Klingenberg, who has played every minute of each World Cup match at left outside back.
Better known to her teammates as “Kling,” the Pine Richland High School grad has been a part of a defensive back line along with goalkeeper Hope Solo that has gone more than five matches without conceding a goal.
Klingenberg came up with one of the biggest plays of the tournament — in their second match of group play, preserving a 0-0 draw thanks to her leaping header that cleared a certain Sweden shot from going into the goal.
The 26-year old Klingenberg spoke this week to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/soccer/2015/07/05/Pine-Richland-grad-Klingenberg-on-cusp-of-realizing-lifelong-dream/stories/201507050124 , about being on the brink of reaching one of her childhood dreams.
“Of course, you never know if it’s going to be realistic or if you’re just dreaming really, really big,” Klingenberg said. “But I was lucky that my really big dream is a reality.
Klingenberg sent out this Happy Fourth of July message to her twitter followers yesterday about playing for her country.
Klingenberg’s dream has become reality thanks to her team’s collective effort that has seen them get better with each game. U.S. coach Jill Ellis has prepared her team for the rigors of the challenge of trying to win a World Cup in an era when many traditional men’s soccer nations are now fielding stronger women’s teams.
And with lofty expectations, Ellis hasn’t gone without criticism.
Many of those who follow U.S. Women’s soccer have been calling for tactical changes, particularly after less than impressive showings in the early group stage play, when the U.S. won what was considered the most difficult group.
The criticism centered around the U.S. attack which seemed heavily reliant on playing direct, with long passes, trying physically overpower their opponents in the air and with speed up front (vs a more possession, shorter one-two touch passing approach). The U.S. has been known to use this approach over the years when they were the clearly superior side athletically.
On Monday, in their semifinal win vs the world’s number one team — Germany — the U.S. played their best match with a great combination of strong midfield play, controlling long stretches of possession — while still using their physical advantages with another mostly top notch defensive effort.
Ellis changed things up — putting Alex Morgan as the lone striker at the top of the attack — and allowed the midfield to create more chances by controlling the play in the center of the field. For the second consecutive game, Ellis also used 35-year old Abby Wambach, the U.S. and FIFA’s all-time leading scorer in International competition (men’s and women’s), as a substitute midway through the second half.
And they did have a little luck — which you will need to win a World Cup — as Germany’s Celia Sasic’s failed penalty kick in the face of Solo’s stalling tactics –clearly tilted the momentum of the match.
Center midfielder Carli Lloyd didn’t miss on her penalty attempt moments later after Morgan drew a foul as she was making a dangerous run into the box.
The U.S. will need to match the Japanese skillful attack, which is a very strong technically and can pick apart and force the best of defensive units work harder to disrupt. Still, Japan needed an own goal by an upstart English team in stoppage time on Tuesday night to advance to the final.
On paper, it should be a terrific match and contrast in styles. If the U.S. can match Japan’s possession rate — and stay on the attack — they should have the advantage in late stages as one of their strengths has been wearing down their opponents.
But if Japan can frustrate the U.S. with their ability to control play, especially if they get an early goal, it might be an uphill battle for the Americans or at least a very similar match to the 2011 final when Japan frustrated the U.S. for 120 minutes — and beat a tired U.S team (that had played an emotional extra time game in the previous semifinal) on penalties.
The U.S. ladies seem loose and ready for the challenge — as evident by their “group” selfie yesterday after practice.
It should be an exciting evening for soccer — not only across the United States — but even right here in Pittsburgh.
You can follow Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s John Krysinsky on Twitter @johnkrysinsky and through his website/blog www.pittsburghsoccerreport.com