<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Sports - [FEATURE] World Cup 2015]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/sportsen-usThu, 18 Apr 2019 20:32:39 -0700Thu, 18 Apr 2019 20:32:39 -0700NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Photos: Fans Celebrate World Cup Champions]]>Fri, 10 Jul 2015 09:23:57 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/soccer+fan.JPG

Thousands are expected to attend a historic parade celebrating the U.S. women's soccer team's World Cup victory. Check out above a collage of fans sharing their excitement or watch a live stream here.

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Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup Parade]]>Fri, 10 Jul 2015 03:34:05 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/world+cup+parade+floats+prep.jpg

The Canyon of Heroes, a stretch of Broadway where the nation's largest city has honored its legends, will come to life on Friday for the Women's World Cup winners.

When the U.S. women's soccer team ride floats through the swirling ticker tape to a ceremony at City Hall, they will be the first national team since 1984 and the first women's team ever to be honored with the iconic parade.

For more than a century, tens of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors have made the pilgrimage to Lower Manhattan to honor world leaders like Nelson Mandela, heroes like Neil Armstrong and athletes like gold medal winner Jesse Owens. But since 1999, the honor has been bestowed solely on local championship-winning teams like the Yankees and Giants, meaning Friday's parade will be a break with precedent.

"It's going to be magical," said Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday. "The Canyon of Heroes is one of the great New York traditions."

"The magnitude of the U.S. victory, what it means not just for women's soccer, but (as) a statement it was to the world to the growing powerful role of women in this country," said de Blasio. "It was crucial for New York City to honor this extraordinary team."

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THE TEAM

The U.S. squad defeated Japan 5-2 on Sunday in Canada to win its first World Cup since 1999. The women were feted at a rally in Los Angeles this week and have been invited to the White House. All 23 members of the team — none of whom are from New York City, though four hail from nearby New Jersey — are expected to attend the parade.

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THE CANYON OF HEROES

The southern end of Broadway is the traditional spot for New York City ticker-tape parades. Most of the route is lined with tall office buildings on both sides, allowing workers to toss scraps of paper on the celebrants below. Among the famous people honored: Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Albert Einstein.

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THE PARADE

City officials have not issued an expectation for size of the crowd, though tens if not hundreds of thousands of people will likely line Broadway for the 11 a.m. parade. It will feature floats and marching bands, and will be hosted by broadcaster Robin Roberts and former soccer star Heather Mitts. At its conclusion, the team will be honored by de Blasio in front of a crowd of 3,500 people at City Hall Plaza.

At Bond Parade Floats in Clifton, New Jersey, crews say they're prepared to work through the night to finish the floats by 4 a.m.. They say this is as tight a deadline as they can remember facing, but it helps that they have a blueprint: they've created floats for the Yankees, the Giants and the Rangers when they took their turns down the Canyon of Heroes. 

The Downtown Alliance packed 2 tons of shredded paper -- the ticker tape -- into garbage bags to distribute to buildings overlooking the Canyon of Heroes. 

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THE COST

The parade is expected to cost about $2 million, in line with what the most recent parade — the Giants in 2012 — cost. City officials have said that about $450,000 of the cost will be covered by private donations and corporate sponsors like Nike and Electronic Arts.

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THE CLEANUP

The Department of Sanitation will have more than 400 workers assigned to parade cleanup, and they'll utilize 14 collection trucks, 10 front-end loaders, 100 backpack blowers and 66 rakes. More than 56 tons of debris were collected from city streets after the 1999 Yankees World Series win.

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<![CDATA[World Cup Champs Kick Off Welcome Home Party]]>Tue, 07 Jul 2015 22:00:07 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/194*120/07-07-2015-wambach-world-cup-staples.JPG

Fans gathered outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday morning to celebrate with the United States women's soccer team after the team captured its third World Cup championship.

The team arrived at Los Angeles International Airport Monday, a day after a convincing 5-2 win over Japan in the World Cup final. The win brought the United States its first World Cup title since 1999 and third overall.

The Staples Center celebration began at 11 a.m. PT, but fans already gathered early Tuesday morning in front of a jumbo monitor outside the arena. The screen showed highlights of the team's performances in Canada above a banner that read, "Thank you to the best fans in the world."

Every member of the team attended the Tuesday  rally wearing their championship medals and black "World Champion" T-shirts. At the end, the crowed and team chanted, "I believe that we just won," a variation of U.S. soccer fans' regular "I believe that we will win" chant.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe introduced the players to the crowd, which  screamed its approval as each stood and waved.

"What's up L.A.?" goalkeeper Hope Solo asked, rallying the crowd.  "What's up America? It is so good to be back home.

"You guys have been the most awesome of fans throughout the entire  World Cup. You stayed behind us. You believed from day one all  the way through game seven."

The event marked another opportunity for fans to recognize the team's accomplishment in what has been a whirlwind of celebrations since Sunday's win. Working on little sleep, the U.S. team took part in a special event put on by Fox Sports Monday. Players received their first jerseys that included the third star above the crest, the latest title adding the ones earned in 1991 and 1999.

"This is a remarkable group of women and I couldn't be more proud of  them," the team's head coach, Jill Ellis, told the crowd Tuesday in front of Staples Center. "They epitomize what it means to be a team."

A return to Los Angeles from Canada, site of the 2015 World cup, marks a homecoming for many U.S. players. The 23-player team includes seven players who played on the high school or college level in Los Angeles or Orange counties -- defender Whitney Engen (Peninsula High School); midfielders Shannon Boxx (South Torrance High School) and Lauren Holiday (UCLA); and forwards Sydney Leroux (UCLA); Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar High School); Christen Press (Chadwick School); and Amy Rodriguez (Santa Margarita High School, USC).

The championship match was seen by 26.7 million viewers on Fox and NBC's Spanish-language Telemundo, the networks said Monday. The final, called by famed broadcaster Andres Cantor, ranked as the most-watched women's match on Spanish-language teelvision ever with nearly 1.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen.

And perhaps no player was more squarely in that spotlight than Carli Lloyd, whose hat trick in the first 16 minutes gave the Americans a 4-0 lead over Japan, which defeated the U.S. in the last World Cup. Lloyd went from being one of the top female soccer players in America to one of the country's biggest sports stars in less than two hours. She was tweeted at by President Barack Obama and even had her Wikipedia page changed briefly to say her position was "President of the United States."

"I think it's definitely gone to another level," Lloyd said. "I'm not sure I'm ready for that, but it's great.

"I'm pretty mentally zapped right now. I would love to not think about anything."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[World Cup Transcends FIFA Scandal]]>Mon, 06 Jul 2015 16:27:25 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/13-FINAL-CANADA-2015.jpg

For a few moments over the past month, the Women's World Cup seemed to push aside the FIFA scandal that is simmering a half planet away.

Those moments came on the pitch: From upstart Cameroon crashing the party in the knockout stage, to England's fantastic run, to host Canada's tournament-opening victory on star Christine Sinclair's stoppage-time penalty kick.

And of course, Carli Lloyd's hat trick in a 5-2 victory for the United States in the final against Japan.

Despite the controversy over the artificial turf and questions about who would present the championship trophy, the Women's World Cup was a resounding success, setting records for attendance and TV ratings. The corruption case enveloping the sport's world governing body at least temporarily took a backseat to the Beautiful Game.

In many ways, FIFA can thank the Americans.

The second-ranked U.S. women started out the monthlong tournament across Canada as one of the favorites, but there were questions along the way about a sputtering offense and U.S. coach Jill Ellis' tactics.

Steadily the United States, which didn't drop a match, gained momentum. Boosted by stellar defense, Ellis made a key shift late in the tournament, moving Lloyd up top as an attacking midfielder and putting 22-year-old Morgan Brian into a defensive midfield's role.

Lloyd flourished.

After toppling top-ranked Germany — the team that had ended a six-year run by the Americans atop the rankings — in the semifinals, the United States dominated Japan from the start. Lloyd's three goals came in the first 16 minutes, including an audacious shot from near midfield.

U.S. fans — including Vice President Joe Biden — streamed across the border for the match, filling Vancouver's BC Place with more than 53,000 fans.

It was the U.S. team's third World Cup title, more than any other nation. And it vindicated the USSF for its decision in April 2014 to fire coach Tom Sermanni — who had replaced Pia Sundhage the previous year — and replace him with Ellis, the British-born American who had been an assistant.

"We'll probably let her continue tomorrow," U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said with a smile. "She did her job, right? For any coach on this team the job description is to win the World Cup and the Olympics. She did a great job. We went through this competition unbeaten. We had a lot of people doubting it along the way and a lot of people second guessing. ... I'm extremely pleased for Jill. She worked hard, she believed it what she was doing, and it paid off."

For the Americans, it's on to a victory tour and Olympic qualifying this fall.

For FIFA, it's back to reality. The organization is the target of a U.S. Justice Department corruption investigation. The inquiry prompted longtime President Sepp Blatter to announce his intention to resign just four days after being re-elected to a fifth term.

While Blatter has not been charged, American law enforcement authorities have confirmed he is part of the investigation. He did not travel to Canada. Instead, FIFA Senior Vice President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, the head of African soccer's governing body, handed the trophy to U.S. veterans Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone.

When the stadium announcer asked the crowd to welcome the FIFA officials, the crowd booed.

FIFA faced criticism over the course of the tournament, particularly over the artificial turf.

Wambach last year led a group of players who filed a legal claim in Canada, saying that the artificial turf amounted to gender discrimination because the men's event would never be staged on fake grass.

It's already been established that the next World Cup, held four years from now in France, will be held on the real thing.

"I still think that it was not ideal. We all believe that," U.S. forward Sydney Leroux said. "For us to fight that, hopefully for the future it never happens again, and we have that equality."

Critics say the artificial turf was emblematic of FIFA's sexism. There were other signs during the tournament: competing teams staying in the same hotels and a prize money pool one-third of what their male counterparts had a year ago.

But Ellis believes that progress is being made.

"I think people can't help, FIFA included, but to notice how popular this sport is. And to make sure, it's like anything, there is always an evolution. There is always a process to go through before equal footing is gained," Ellis said.

That evolution will continue as the next big stage for women's soccer is just a year away at the Rio Olympics.

Brazil and star Marta, bounced from the round of 16 by Australia, are the hosts.

Because UEFA uses the World Cup as qualifying for the Olympics, Germany and France have also secured a spot. England does not get a pass because the IOC recognizes Great Britain collectively.

CONCACAF doesn't give free passes, so the U.S. will play in a qualifying tournament. If the United States qualifies as expected, the roster will be 18, after 23 players went to Canada.

"Some serious tough decisions," Ellis said Monday, already looking ahead. "I'm still looking for other players. That's got to continue to be part of my process to find the best out there."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Becomes Captain America for U.S. Women]]>Mon, 06 Jul 2015 15:01:11 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Carli-Lloyd-USWNT-USA-Germany-30-June-2015.jpg

For a brief time Sunday night, Carli Lloyd's Wikipedia page listed her position as "President of the United States."

More like Captain America.

Lloyd scored three goals to lead the United States to a 5-2 victory over Japan for the team's record third World Cup title — and first since 1999.

Lloyd's hat trick came in the match's first 16 minutes. When it was over, the captain of the U.S. team collapsed to her knees and pumped her fists.

"I'm so proud and so zapped at the same time. It's a surreal moment," the 32-yard-old midfielder said. "It's been amazing. We just wrote history and brought this World Cup trophy home."

Even the actual President chimed in with congratulations.

"What a win for Team USA! Great game @CarliLloyd! Your country is so proud of all of you. Come visit the White House with the World Cup soon," President Barack Obama posted to Twitter.

The New York City Mayor's Office congratulated the team for its "tremendous achievement," and told NBC 4 New York it is exploring logistics and "talking with the team and other partners about a possible ticker-tape parade."

While winning the last three Olympic gold medals, the U.S. had struggled in the World Cup since taking the title at the inaugural tournament in 1991, and then again at the Rose Bowl eight years later.

Christie Rampone, the only holdover from the 1999 team, lifted the trophy with Abby Wambach, the 35-year-old former FIFA Player of the Year who has said this will be her last World Cup. Wambach was among the most vocal opponents of FIFA's decision to play the tournament on artificial turf.

With FIFA President Sepp Blatter staying away from Canada during a U.S. criminal investigation of soccer corruption, the trophy was presented by FIFA Senior Vice President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, the head of African soccer's governing body.

Hope Solo won her second straight Golden Glove as top goalkeeper of the tournament. She played despite critics who urged the U.S. Soccer Federation to drop her after she initially faced two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence from a June 2014 altercation at her half-sister's house, charges that were dismissed earlier this year.

Solo, who hasn't spoken to the media for most of the tournament, proclaimed simply: "We did it! Awesome!"

She was later quoted by FIFA.com as saying: "It feels so good. It was incredible. This is surely the peak of my career."

The title, which adds a coveted third star to the American uniform, also vindicated the USSF for its decision in April 2014 to fire coach Tom Sermanni, who had replaced Pia Sundhage the previous year, and replace him with Ellis, the British-born American who had been an assistant on the coaching staff.

Ellis' tactics and lineups were criticized early in the World Cup tournament when the U.S. offense sputtered at times. She shifted Lloyd to an attacking midfielder in the semifinal against top-ranked Germany and again in the final, and put 22-year-old Morgan Brian, the youngest player on her roster, in a defensive midfield role.

"When you go through a tournament of seven games, there are peaks and valleys," Ellis said. "Players get hot, and you ride the players that are hot. For Carli, the attacking part of her game, she was doing tremendously well."

Lloyd had come up big before, scoring the winning goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.

The Golden Ball winner as player of the tournament, Lloyd scored twice in a span of about 135 seconds as the U.S. led 2-0 by the fifth minute.

Lauren Holiday boosted the U.S. lead in the 14th, and two minutes later Lloyd made it 4-0 with an audacious 54-yard, right-footed shot from midfield that sailed over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

Japan closed on Yuki Ogimi's goal in the 27th and an own goal by Julie Johnston on an errant header in the 52nd. Tobin Heath scored two minutes later.

Lloyd's hat trick was the fastest in World Cup history — men or women — and Lloyd became the first American since Michelle Akers in 1991 to score multiple goals in a World Cup final. The only other hat trick in a World Cup final was when England's Geoff Hurst scored three times against Germany in the men's 1966 final at Wembley.

"Miss Lloyd she always does this to us. In London she scored 2 goals and today she scored 3 goals. We are embarrassed," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. "But she is an excellent player and I really respect her and admire her."

Lloyd scored six goals in seven matches during the monthlong tournament, including in every U.S. game of the knockout phase. She raised her international goals total to 69 and joined Carin Jennings in 1991 as the only Americans to win the Golden Ball.

Ogimi's goal was the first Solo allowed after five straight shutouts. The only other goal scored against her came in the first half of the tournament opener against Australia.

The United States went 540 minutes without conceding a goal, the longest streak in the World Cup since Germany's record 679 scoreless minutes from 2003-11.

Japan's victory over the United States four years ago was its first World Cup title and it came just months after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, killing more than 20,000 people and touching off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Top Photos: U.S. Wins 2015 World Cup]]>Mon, 06 Jul 2015 03:43:46 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-479605440.jpgThe United States defeated Japan 5-2 to win the 2015 World Cup in Vancouver.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S.A Win's Women World Cup, 5-2]]>Mon, 06 Jul 2015 03:37:14 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_834494703342.jpg

Carli Lloyd lives for the big moment. She had her biggest on Sunday night — and gave the United States its record third Women's World Cup title.

Lloyd scored three times as the U.S. jumped to a four-goal lead in the first 16 minutes, and the Americans overwhelmed defending champion Japan 5-2 for the team's first World Cup championship since 1999.

A sellout crowd of 53,341 that included U.S. Vice President Joe Biden roared in approval for Lloyd's hat trick, the first ever in a Women's World Cup final.

"It's been a long journey, my career. I've had a lot of people believe in me, in my corner, from day one," said the midfield, who turns 33 on July 16. "I've dedicated my whole life to this. Everything else comes second. But I wouldn't want to do it any other way."

When it was over, Lloyd collapsed to her knees and pumped her fists. Forward Abby Wambach bear-hugged teary eyed coach Jill Ellis, lifting her off the ground.

Lloyd, awarded the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, scored twice in a span of about 135 seconds as the U.S. led 2-0 by the fifth minute.

Lauren Holiday boosted the lead in the 14th, and two minutes later Lloyd made it 4-0 with an audacious 54-yard, right-footed shot from midfield that sailed over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori.

Japan closed on Yuki Ogimi's goal in the 27th and an own goal by Julie Johnston on an errant header in the 52nd. Tobin Heath scored two minutes later, the third goal off a restart for the Americans.

While winning the last three Olympic gold medals, the U.S. had struggled in the World Cup since taking the title at the inaugural tournament in 1991 and then again at the Rose Bowl eight years later.

Christie Rampone, the only holdover from the 1999 team, lifted the trophy with Wambach, the 35-year-old former FIFA Player of the Year who has said this will be her last World Cup. Wambach was among the most vocal opponents of FIFA's decision to play the tournament on artificial turf.

With FIFA President Sepp Blatter staying away from Canada during a U.S. criminal investigation of soccer corruption, the trophy was presented by FIFA Senior Vice President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, the head of African soccer's governing body.

Hope Solo won her second straight Golden Glove as top goalkeeper of the tournament. She played despite critics who urged the U.S. Soccer Federation to drop her after she initially faced two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence from a June 2014 altercation at her half-sister's house, charges that were dismissed earlier this year.

Solo, who hasn't spoken to the media for most of the tournament, proclaimed simply: "We did it! Awesome!"

The title, which adds a coveted third star to the American uniform, also vindicated the USSF for its decision in April 2014 to fire coach Tom Sermanni, who had replaced Pia Sundhage the previous year, and replace him with Ellis, the British-born American who had been an assistant on the coaching staff.

Ellis' tactics and lineups were criticized early in the World Cup tournament when the U.S. offense sputtered at times on offense. She shifted Lloyd to an attacking midfielder in the semifinal against top-ranked Germany and again in the final, and put 22-year-old Morgan Brian, the youngest player on her roster, in a defensive midfield role.

"I want to thank Jill," Lloyd said. "I know lots of people out in the stands were worried about us. We all held together. We all stayed the course. We all executed the game plan."

Lloyd had come up big before, scoring the winning goals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals.

She put the U.S. ahead in the third minute off a grass-hugging corner kick from Megan Rapinoe, streaking into the penalty area on a diagonal run and using the side of her left foot just in front of the spot to redirect the ball inside the far post.

She made it 2-0 after Holiday took a low free kick from the flank and Johnston made a back-heel flick to Lloyd, who was 2 yards out. With her right foot, she poked the ball between two defenders and past Kaihori's outstretched arms.

Lloyd's third goal came when Kaihori ventured far off her line. The keeper backpedaled and got her right hand on the long shot, but the ball glanced off a post into the goal.

It was the fastest hat trick in World Cup history — men or women — and Lloyd became the first American since Michelle Akers in 1991 to score multiple goals in a World Cup final. The only other hat trick in a World Cup final was when England's Geoff Hurst scored three times against Germany in the men's 1966 final at Wembley.

"Miss Lloyd she always does this to us. In London she scored 2 goals and today she scored 3 goals. We are embarrassed," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. "But she is an excellent player and I really respect her and admire her."

Lloyd scored six goals in seven matches during the monthlong tournament, including in every U.S. game in the knockout phase. She raised her international goals total to 69 and joined Carin Jennings in 1991 as the only Americans to win the Golden Ball.

Holiday added her goal to cap a counterattack, volleying in from 10 yards after Azusa Iwashimizu's header on an attempted clearance bounded high in the air. Heath scored from 4 yards after a Holiday corner kick, which went off Kaihori's weak punch to the far post for Brian to play back in front.

Ogimi's goal was the first Solo allowed after five straight shutouts. The only other goal scored against her came in the first half of the tournament opener against Australia.

The United States went 540 minutes without conceding a goal, the longest streak in the World Cup since Germany's record 679 scoreless minutes from 2003-11.

Japan's victory over the United States four years ago was its first World Cup title and it came just months after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, killing more than 20,000 people and touching off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Japan returned eight starters from the 2011 final, when it beat the U.S. on penalty kicks. The Americans started just four of the 11 players who opened that game in Germany.

The United States is 25-1-6 against Japan, including 3-1 in World Cup meetings.

"Speechless. Honestly, I'm so proud of this team," an emotional Lloyd said. "This doesn't feel real. It hasn't sunk in. So unbelievably proud of every single person on this team. We just made history."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[U.S. Women Look to Reclaim Victory in World Cup Final]]>Sun, 05 Jul 2015 04:00:54 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/USWNT-USA-Germany-fans-30-June-2015.jpg

Abby Wambach remembers the date by heart: July 17, 2011.

That was the day the United States lost to Japan in the Women's World Cup title match in Germany.

The Americans get a rematch on Sunday when the teams meet again in the final, this time in Canada. The U.S. women are favored, and there figures to be a mostly pro-American crowd making the short trip across the border to Vancouver's BC Place.

Wambach and the rest of her teammates say they aren't taking anything for granted. The United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999.

"We still have to win. We haven't won anything yet, and we know what that feels like from four years ago," Wambach said. "It's not a good feeling."

The United States is coming off an impressive 2-0 semifinal victory over Germany, the team that had unseated the Americans for the top spot in the world rankings. Criticized at times for a lack of offense, the U.S. has posted five straight shutouts.

"I think we have really good momentum. I think we have confidence as a group. But we need to raise our game as well," said midfielder Carli Lloyd, who leads the Americans with three goals. "This is the final, everything's on the line, there's no holding back. There's no reserving energy. It's full throttle."

Japan, ranked No. 4 in the world, has won each of its six matches during the monthlong tournament, relying on its steady tactical skill. It is trying for its second straight World Cup title.

"It's the final game, the last one, so there's no more than that and we should really cherish this moment that we are going to the final," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. "But I would also like to have a game that would contribute to the development of football in the world."

THE LAST TIME: Japan's victory over the United States four years ago was Asia's first-ever World Cup title.

The Japanese erased a pair of one-goal deficits. Wambach scored in the 104th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead, and Homare Sawa tied it 13 minutes later. Japan then prevailed 3-1 on penalty kicks.

It was an emotional victory, following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the nation in March, killing more than 20,000 people and touching off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Before boarding the flight home from Germany, Sawa said: "I have to dedicate this win to the people who suffered the disaster."

LIGHTS-OUT D: Anchored by Hope Solo in goal, the United States' most consistent asset in the World Cup so far has been its defense.

Solo, who won the Golden Glove award for the 2011 World Cup, has put up five straight shutouts. She has been helped by a solid backline of Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger.

The United States has gone 513 minutes without conceding a goal. Only Australia, in the first half of the group-stage opener, has managed to score against the Americans.

HONORING A TEAMMATE: That white teddy bear that has been a constant feature on Japan's bench throughout the tournament honors midfielder Kozue Ando, who broke her left ankle in the World Cup opener against Switzerland.

While Ando returned home to Japan, she remains close to the players — and not just symbolically with the teddy bear that wears her jersey. She was in her teammates' thoughts during the semifinal victory over England.

"Miss Ando was talking to the players in the locker room on the phone, and also she sent messages," Sasaki said. "And also was the fact that she could come to Vancouver to cheer for us. That was the source of our energy. So we were able to do that."

THE NUMBERS: It will be the U.S. team's fourth appearance in the final. The Americans won the World Cup the first year of the women's tournament in 1991, and then again in 1999.

The '99ers, as they are called, defeated China on penalty kicks in the final at the Rose Bowl.

The United States has a 24-1-6 all-time record against Japan, and a 2-1 advantage in World Cup meetings.

This is the third major women's soccer tournament where Japan has played the United States in the final. The countries also met in the gold-medal match at the 2012 Olympics, which the Americans won 2-1.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[England Beats Germany 1-0 in Extra Time]]>Sat, 04 Jul 2015 22:26:02 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Womens-World-Cup-England-Germany-4-July-2015.jpg

Days after a gut-wrenching loss, England finished its deepest run in the Women's World Cup with an uplifting victory.

No last-minute heartbreak this time around. Just a solid all-around performance for Steph Houghton and company.

Houghton's nifty legwork prevented an own goal and Fara Williams scored on a penalty kick in the 108th minute, leading England to a 1-0 victory over top-ranked Germany in the third-place game Saturday.

"This is the team we wanted to be," coach Mark Sampson said. "We wanted to show the nation that, look, we can be knocked down, but we can also get back up. And that's what we did."

Karen Bardsley stopped seven shots as England rebounded quite nicely from Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Japan. That semifinal was decided in the final minute of second-half stoppage time when Laura Bassett directed the ball into her own net.

The response by the sixth-ranked Lionesses was their first victory over Germany in 21 meetings.

"To finally beat Germany is a real big statement from this team, and something these players will be remembered for," the 32-year-old Sampson said. "I think the performance of the players speaks volumes of the type of group I've had the pleasure of working with."

England finished the tournament with a 5-1-1 record. It had never won an elimination game in the Women's World Cup in three previous appearances.

For Germany, which lost 2-0 to the United States on Tuesday, it was a disappointing finish for the two-time champions and raised further concerns about whether the nation's women's program is beginning to slip. Since winning back-to-back World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007, the eight-time European champions have a 2-3 post-preliminary round record in the past two tournaments.

It was the last World Cup game for German coach Silvia Neid and goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. Neid is retiring after the 2016 Rio Games, while Angerer is retiring from the national team following this tournament.

"It's very sad, but that's how it is. This is reality," Neid said. "In the end, I think England had more chances. We had a lot of chances, but unfortunately, we didn't have any goals."

Lianne Sanderson set up the only goal when she was pulled down by Tabea Kemme while attempting to get to a pass into the penalty area to the right of the goal. Williams scored her third goal of the tournament — and second on a penalty kick — by punching the ball just inside the left post while Angerer faded the other way.

Neid said the penalty was justified.

England avoided a major scare in the eighth minute, when Jo Potter came inches away from scoring into her own goal.

Germany's Sara Daebritz sent a pass into the penalty area, and teammate Bianca Schmidt headed it toward the net. Unaware that Bardsley was preparing to catch the ball, Potter leaped and got her head on it. The ball caromed toward the goal, where Houghton was facing the net and kicked it back over her head inches before it crossed the line.

Bardsley said she wants to frame the picture of the captain preventing the goal.

"I think that picture will forever be etched in my mind of Steph's leg above her head, practically touching the crossbar," Bardsley said. "I think that epitomizes that this team is about in my opinion. There wasn't a player on the pitch or even on the touch line today that wouldn't have given their right leg to make sure that we won a bronze medal."

Germany had several opportunities to tie the game in the final 10 minutes.

Anja Mittag, off a free kick just outside the penalty area, found an opening and got a shot off that was scooped up Bardsley. In the 116th minute, Schmidt got behind England's defense and headed a cross just wide of the right post.

The Lionesses' success in Canada has created a large buzz back home, where they attracted support from Prince William and men's national team captain Wayne Rooney.

Sampson has become one of the team's most vocal supporters. After beating Germany, he decided it might be time for a brief break to enjoy the moment when asked how the Lionesses build on this performance.

"Look, all I'm concerned about is having a good time tonight, if I'm honest," Sampson said, with a big grin. "Let's stick our glasses in the air and toast to an excellent tournament, and a really special experience, memories of a lifetime."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Aussie Coach Has Advice for Defeating Japan]]>Sat, 04 Jul 2015 04:50:58 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-479172640.jpg

Perhaps, Australia coach Alen Stajcic was on to something when he said, "We're not the Netherlands," in responding to question regarding how the Matildas might defend against Japan in the quarterfinals.

Familiar with their Asian rivals, Stajcic said the key was pressuring Japan's ball carriers and clogging up the middle so they couldn't generate chances off their crisp-passing attack. That was unlike the Netherlands, which allowed Japan to create in the offensive zone in a 2-1 loss in the Round of 16.

Australia was effective, but eventually wore down before giving up a goal in the 87th minute in a 1-0 loss last weekend.

England, however, was much better at containing Japan in a 2-1 semifinal loss decided on Laura Bassett directing a shot into her own net in stoppage time.

The Lionesses directed 15 shots on net, while limiting Japan to just seven. And England carried much of the play in the second half, particularly during a four-minute stretch in which they generated three scoring chances. They included Toni Duggan's shot off the crossbar.

Japan coach Norio Sasaki referred to England's style as "simple," but noted it did hamper his team's ability to move the ball.

Now the United States and coach Jill Ellis gets the task of defending against Japan, which has won all of its matches in Canada. The final is scheduled for Sunday at Vancouver's BC Place.

FINDERS, KEEPERS: After giving each of his three goalkeepers a start in the preliminary round, Sasaki has stuck with Ayumi Kaihori in the knockout stage. And that was despite Kaihori misplaying an easy shot that allowed the Netherlands to cut Japan's lead to 2-1 in second-half stoppage time.

Ever since, Kaihori has allowed just one goal — Fara Williams' penalty kick against England — in two games. Against England, she also made a diving save to her right to bat away Ellen White's shot from inside the penalty area to keep the score tied 1-1 in the second half.

Overall, she's allowed three goals and made seven saves.

LAST CHANCE: This is the last World Cup for three of the game's best-ever players.

German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer is retiring following this World Cup, as is U.S. forward Abby Wambach and Japan's Homare Sawa.

Germany faces England in the third-place match on Saturday in Edmonton, while the United States plays Japan in the final Sunday at Vancouver's BC Place.

Sawa has had limited playing time in Canada, four years after playing a lead role in Japan winning the 2011 title in Germany. Sawa, the 2011 FIFA women's player of the year and 2011 World Cup player of the tournament, did not play against England.

Sasaki did say that he was preparing to have Sawa play if the semifinal went to extra time.

The 36-year-old has been credited with six shots attempted — none on net — and 184 minutes played in five tournament games.

Wambach, 35, is the all-time international leading goal scorer, male or female. The 2012 FIFA player of the year has seen her role change with the U.S. team, but has all along maintained that she's willing to do whatever it takes.

During this World Cup she's started three matches, and come in off the bench for three.

Angerer was the 2013 FIFA player of the year, the first goalkeeper to win the award. She started for Germany in the 2007 World Cup and did not allow a goal on the way to the title, setting a World Cup record for most minutes played (540) without a goal.

Angerer has allowed five goals with 12 saves in the tournament.

HEADING NORTH: Americans are headed across the border for the Fourth of July holiday.

Fans of the United States have followed their team throughout the World Cup, and Vancouver's proximity to the border means that the final against Japan will likely bring a big, pro-American crowd.

Tournament organizers say more than 51,000 tickets have been sold for the final on Sunday at BC Place. More than 20,000 tickets have been sold for the third-place match Saturday between England and Germany in Edmonton.

The Americans' group-stage finale at BC Place last month brought in 52,193 fans.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Defense Helps U.S. Team to The Women's World Cup Final]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:15:44 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_71522985623.jpg

It used to be that the U.S. women's national team was known more for its fierce attack. For the Women's World Cup in Canada, the Americans are finding success with a locked-down defense.

Goalkeeper Hope Solo, beleaguered at the start by new revelations in her domestic violence assault case last year, has been nearly perfect with five straight shutouts.

Her latest came on Tuesday night when the United States defeated top-ranked Germany in the semifinals before a raucous pro-American crowd at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Normally so focused to the point of almost appearing stern, the television cameras caught Solo break into a smile late in the match when it appeared the United States had guaranteed its place in the final.

Now it's on to the title match set for Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver. The United States will face Japan in a rematch of the 2011 final. Japan beat England 2-1 Wednesday night in Edmonton.

The U.S. is 24-1-6 against Japan. Four years ago in Germany, Japan defeated the United States on penalty kicks after a 2-all draw for its first World Cup title.

"In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams," Abby Wambach said. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the world in Germany and now we face Japan, another team that we have so much respect for. They have an amazing team and they're the reigning World Cup champions, so I think it's going to be a fantastic final. Everyone will have to bring their "A'' game, and whoever finishes their chances the most will come out on top. Hopefully it will be us."

The U.S. women have won two World Cups, but the last championship came in 1999. This will be the team's fourth appearance in the final.

The team's success so far in the tournament has been boosted not only by Solo's spectacular work in goal but by a stellar backline of Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger.

The United States has gone 513 minutes without conceding a goal. Only Australia, in the first half of the group-stage opener, has managed to score against the Americans.

"It's a spectacular stat, to be honest with you. I always tell the team, we just need one more than our opponent if we keep a clean sheet," coach Jill Ellis said. "And it's not just our goalkeeper and our back four. I think this team has embraced the accountability and responsibility of defending on every line. It's something we ask of them, but they deliver. They understand that it's important."

Klingenberg pulled off a big save in the highly anticipated group stage match against No. 5 Sweden, led by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. The diminutive defender leaped to head away a shot by Caroline Seger. The ball hit the crossbar and caromed away from the goal. Goal-line technology was used to confirm the ball never crossed the line.

The save in the 77th minute preserved the 0-0 draw and the United States went on to finish atop the group stage heading into the knockout round.

Solo, who won the Golden Glove award for the 2011 World Cup, leads all goalkeepers in the tournament with 12 saves to one goal against.

She has not spoken to reporters covering the event since brief remarks following the opener against the Matildas. Just before the World Cup got under way, ESPN revealed new details about Solo's arrest last June for domestic violence assault. The misdemeanor charges stemmed from an altercation with her half-sister and 17-year-old nephew at a party in Washington.

The charges against Solo were dropped earlier this year.

Solo has talked about her play via videos released by U.S. Soccer.

"I've said it all along, that you have a young player like Julie Johnston, who was ready for the big stage. She was ready for this type of tournament, she's come a long way in the last year. You put her besides somebody as calm as Becky Sauerbrunn and it makes the perfect mix," Solo said. "Obviously our wingers are incredible."

Johnston, who made just three appearances with the national team last year before emerging as a starter in matches leading up to the World Cup, has undeniably been a success story in the tournament. But she admittedly made a mistake in Tuesday's match when she fouled Germany's Alexandra Popp inside the box in the 59th minute. It was a foul that could have garnered her a red card.

But Celia Sasic, the World Cup's top scorer with six goals, missed the penalty kick wide. The United States went on to score twice, on Carli Lloyd's penalty kick and Kelley O'Hara's late goal.

Solo and Sauerbrunn both pulled a teary-eyed Johnston aside after the foul to tell her they had her back.

"I think it's important for me to learn from it," Johnston said. "I don't want that to ever happen again. It was on my shoulders. That's my fault and I put that all on me," Johnston said. "We have one more game and I need to focus on and do what I need to do for the team."

Clearly, that was a hint of the accountability Ellis referred to.

"We've got gritty players in the back, we've got sophisticated players in the back," Ellis said. "And they just do a great job of reading the game and shutting down the opponent."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[U.S. Soccer Team Reacts to Facing Japan in Final]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 21:09:15 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_567143946588.jpg

Bring it on.

That's how the U.S. women's soccer team reacted Wednesday night to learning that Japan would be the opponent in the World Cup final.

The Americans beat Germany 2-0 on Tuesday to reach the championship game. Japan defeated England 2-1 on a late own goal. The rematch of the 2011 final won by Japan on penalty kicks is Sunday in Vancouver.

"In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams," star forward Abby Wambach said. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the world in Germany and now we face Japan, another team that we have so much respect for. They have an amazing team and they're the reigning World Cup champions, so I think it's going to be a fantastic final.

"Everyone will have to bring their 'A' game, and whoever finishes their chances the most will come out on top. Hopefully it will be us."

The United States is 24-1-6 against Japan. The 2011 title game ended 2-2 and the Japanese won their first worldtitle on penalty kicks.

"I think it's fantastic," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "These are two talented teams with a lot of history and rivalry, and I think it will be a classic matchup. Both teams have a lot of the same players from 2011, but that said, this is a different team on a different journey, and I know all 23 players and our staff are tremendously excited for this next challenge."

Ellis' counterpart, Japan's Norio Sasaki, echoed those comments.

"In 2011, both teams had a wonderful game in the final," he said through an interpreter. "And for women'sfootball in the world, I hope that we will have a wonderful game like the way we did in 2011.

"Of course, only God knows the outcome, and Japan needs to build up our power, and that's what I take away from this game. And we'd like to prepare based on that takeaway."

U.S. defender Ali Krieger likes the way her squad is performing heading into the final. The Americans have played, by far, their best soccer in their last two matches, wins over China and Germany.

"I'm excited," Krieger said. "It's somewhat of a rematch from four years ago, but you want to play the best teams and Japan proved themselves in the other side of the bracket. You always want a great game in the final, and that's why we are here.

"It is fun to face Japan again, but we are really focusing on ourselves. We have good momentum, there's a really positive feel around the team, and we will be ready for a great final."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[Japan Advances to Final on England's Own Goal, 2-1]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:19:52 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Japan-England-Semifinal-World-Cup-1-July-2015.jpg

Laura Bassett scored into her own net during second-half stoppage time, giving Japan a 2-1 victory over England in a Women's World Cup semifinal.

The decisive goal Wednesday came when Japan's Nahomi Kawasumi drove up the right side and sent a cross into the middle for Yuki Ogimi. Bassett reached out with her right foot and caught the ball flush, inadvertently sending it toward her net. The ball struck the crossbar and bounced in just before goalkeeper Karen Bardsley could get across.

The defending champions advanced to play the United States in the championship game at Vancouver on Sunday. It's a rematch of the 2011 championship game in Germany, when Japan won on penalty kicks after a 2-2 draw.

The U.S. is 24-1-6 against Japan.

"However we played in this game, the fact is, we're going to the final," Japan coach Norio Sasaki said through an interpreter. "And I'd like to congratulate the players for that. ... We should really cherish this moment that we are going to the final."

Bassett was inconsolable at the end of the match, lying flat on the ground, her face in the turf. She then needed assistance from teammates and her coach before leaving the field.

"This team can't be afraid to cry," England coach Mark Sampson said. "There's nothing wrong with that at all."

It was a torturous finish for the sixth-ranked Lionesses, who have made their deepest run in four World Cup appearances. England had never won an elimination game until this year.

"Of course, when there's a huge disappointment there's going to be an outcry," Sampson added. "But it'll sink in soon what they've achieved and how proud everyone is of their teammate ... and what we've done to put football in our country to a place it's never been before."

England will remain in Edmonton to play top-ranked Germany in the third-place match Saturday. Germany lost 2-0 to the United States on Tuesday.

England lost despite controlling much of the second half against the fourth-ranked Japanese. And that was despite what Sasaki had said a day earlier, when he suggested his players were "superior."

The teams traded penalty kick goals seven minutes apart in the first half.

Aya Miyama opened the scoring in the 33rd minute by driving the ball into the open left corner while Bardsley guessed the wrong way.

The penalty was set up when Mizuho Sakaguchi's long kick from Japan's side of the field found Saori Ariyoshi free up the right side. As Ariyoshi got control of the ball, she was pushed from behind by Claire Rafferty.

The Lionesses responded on Fara Williams' penalty kick in the 40th minute. She threaded a shot just inside the left post, barely out of the reach of diving keeper Ayumi Kaihori.

That penalty came off corner kick to the right of the Japan net. Williams' kick into the area bounced between four players before Steph Houghton got control, took a step toward the net and went down when Ogimi appeared to catch the back of Houghton's foot.

England had the Japanese on their heels during a four-minute span of the second half.

Toni Duggan, from just inside the penalty area, had her line-drive kick go off the crossbar in the 62nd minute. A minute later, Ellen White was set up in the middle, and got a shot off that Kaihori punched away.

And in the 66th minute, Jill Scott headed Williams' corner kick just wide of the left post.

The game was played on Canada Day — the nation's 148th birthday — in front of a slow-arriving crowd. The attendance was announced at 31,467 in a stadium that holds more than 53,000. The crowd would've been would have been much larger had England not eliminated the host country in the quarterfinals last weekend.

The Lionesses have already created a buzz back home as just the third English team — including the men — to reach a World Cup semifinal, joining the 1966 champion and 1990 men's squads.

England began the day by receiving a royal pep talk from Prince William, who spoke to the players and staff by phone.

Manchester United and English national team captain Wayne Rooney has become a fan. Rooney posted a note of support on his Twitter account Wednesday, writing in part: "We're all behind you, let's go one step closer an get to the final."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Japan Faces Upstart England in Women's World Cup Semifinal]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 01:28:18 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_337649770797.jpg

Coach Norio Sasaki can say whatever he wants in suggesting his Japanese players are superior to England's.

Coach Mark Sampson would prefer to see that decided on the field Wednesday, when his upstart Lionesses face the defending champion Nadeshiko in the Women's World Cup semifinal. The winner advances to face the United States in the final at Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday.

Pausing for five seconds after being informed what Sasaki had told reporters earlier Tuesday, Sampson began by saying he expects a game of contrasting styles.

"We'll have to appreciate and respect the quality they've got technically," Sampson said. "But we've got some half-decent players technically ourselves."

They've been more than half-decent enough to get sixth-ranked England this far in making the nation's deepest run in four tournament appearances.

"We've upset the apple cart so far," Sampson said, in noting how England has won four straight, and coming off a 2-1 win over host Canada. "We know we've made life very difficult for every one of or our opponents. And that'll be our intention tomorrow."

It's also not lost on England that they're 1-0-2 in their past three meetings against Japan. And that includes a 2-0 win in the 2011 World Cup preliminary round in Germany.

"They are the world champions, and we have to respect that," midfielder Jill Scott said. "But we have beaten them before, so why not again tomorrow?"

Sasaki is aware Japan has never beaten England since he took over as coach in 2008. And yet, he believes that's about to change.

"I don't think the players are overconfident. But it seems that the coach is overconfident because we lost last time," Sasaki said, referring to himself, through a translator. "In terms of the stamina, both teams will have a tough game. But even with the conditions, I think the Japanese players are superior."

The fourth-ranked Nadeshiko are 8-0 in World Cup play since losing to England.

They've rolled through this tournament with an efficient, ball-control, creative passing style that relies on patience and teamwork that's effectively worn down opponents. That was the case in their 1-0 win over Australia in the quarterfinal on Saturday, when Mana Iwabuchi subbed in and scored in the 87th minute.

"I think we can probably do that, or we can probably do even better than we did against Australia," Sasaki said, before looking ahead to the championship game. "So we will definitely go back to Vancouver, I believe that."

Here's a number of things to look out for as the two nations meet for only the second time in World Cup play:

OHNO IN EDMONTON: Japan forward Shinobu Ohno was reminded that she scored three goals at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium during the Under-19 world championships in 2002.

"That was a long ago, so I really don't remember that," Ohno said through a translator.

Sasaki then interjected and said he expects Ohno to score, because that's the reason he selected her to attend the news conference.

"Well, I'll try hard," she said.

SPOILSPORTS? After spoiling Canada's bid to play the semifinal on the nation's birthday, Sampson isn't sure what type of support England will receive from its Commonwealth cousins.

"We're more than happy to play that pantomime villain role, but I really hope not," Sampson said. "Maybe the neutrals might start to support an England, who are certainly the rank outsiders of this tournament at the moment."

CYPRUS BOOST: Sampson credits the Lionesses winning the Cyprus Cup in March as providing an invaluable boost to his team entering the World Cup.

"We had to win it," Sampson said. "If we didn't win that tournament, we wouldn't have had the belief and confidence to compete here, and the belief we could win this tournament."

England went 3-0-1, with a tie against the Netherlands, and beat Canada in the final.

Since opening the Cyprus Cup on March 3, England is 8-1-1, with its lone loss coming against third-ranked France in the World Cup opener.

FAMILY FEUD: Sasaki revealed that his son-in-law Mike — he and the team didn't provide a last name — is from England.

"So we actually have sort of a fight within our family," Sasaki said with a smile.

The coach's family is traveling with the team, including his son-in-law, who is married to his daughter Chihiro. The two live in Japan.

AIR MILES: England has certainly seen plenty of Canada over the past month. With their stop in Edmonton, the Lionesses will have played in four time zones and five of the six host cities — with the exception of Winnipeg, Manitoba — since opening with two games in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Japan, in comparison, is playing its second consecutive game in Edmonton after playing three times in Vancouver and once in Winnipeg.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[U.S. Prevails in 2-0 Victory Over Top-Ranked Germany]]>Wed, 01 Jul 2015 06:42:28 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_655490100666.jpg

Julie Johnston thought she had blown it.

Handed a yellow card for a foul in the box on Alexandra Popp, Johnston's heart sank when German striker Celia Sasic stepped up to take the penalty kick.

It missed.

The United States went on to beat Germany 2-0 on a penalty kick from New Jersey's Carli Lloyd and a late goal from Kelley O'Hara, erasing Johnston's fear that she had cost her team the game and sending the Americans to the title match of the Women's World Cup.

"The team definitely lifted me up after that happened and finished the chances. Definitely an emotional roller coaster," Johnston said. "But it's a team sport and the team today really stepped up for me. I really can't thank them enough and I'm sure I'll thank them all the way to the final."

Goalkeeper Hope Solo posted her fifth straight shutout, continuing a dominant run for the American defense. The second-ranked U.S. women have gone 513 minutes without conceding a goal.

The United States is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999. The Americans went to the final in Germany four years ago but fell in the end on penalty kicks to Japan.

Now the Americans wait to learn their opponent for the final: Defending champion Japan, ranked fourth in the world, faces sixth-ranked England in the other semifinal on Wednesday night.

The title match is set for Sunday at BC Place in Vancouver. Germany will play the loser of the second semifinal in the third-place game in Edmonton on Saturday.

"In a way maybe it's good for us," German coach Silvia Neid said through a translator about the consolation game. "We can have another match and maybe we can win one more."

Tuesday night's match was billed as the biggest of the tournament so far, a clash between the two highest-ranked teams in the world. More than 51,000 mostly pro-American fans filled cavernous Olympic Stadium.

Germany was coming off a hard-fought quarterfinal victory over No. 3 France, prevailing on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw.

The United States, which had struggled to find its offense earlier in the tournament, had found success in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory over China by moving Lloyd to the top and allowing her to play more freely.

The tactic worked again against Germany; the United States kept its opponent on its heels for much of the match.

"We didn't come here just to make the final. We came here to win it,'" Lloyd said. "So we've got to go after it next game."

The key sequence came over a span of less than 10 minutes in the second half. Sasic's penalty kick came after Johnston fouled Popp in the box, which might have merited a red card. But the referee gave Johnston a yellow.

"The rule says yes," Neid said afterward, "but she didn't get a red card."

Sasic, who went into the match as the tournament's leading scorer with six total goals, fooled Solo but her kick went wide left, prompting a deafening roar from the crowd.

Shortly thereafter, Annike Krahn got a yellow card for fouling Alex Morgan in the box, but replays showed it occurred just outside. Lloyd's penalty kick was her third goal in three matches.

There was a scary moment in the first half when Popp and American midfielder Morgan Brian collided in front of the U.S. goal following a free kick from about 25 yards out.

Television cameras caught blood in Popp's hair, and Brian was prone on the field for several minutes. Both players returned to the match.

The United States improved to 3-1 against Germany in World Cup matches and 19-4-7 overall.

"I think inside our environment, we knew we had this in us," coach Jill Ellis said. "We do a good job of blocking out the distractions."

The tournament has played out with FIFA embroiled in scandal.

Earlier Tuesday, FIFA confirmed that President Sepp Blatter would skip the World Cup final, as U.S. officials pursue a criminal investigation into the game's ruling body.

Blatter's second-in-command, secretary general Jerome Valcke, also will be absent from the biggest event in women's soccer "due to their current commitments in Zurich," FIFA said in a statement Tuesday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[U.S. Triumphs Over Germany, 2-0]]>Tue, 30 Jun 2015 19:00:48 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Ohara-USWNT-USA-Germany-30-June-2015.jpg

Carli Lloyd buried a penalty kick, Hope Solo got another shutout and the United States beat top-ranked Germany 2-0 on Tuesday night to advance to the title match at the Women's World Cup.

Lloyd's penalty kick in the 69th minute went into the right side of the goal less than 10 minutes after Celia Sasic shot wide on a penalty kick for Germany.

"Just slotted it home. I knew what I had to do," Lloyd said.

Solo has posted five straight shutouts for the United States in the tournament. Kelley O'Hara came in off the bench and scored in the 85th minute, delighting the pro-American crowd.

The second-ranked United States will play the winner of Wednesday night's match in Edmonton between defending champion Japan, ranked No. 4, and sixth-ranked England. The final is set for Sunday at Vancouver's BC Place.

"It's a dream come true," Lloyd said. "This is what we trained for."

It was the fourth World Cup meeting between Germany and the U.S. In each of the first three games, the winner went on to win the title.

The marquee matchup led to lines of fans waiting to get in about three hours before the game. The line for the main souvenir stand snaked up a half-dozen ramps to the building's third level at one point.

The stadium built for the 1976 Olympics, where the East German men won the gold medal, was filled nearly to its blue fabric roof, mostly with fans cheering for the United States. The crowd was announced at 51,176.

Previous games in Montreal had the stadium less than half full, with the upper bowl completely empty.

The United States had several good chances from the start. Julie Johnston missed on a header off a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan's breakaway in the 15th minute was stopped by goaltender Nadine Angerer.

There was a scary moment in the first half when Germany's Alexandra Popp and American midfielder Morgan Brian collided in front of the U.S. goal following a free kick from about 25 yards out.

Television cameras caught blood in Popp's hair, and Brian was prone on the field for several minutes. Both players returned to the match.

After a scoreless first half, Lloyd had a header bounce inches wide to open the second.

Sasic's penalty kick came after Johnston fouled Popp in the box. Sasic fooled Solo, who went right, but her kick went wide left, prompting a roar from the crowd.

Sasic went into the match as the tournament's high scorer with six goals.

Shortly thereafter, Annike Krahn got a yellow card for fouling Morgan in the box, but replays showed it occurred just outside. Lloyd's penalty kick was her third goal in three matches.

O'Hara scored on Lloyd's left-footed cross.

The United States tweaked its formation for the match. Morgan started up top, with Lloyd as an attacking midfielder with Rapinoe and Tobin Heath on the wings.

The U.S. had success in its quarterfinal against China when it had Lloyd roaming up top and Brian back as a holding midfielder. Lloyd scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory.

The United States improved to 3-1 against Germany in World Cup matches and 19-4-7 overall.

The United States has won two World Cup titles, but none since 1999. The Americans have appeared in the semifinals of all seven of the women's tournaments.

Germany has also won the title twice, in consecutive tournaments in 2003 and '07.

This tournament has played out with FIFA embroiled in scandal.

Earlier Tuesday, FIFA confirmed that President Sepp Blatter would skip the World Cup final, as U.S. officials pursue a criminal investigation into the game's ruling body.

Blatter's second-in-command, secretary general Jerome Valcke, also will be absent from the biggest event in women's soccer "due to their current commitments in Zurich," FIFA said in a statement Tuesday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Looks to Step Up in Semifinal]]>Tue, 30 Jun 2015 11:04:44 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Womens-World-Cup-US-China-26-June-2015-Carli-Lloyd.jpg

Carli Lloyd's career is defined by big moments.

The latest came in the U.S. victory Friday over China, with a goal that ultimately sent the Americans through to the semifinals at the Women's World Cup.

Now with goals in consecutive games for the United States, the 32-year-old midfielder could face her biggest challenge in top-ranked Germany on Tuesday.

"I don't just train to be a participant," she said. "I train to come up big in big moments. That's when I know I've got to roll the sleeves up."

It wasn't always this way. In 2003 Lloyd was cut from the under-21 national team and she was so discouraged that she decided to quit the sport after playing out her career at Rutgers.

But, in what would turn out to be her pivotal moment as a soccer player, the New Jersey native reached out to coach James Galanis, who went on to become her personal coach and mentor.

Lloyd often speaks of Galanis' contribution to her career, and how whenever she has doubts it is Galanis who reels her back in. Lloyd would face challenges under former U.S. coaches Greg Ryan and Pia Sundhage, constantly trying to prove she belonged in the starting lineup.

"I think over the years I've earned the respect of my teammates, as someone who first got on the scene and wasn't internationally ready, and has just continued to put in the work," Lloyd said.

Lloyd and her team had struggled to find their offense in the group stage at this year's World Cup. The goals were not coming like the team — and their fans — had expected.

The United States nonetheless advanced atop its group to the knockout stage, then had a lackluster 2-0 victory against Colombia in the round of 16, scoring both goals in the second half with Colombia down a player.

Lloyd scored for the first time in the tournament, on a penalty kick, against Colombia.

Afterward she said: "At the end of the day, we all know we're not playing our best football, and we're still finding ways to win. I think that the history of this team is no matter if it's good, bad, we still find a way to get it done."

The turnaround came on Friday, when the United States defeated China 1-0 in the quarterfinals. Lloyd scored the lone goal in what looked like the most inspired performance by the U.S. team so far in Canada.

Lloyd, wearing the captain's armband for the match, was helped by the play of Morgan Brian, who started in place of midfielder Lauren Holiday. Brian sat back as a holding midfielder, allowing Lloyd to move around more freely up top.

Holiday and fellow midfielder Megan Rapinoe were suspended for the match because of accumulated yellows. Both will be able to return against Germany.

Lloyd's breakthrough was her 65th goal in 200 international appearances. Julie Johnston lofted a long ball into the penalty area and Lloyd met it with her head from 10 yards from out and it bounced past goalkeeper Fei Wang in the 51st minute.

Afterward, Lloyd said Galanis would be proud.

"He's served a million balls to me over the years, and he's kept telling me I need to be an aerial presence and attack the ball," she said.

Heroics are nothing new to Lloyd: She scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil for the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and scored both U.S. goals in the 2012 London Olympics final against Japan. She's the only player to score the winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals.

Now comes Germany, and Lloyd certainly has the chance to build on her legacy. With Rapinoe and Holiday back, it's uncertain how coach Jill Ellis will approach the match. And Ellis isn't saying.

Germany poses a considerable challenge to the Americans. The German team won its quarterfinal by beating third-ranked France 5-4 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. The United States has an 18-4-7 record against Germany, including a 3-2 edge in World Cup matches.

Lloyd, who often points to the success of her teammates more than her own, predicted a group effort.

"We've got the momentum now, which is most important," she said. "It took us five games to get it going. That's what is great about this team: Everybody steps up. Everybody contributes."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Women's Soccer Brims With Confidence Ahead of World Cup Semifinals]]>Sat, 27 Jun 2015 17:55:39 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_693563671111.jpg

Megan Rapinoe is so done with her exile to the spectators' seats at the Women's World Cup.

Bring on Germany, said the U.S. midfielder, who had to sit out the 1-0 victory over China in the quarterfinals of soccer's biggest tournament. The confidence-boosting win sent the second-ranked Americans on to a semifinal match against the top-ranked Germans on Tuesday in Montreal.

"Huge match," Rapinoe said. "No. 1 against No. 2 in the world. They've had a great tournament so far, but hopefully they're a little tired."

Rapinoe was referring to Germany's quarterfinal, an extra time penalty-kick victory over France on Friday.

Rapinoe watched the U.S. quarterfinal from the stands at Ottawa's Lansdowne Stadium with teammate Lauren Holiday. They were suspended for the match because of yellow card accumulation — both had received their second yellows in the knockout-round opener against Colombia. Both will be back for Germany.

The Germans trailed third-ranked France 1-0 until Celia Sasic's equalizing penalty kick in the 84th minute, then goalkeeper Nadine Angerer stopped Claire Lavogez in the final attempt of a shootout as Germany prevailed 5-4 on penalty kicks.

"It was a very intense game, I was extremely elated along with the team," Angerer said afterward. "Honestly, I felt completely empty because the match was finally over and it ended well for us. It will take a day to process all the impressions and then we can prepare for the next match."

The 21-year-old Lavogez, France's third-youngest player, ran up to the spot and kicked the ball to Angerer's left. The 2013 FIFA Women's Player of the Year — the first goalkeeper male or female to win the honor — dove and blocked the ball with her left knee.

German coach Silvia Neid sighed heavily after the match: "Such a game as this, which was so tough, when you win it that makes you very confident. But we had to play for 120 minutes, we have some injured players we have to rest."

Like the Americans, Germany has two World Cup titles, in 2003 and '07. The United States is seeking its first championship since 1999.

The two teams have met three times in the World Cup, with the United States winning twice. But Germany claimed the last meeting, a 3-0 victory in 2003. Overall the Americans are 18-4-7 against the Germans.

The United States has made it to the semifinals in every World Cup since the first in 1991.

The Americans made it this year because of Carli Lloyd, who scored the lone goal against China. The 32-year-old midfielder was able to roam more freely, because of tweaks to the lineup, for another big moment.

Lloyd scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil for the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and scored both U.S. goals in the 2012 Olympics London final win against Japan.

The U.S. team was also boosted by its defense — which has been the team's biggest asset throughout the tournament while the offense has sputtered at times.

The United States has not conceded a goal in 423 minutes, with the lone goal against the Americans coming in the tournament opener against Australia. Goalkeeper Hope Solo, who set a record for a U.S. goalkeeper with her 134th win against No. 16 China, has put up four straight shutouts.

Kelley O'Hara and Morgan Brian were called upon to replace Rapinoe and Holiday, who had been among the most effective players for the United States to that point in the tournament. Brian, the youngest U.S. player at 22, sat back in the pocket, allowing Lloyd to be more creative.

The Americans had a 17-6 advantage in shots and 56 percent possession, creating more chances than in the 2-0 round-of-16 win over Colombia. The team looked more organized and pressed China.

"This game was huge for our confidence going into that semifinal match," Lloyd said. "Even players who were pressuring and taking risks, if it didn't work out, we tried again. And I think that's what we need to do to be successful."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[World Cup Players Lament Artificial Turf]]>Fri, 26 Jun 2015 22:50:11 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Artificial-Turf-Womens-World-Cup.jpg

The fields are heating up, there are little black rubber pellets everywhere, and feet are covered with blisters.

The artificial turf at the Women's World Cup is taking a toll.

Australian forward Michelle Heyman told reporters that when the temperature rises, the fields are like walking on "hot coals."

The use of artificial turf for this year's tournament in Canada has been a contentious issue since it was included in the nation's bid in 2011.

The ball bounces and rolls differently on a plastic pitch, causing turf burns on players and making recovery times longer. The men's World Cup has always been played on grass.

Speedy U.S. forward Alex Morgan acknowledges she's got blisters on her toes.

"I feel like turf in general is harder to recover from, just that achiness lasts a little bit longer, but we've been training on turf leading up to the World Cup ... so with that in mind, I think we're more used to it than someone who just jumped into a tournament going from grass," Morgan said.

In China's round-of-16 match against Cameroon in Edmonton, Lou Jiahui pulled up the hem of her shorts after an attempted slide tackle to reveal bloody scrapes.

And then there's heat: Artificial turf absorbs it like an oven roast, and those pellets hold it.

One media outlet recorded the turf temperature at 120 degrees for the Edmonton opener between China and host Canada.

That makes hydration more essential. The heat was such a concern at the knockout-stage match between England and Norway in Ottawa that Swiss referee Esther Staubli called for a water break at the 25-minute mark.

Heyman this week decried the impact on her feet: "It's like walking on hot coals with your skin ripping and slowly cracking, constantly."

But Australia coach Alen Stajcic said Thursday there was no point complaining.

"I think the black rubber usually reflects the heat, and it comes up through the players' boots. But that's the same for both teams. It's just not going to affect an Australian players' foot; it'll affect anyone," he said.

Last fall U.S. forward Abby Wambach led players in litigation over the use of artificial turf at this year's World Cup, a group that included Morgan, Germany's Nadine Angerer and Spain's Veronica Boquete. They claimed the use of fake grass amounted to gender discrimination.

FIFA wouldn't bend on the issue, saying that Canada's bid — the only one in the end for the event — stipulated the tournament be played on artificial surfaces.

The players eventually dropped the claim. To address some of the issues, the turf is heavily watered. That keeps the surface cool and tamps down those little black pellets, which serve as a shock absorber and filler. Players say artificial turf grabs less when it's watered.

"From my perception, the game is different on turf, but it's the same for everybody," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "And that's kind of been the mantra for our team. I would love the surfaces to be more wet; I think the surfaces are very dry. It's turf; it is what it is. But I still think we can make the surfaces play faster by putting water on them."

Earlier in the tournament, Wambach said she's definitely aware that she's on a harder surface. She suggested more goals would be scored at the World Cup if it weren't for the turf.

Against Sweden, Wambach's header toward the goal took an unsual high bounce, and goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl popped it up and over the crossbar.

"The ball as it comes off my head against Sweden hits a dry turf and bounces higher," Wambach said. "If it hits grass, it's harder for a goalkeeper to react. If the ball bounces higher, the goalkeeper has more time to react off the turf."

Wambach clarified that she wasn't making excuses, and that all the players in Canada are facing the same challenges.

It was a sentiment echoed by her teammates.

"You have to find a way," U.S. defender Ali Krieger said. "You have to adapt. This is what was given to us and we're going to do the best we can with it, and adapt and find a way to be successful, no matter what surface we're playing on."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Leads U.S. Over China, 1-0]]>Fri, 26 Jun 2015 23:16:58 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Womens-World-Cup-US-China-26-June-2015-Carli-Lloyd.jpg

arli Lloyd finally was able to express her creativity on field.

Aided by tweaks in the lineup, the 32-year-old midfielder was able to roam more Friday night, scoring for the United States in a 1-0 victory over China that sent the Americans to the semifinals of the Women's World Cup against Germany.

"These are the moments I live for," she said of her goal on a 51st-minute header. "Having the freedom to attack and do what I do best enabled me to create some chances. Just overall so happy we got the win — and on to the semifinal."

Hope Solo had her fourth straight shutout for the second-ranked United States, which has reached the final four of all seven Women's World Cups but has not won since beating China on penalty kicks for the 1999 title at the Rose Bowl.

Seeking their third world championship, the Americans have not allowed a goal in 423 minutes since this year's tournament opener against Australia. Solo set a record for a U.S. goalkeeper with her 134th win, passing Briana Scurry.

The U.S. plays top-ranked Germany, the 2003 and '07 champion, on Tuesday in Montreal.

Despite missing midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, who were suspended for yellow card accumulation, the U.S. managed a more attacking attitude and extended its unbeaten streak against China to 25 matches dating to 2003.

"I think it was a highly energized performance," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "I thought we took care of the ball well, still created a lot of opportunities. So, yeah, we're really pleased."

Morgan Brian replaced Holiday in the middle with Lloyd, with Tobin Heath and Kelley O'Hara — making her first start since March — the flanks. Amy Rodriguez started up top with Alex Morgan, injecting more pace, while 35-year-old Abby Wambach, the record-holder for goals in women's international soccer, did not enter until the 86th minute.

The move to put Morgan in the middle allowed Lloyd to move up, giving her more room to roam and be creative.

Wearing the captain's armband, Lloyd got the breakthrough with her 65th goal in 200 international appearances. Julie Johnston lofted a long ball into the penalty area and Lloyd met it with her head 10 yards from the goal line and bounced the ball off the artificial turf and past goalkeeper Fei Wang.

That brought cheers from the overwhelmingly pro-American crowd of 24,141 at Lansdowne Stadium.

"I don't just want to be a participant in the World Cup," Lloyd said. "I want to have a legacy. I want to have people remember me, and let my play do the talking."

Morgan, who started in her third straight match after recovering from a bone bruise, said Lloyd's play helped spark the whole team.

"I really liked getting a central midfielder up on the field," Morgan said. "She took that opportunity and ran with it."

Lloyd scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Brazil for the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and scored both U.S. goals in the 2012 London final over Japan.

In the opening half, the best American chance was by Johnston in the 26th minute that was cleared in front of an open net by defender Li Dongna. Johnston also had a header off a corner kick in the 31st minute that popped over the crossbar.

Wambach was impassioned in her plea for a goal as the United States came out of the break.

"One of my teammates had to move away from me because I'm obnoxious on the bench, screaming and yelling for my teammates," she said. "Super proud of Carli and Hope today. For some reason, I knew today was going to be a day for Carli to show up."

Brian had a chance to double the lead in the 73rd, but her long strike hit a post, and Lloyd missed high on the rebound.

The U.S. had a 17-6 advantage in shots and 56 percent possession, creating more chances than in the 2-0 round-of-16 win over Colombia.

China coach Hao Wei took responsibility for the team's loss, saying through a translator he could have used better tactics.

"They did an excellent in in Canada," he said about his team, which failed to qualify for the 2011 tournament and has not advanced past the quarterfinals since 1999. "I hope that they can carry on the good work and make a greater contribution to soccer in China."

In Saturday's quarterfinals, host Canada faces England and Australia plays defending champion Japan.

The Americans face a considerable challenge in Germany, which lost to Japan in overtime in the 2011 quarter. Germany advanced earlier by beating France 5-4 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. The United States has an 18-4-7 overall record against the Germans, including a 3-2 advantage in World Cup matches.

"We're going back to the drawing board, because for every stage as this tournament goes on, it's a new tournament," Wambach said. "In order to get to the final, we're going to have to play impeccable soccer."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Loses Rapinoe, Holiday for Quarterfinals]]>Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:03:32 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Megan-Rapinoe-WWC-8-June-2015.jpg

The United States has made it through to the quarterfinals at the Women's World Cup but not unscathed.

The Americans will have to face China without two key contributors.

Midfielders Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe won't be able to play because of accumulated yellow cards. Both received their second yellows in Monday night's 2-0 victory over upstart Colombia in the round of 16.

It's a blow to the United States, which has struggled to find its offense during the tournament. Rapinoe has been one of the most creative and dangerous players for the Americans, while Holiday has been steady and dependable.

"Obviously we've got some decisions to make but I think we've invested in players significantly over the past six months and we've dealt with injuries," coach Jill Ellis said. "So I feel very confident in the players we have to be able to come in and contribute. And I know they're going to be confident to be able to step up and help us advance."

Rapinoe said she felt her caution in the 41st came as the result of a series of calls. Holiday was carded in the 17th minute.

"I guess you could say I accumulated all those fouls so that's worth the yellow card. But (Holiday) got the yellow card on her very first foul of the game so I didn't think that was that fair," Rapinoe said.

Ellis said after the game that Morgan Brian is likely to take Holiday's spot at center with Carli Lloyd. At 22, Brian is the youngest player on the team. Rapinoe suggested that Christen Press would likely step into her spot.

The United States has won the World Cup twice, but the team's last title came in 1999. The second-ranked Americans are among the favorites in Canada, along with top-ranked Germany and third-ranked France.

The U.S. will play No. 16 China on Friday night in Ottawa. The winner of that game will go on to face the winner of the Friday quarterfinal between Germany and France in Montreal.

Abby Wambach, who missed a penalty kick in the match against Colombia, was asked after the match whether the yellow cards for Rapinoe and Holiday were deserved.

"I don't know," Wambach said. "That's definitely a great question. I don't know if they were yellows. It seemed like she (the referee) was purposefully giving those yellows to maybe players that she knew were sitting on yellows. I don't know if that was just a psychological thing, who knows. Who knows," Wambach said.

Those comments concerning French referee Stephanie Frappart could merit discipline by FIFA, soccer's international governing body. Canadian striker Christine Sinclair made comments about the officiating following her team's loss to the United States at the London Olympics and she was later suspended for four matches for unsportsmanlike behavior.

FIFA did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The tournament's rules state that players who receive two yellow cards in two different matches before the semifinals will be suspended for their team's following game. Single yellow cards are cancelled after the quarterfinals to ensure that no players miss the final because of a caution in the semis.

Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd each scored for the United States in the match against No. 28 Colombia, which had pulled off one of the biggest upsets of World Cup with victory over France in the group stage.

Wambach missed a penalty kick early in the second half after Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez was ejected from the match for a foul on Morgan.

With Colombia a player short, Morgan got a right-footed shot past Perez's replacement, Stefany Castano, in the 53rd minute, and Lloyd scored on a penalty kick in the 66th.

"This team is one of the deepest teams that I've ever seen or played on," Holiday said. "I think that we have so many players on the bench that can fill in and do an excellent job."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Morgan, Lloyd Score in 2-0 U.S. Victory Over Colombia]]>Tue, 23 Jun 2015 04:52:40 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Womens-World-Cup-US-Colombia-22-June-2015.jpg

Now that Alex Morgan has a goal, she doesn't want to look back on the opportunities she's missed. 

She wants to look forward to the goals to come.

"I don't remember the last goal I've had with this team," said Morgan, who had been hampered by a bone bruise in her left knee going into the tournament. "And that's not a good sign. I don't want to look back and see when the last one was because now I've scored, and it's a fresh start moving forward."

Morgan scored her first goal of the Women's World Cup and the United States advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Colombia on Monday night. Her previous U.S. goal came March 6 in the Algarve Cup.

Abby Wambach's penalty kick early in the second half went wide after Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez — a backup herself — was ejected for a foul on Morgan. Stefany Castano, who replaced Perez in goal, got a hand on Morgan's shot five minutes later, but couldn't stop the goal to put the United States up 1-0.

"It didn't have much power on it as I wanted, but it went in and that's all that matters," she said about her right-footed goal.

Usually she's lefty: "It comes in handy when it needs to," she smiled.

Carli Lloyd also scored for the second-ranked Americans, who will face No. 16 China on Friday in Ottawa. The United States is seeking its third World Cup title, but first since 1999.

The Americans have not allowed a goal in 333 minutes.

Colombia has never won soccer's premier tournament, but the No. 28 Las Cafeteras pulled off one of the biggest upsets in any World Cup in the group stage when they defeated third-ranked France 2-0.

Morgan and Wambach started up top for the United States, which used the same starting lineup as it did in the group-stage finale against Nigeria — a first since Jill Ellis became coach.

It was Morgan's second straight start after working her way back from a bone bruise in her left knee. Morgan came in as a sub in the first two matches of the tournament.

Morgan missed all three send-off matches because of the injury. Her last match with the U.S. team was on April 4, a 4-0 exhibition win over New Zealand in St. Louis.

Perez, a 20-year-old junior at Miami, started because regular goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda was suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Sepulveda had six saves in Colombia's win over France. Castano had started in Colombia's World Cup opener, a 1-1 draw with Mexico.

The teams played to a goalless first half, with the United States unable to finish several good chances.

Wambach was offside on her rebound goal in the fourth minute. Morgan later had a chance, but her shot bounced in front of Perez, who tipped it up and over the crossbar, one of her three saves in the first half.

Lauren Holiday got a yellow card in the 17th minute, her second of the World Cup. She'll have to sit out the quarterfinal, as will Megan Rapinoe, who got her second yellow in the 41st.

"I feel confident in the players we have to come in and contribute," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said about facing China without the pair.

Perez was sent off at the start of the second half after sliding into Morgan, who was charging toward goal. Wambach fooled Castano on the right side, but the penalty kick sailed well left of the post.

Wambach took full responsibility for the miss, which she took with her left foot — not her usual right.

"It was a weird moment in the game where they get a red card, and the goalkeeper has to get subbed out. I'm not giving myself excuses. I need to bury that," she said. "If that's in a different moment, if that's in the 89th minute to win us a World Cup and I miss, and it sends us to overtime? That's on me. That's all on my shoulders."

After Morgan's goal in the 53rd minute, Lloyd scored on a penalty kick in the 66th, Lloyd's first goal of the tournament.

"We keep telling people that we haven't peaked yet," Lloyd said. "We still have a few more games for that."

The U.S. won the previous two meetings. In the 2012 London Olympics, Colombia striker Lady Andrade sucker-punched U.S. star Abby Wambach in the eye, drawing a two-match suspension.

In the days before the match in Edmonton, some of Colombia's players said they felt disrespected by the Americans ever since.

"Because of something that happened three years ago, they've said things that have not been taken by us in the best way," midfielder Yoreli Rincon said. Andrade told reporters she thought the Americans had "belittled" the Colombians.

Colombia, the third-place finisher in Group F behind France and England, was making its second World Cup appearance; it finished 14th in 2011. Colombia had never won a match in the sport's premier tournament until the upset of France.

"They played with an iron will from the beginning to the end of the match," Colombia coach Fabian Taborda said of his team. "At times the best team in the world didn't look so good because of the way we played."

The second-ranked Americans finished on top of the so-called Group of Death, with victories over Australia and Nigeria and a 0-0 tie with Sweden.

China, the Americans' next opponent, has played in six World Cups, but missed out four years ago. The Steel Roses have never won a title, but they made the final in 1999, losing memorably to the United States on penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Meet the USA Women's World Cup Team ]]>Sun, 05 Jul 2015 18:56:26 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/108968352_master_AlyssaNaeher_sm.jpgThe U.S. women's soccer team won its third World Cup ever. Meet the team.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How to Watch the Women's World Cup]]>Wed, 24 Jun 2015 10:09:34 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP948275192978.jpg

The 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup kicked-off in Canada on Saturday, June 6.

Every game will be aired on the Fox network and on NBC's sister network Telemundo (with commentary in Spanish). Livestreams will also be available.

For the first time, all 52 matches of the tournament will be available live in Spanish in the U.S. across Telemundo, NBC Universo and NBCDeportes.com, with former Mexican Women’s National Team captain Andrea Rodebaugh joining the network talent roster as analyst and commentator.

NBC Universo will broadcast all first round matches of the USA national team. Telemundo will air all of the Mexican women’s team’s first round games. Click here for Telemundo's live stream coverage of first round games. 

On Sunday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m. ET, the World Cup final will be broadcast on Telemundo, returning to Spanish-language TV after an eight-year absence.

For the full Spanish-language broadcast schedule click here.

The roster of competing nations is as follows: USA, Germany, France, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Sweden, England, Norway, Australia, China, Spain, Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland, Mexico,
New Zealand, Colombia, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Thailand.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Wambach Scores as U.S. Defeats Nigeria, 1-0]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 05:57:58 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/USWNT-Nigeria-Wambach-16-June-2015-1.jpg

Abby Wambach is used to scoring with her head. She's not sure how she got her latest goal. 

"I think it was my shin guard, to be quite honest," she said. "I'm not 100 percent sure."

Doesn't really matter to Wambach. What does is that she scored, pulling the U.S. national team to a 1-0 victory over Nigeria and into a first-place finish in its group at the Women's World Cup.

That sends the United States to Edmonton, Alberta, for the opening match of the knockout stage against an undetermined opponent.

It was Wambach's first goal in Canada and her 14th overall in a World Cup, pulling her even with Birgit Prinz for second on the all-time list behind Brazil's Marta, who has 15.

"Getting that goal right before the half was big for us," she said. "Not taking too many injuries is also positive, and going out first in our group was absolutely what we set out to do."

Wambach came off the bench for the United States in the team's last match against Sweden. Tuesday, she started up top with Alex Morgan, who was making her first World Cup start in Canada after working her way back from a bone bruise in her left knee.

The United States, ranked second in the world behind Germany, has two World Cup titles, but hasn't won since 1999. Four years ago in Germany, the U.S. advanced to the final but fell to Japan on penalty kicks.

Nigeria, which has won seven of nine African championships, has been to every World Cup since it started for the women in 1991. The Super Falcons were eliminated after the loss to the United States after playing to a 3-all draw with Sweden in the opener and falling 2-0 to Australia.

Afterward, coach Nigeria coach Edwin Okon would not shake the hand of U.S. coach Jill Ellis.

"We created some good chances, but we didn't take the chances," Okon said about his team's performance. "It is a lesson."

The U.S. opened Group D with a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Australia, before playing to a 0-0 draw with No. 5 Sweden.

Morgan hadn't started a match since April. The speedy 25-year-old played 12 minutes as a sub in the draw with Sweden.

Wambach also came in as a sub in the match against Sweden last Friday. It was the first time she had played off the bench at a World Cup since her first in 2003.

The 35-year-old veteran, who didn't score in the first two U.S. group stage matches, had never gone without a goal in the opening round in her four overall World Cup appearances.

Wambach said it was important to get a start with Morgan as the team heads to the next round.

"Huge to get Alex minutes, not just for us to get the minutes together, but for her to get minutes in the World Cup, and for her to get her legs under her," Wambach said. "Because we need Alex Morgan."

Julie Johnston had the best chance for the United States early, but her strike in the eighth minute was ruled offside. Minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo dove to stop Nigeria forward Asisat Oshoala's attempt.

Nigerian goalkeeper Precious Dede had to punch Megan Rapinoe's long 25-foot blast in the 17th minute. Johnston battled to catch Oshoala on a fast break, sliding to deflect the ball as Solo charged.

Wambach finally put the United States ahead just before the end of the half when she rushed in on a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe and volleyed the ball into the goal at the far post.

Earlier this week after training, Wambach said she thought she would have scored earlier in the tournament if it was being played on real grass. The artificial turf at the World Cup in Canada has been a contentious issue for some players.

"We can sit all day and talk about it, you know me, I can talk a blue streak, the reality is that's it's not changing," she said about the turf. "And I'm not making excuses."

A scary moment came when Wambach and Josephine Chukwunoye appeared to bump heads in a collision. Wambach got up quickly, but Chukwunoye — who got a yellow card on the play — was helped off but returned a few moments later.

Sydney Leroux, who grew up in the Vancouver area, replaced Morgan in the 65th minute. Leroux, who has an American father, left Canada as a teenager to pursue her goal of playing for the United States.

Nigeria, which was physical all game, was hurt when Sarah Nnodim was sent off with her second yellow of the night for a tackle on Leroux in the 69th minute. That put Nigeria at 10 players for the rest of the match.

"I think overall it was a good result," said midfielder Carli Lloyd. "We only put it away once, but I think we're getting a little better each game, and that's what matters."

Morgan, who has 51 goals in 84 international appearances, had not started in a match since April 11, the season opener for the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League. Her last start for the United States came April 4 in a 4-0 victory over New Zealand in St. Louis, Missouri.

She wore pink tape on her knee during the match.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Starter or Sub? Abby Wambach Just Wants to Win]]>Tue, 16 Jun 2015 10:34:21 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP948275192978.jpg

Abby Wambach will do whatever it takes to win the Women's World Cup, even if that means she's coming off the bench.

Wambach came in as a second-half sub in the United States' scoreless draw against Sweden on Friday night, the team's second group-stage match. The second-ranked U.S. will conclude the stage Tuesday night with a match against Nigeria.

"The World Cup for us, for our sport, is the biggest title you can win as a team," she said. "I've never had the opportunity to win one. I've come close. That's obviously a dream of mine to be able raise that trophy for my country."

Before Sweden, the all-time leading U.S. scorer hadn't come off the bench in a World Cup match since 2003. This is the 35-year-old forward's fourth trip to the tournament.

A win against Nigeria, ranked No. 33 in the world, would give the United States a first-place finish in Group D and send the team to Edmonton, Alberta, to open the knockout round next Monday.

After starting in the 3-1 tournament-opening victory of Australia, Wambach entered against Sweden in the 68th minute. Less than 10 minutes later, she had one of the best U.S. scoring chances of the game, a header that Hedvig Lindahl popped up and over the crossbar.

Wambach believes that if she had been playing on real grass, she would have scored on that header. This is the first World Cup played on artificial turf, which has been a contentious issue among many players, and especially Wambach.

Wambach led the way last year when a group of players filed a claim in Canada saying that putting the Women's World Cup on artificial turf amounted to gender discrimination — because the men's event had never been played on what some disdainfully call a "plastic pitch."

FIFA wouldn't bend on the issue, saying that Canada's bid in 2011 — the only bid in the end for this year's event — stipulated the tournament be played on an artificial surface. The group that filed the claim eventually dropped it so they could focus on preparation for the event.

"For me, I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we're playing on grass," she said.

Before the match against No. 5 Sweden, a New York Times profile of Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. coach, quoted her as saying she'd use Wambach as a sub. Sundhage led the U.S. to two Olympic gold medals and to the final of the 2011 World Cup in Germany, where the team lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

Sundhage expanded on her comments in Canada the day before the match.

"You have players starting the game, but you have players that will end the game. And Abby is a player that will make the difference (at the end of games). So I would have that in my back pocket and throw her in and win the game. Now, I don't know the team today, but I saw the game against Australia, and today, playing against Sweden, I would start her because she's that good," Sundhage said.

Wambach doesn't see herself as coming off the bench all the time.

"I think my role for this team, being a longer tournament, might be different from game to game, opponent to opponent," she said. "We have such strong depth, that's one of the biggest strengths of our team, and the ability of our coaching staff to go down our bench to fix problems that are happening and to close out games. ... And hopefully when we get to games four, five and six — and hopefully seven — those decisions will pay off."

Nigeria is coming off a 2-0 loss to Australia on Friday, following a 3-all draw with Sweden in the opener. The Super Falcons' speed and physicality — as well as a spirited group of music-playing supporters — won fans for the team in Canada.

But Nigeria was stung by FIFA's three-game suspension of defender Ugo Njoku, who elbowed forward Samantha Kerr in the face during Friday's match.

Nigeria's only chance to advance to the knockout stage is with a victory over the United States.

Wambach said the United States is wary of Nigeria. While the Americans are the lopsided favorites to win the match, there's already been one big upset: France's surprising 2-0 loss to Colombia on Saturday.

"I think that they're going to play as hard as they can," Wambach said. "They're fighting for their lives in this tournament."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[What to Know About the Women's World Cup]]>Thu, 09 Jul 2015 20:49:03 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP818996959893.jpg

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which kicked off last weekend, is the seventh women’s championship tournament to be played since the matches began in 1991.

Here are some fast facts about the women’s soccer competition.

Largest, longest tournament ever
This year’s competition is the largest and longest in Women’s World Cup history. Twenty-four teams are competing, twice as many as in the first tournament in 1991 and eight more than competed in the last one. Matches are taking place in six cities across Canada, from Vancouver on the West Coast to Moncton in New Brunswick on the East Coast. The final match will be held July 5 in Vancouver.

Scratching the surface
For the first time, the women are playing on artificial turf. The enormously unpopular decision by FIFA prompted some of the biggest stars in women’s soccer to file a lawsuit with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in the fall. The athletes said the fake grass raised the risk of injury and they accused the federation of discrimination. Men have never been forced to play on artificial turf. In January, the women withdrew the lawsuit because it would not be heard in time. Tournament organizers refused to negotiate.

Who’s the favorite?
The German team is number one in the world, with the United States coming in second, according to FIFA rankings at the end of March. Both teams have two World Cup championships apiece. It has been 16 years since the U.S. team has won a World Cup. Japan, ranked number four behind France, will be defending the title it took the last time the tournament was held in 2011.

Who’s playing for the U.S.
This year’s roster includes veteran player Abby Wambach, who is 35 and holds the world record for international goals in men's and women's soccer. Also returning for the U.S. are goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, and forwards Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan.

Oldest, youngest
U.S. Captain Christie Rampone is the oldest player on the American team. The mother of two young children, she will turn 40 during the tournament on June 24. This is the fifth time she is on a Women’s World Cup roster, as a defender. The younger player, at 22, is Morgan Brian, a midfielder who played for the University of Virginia. This is her first Women’s World Cup.

Official mascot
She’s called Shueme, a young great white owl.

A sometimes dangerous sport
U.S. defenders Ali Krieger and Lori Chalupny both suffered concussions. Krieger was off the field for three weeks earlier this year after the 30-year-old had her second concussion in 20 months. Chalupny, 31, heads to Canada on Team USA after a 5-year layoff following a series of concussions.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Colombia Stuns France]]>Sat, 13 Jun 2015 17:11:15 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-476466672+%284%29.jpg

Lady Andrade and Catalina Usme scored goals as Colombia stunned third-ranked France 2-0 Saturday in one of the biggest upsets in Women's World Cup history.

The underdog Colombians opened the scoring in the 19th minute. Andrade broke free from a pair of defenders for a tap-in goal.

Usme clinched her country's first World Cup win with a goal on the counter attack in the 93rd minute.

The French lost despite outshooting Colombia 21-3 in Moncton, New Brunswick.

France was unlucky as well. Colombian defender Daniela Montoya appeared to touch the ball with her hand inside the penalty area in the 67th minute, but a foul wasn't called.

France wraps up group play against Mexico on Wednesday, while the Colombians face England.

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<![CDATA[U.S., Sweden Scoreless for 0-0 Draw in Women's World Cup]]>Fri, 12 Jun 2015 19:20:52 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-476915960.jpg

The United States played to a 0-0 tie with Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage Friday night in one of the most anticipated matches of the group stage at the Women's World Cup.

Abby Wambach came off the bench in the second half, but her header in the 72nd minute was popped up and over the crossbar by Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

A win would have assured the United States a spot in the knockout round as the Americans seek their thirdWorld Cup title, but first since 1999. The U.S. women advanced to the final four years ago in Germany, but fell to Japan on penalty kicks.

The United States, ranked No. 2 in the world, has one more group stage match, on Tuesday in Vancouver, British Columbia, against Nigeria. Sweden heads to Edmonton, Alberta, for its final group match with Australia. The monthlong tournament, with an expanded field of 24 teams, is being played across six Canadian cities.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area

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<![CDATA[Best of the Women's World Cup]]>Sun, 05 Jul 2015 18:54:46 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_211450529279.jpgFollow your favorite teams during the 2015 Women's World Cup. ]]><![CDATA[U.S. Women's Team Ignoring Barbs From Former Coach]]>Wed, 10 Jun 2015 17:58:38 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Pia-Sundhage-Sweden-8-June-2015.jpg

The U.S. national team is dismissing critical comments that former coach Pia Sundhage made about some of the team's players.

The United States is preparing to face Sundhage's current team, Sweden, in a group-stage match Friday at the Women's World Cup. Sundhage spoke about U.S. players including forward Abby Wambach and midfielder Carli Lloyd to The New York Times in a story published Tuesday.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis was asked about the report before a team practice Wednesday afternoon.

"For me, all I do is focus on my players and my team and our preparation," Ellis said. "That's really where my mind is at. I think I've made it pretty clear that distractions don't really creep into my mind when I'm trying to prepare my players."

Sundhage coached the United States for five years, guiding the team to a pair of Olympic gold medals as well as the final of the 2011 World Cup in Germany, which the United State lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

In the Times, Sundhage said Lloyd was a challenge and suggested that she wouldn't start Wambach at this point in the popular veteran's career. She also praised defender Christie Rampone as the best captain she's ever seen, including herself.

Sundhage said goalkeeper Hope Solo was one of the most challenging players she'd coached "especially when it comes to trouble."

Ellis said she hadn't addressed the comments with the team.

"I just think we're an incredible professional group, and the only focus for us is three points and our preparation to try to advance," Ellis said.

Defender Lori Chalupny was asked if the U.S. team would use the comments as motivation Friday night.

"I think when you're in the World Cup, there's no extra motivation needed," Chalupny said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Colombia and Spain Draw, 1-1]]>Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:59:38 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WWC-Mexico-Colombia-9-June-2015.jpg

Daniela Montoya's booming goal from outside the penalty area in the 82nd minute helped Colombia recover for a 1-1 draw against Mexico in the women's World Cup in Moncton, New Brunswick on Tuesday.

The late draw keeps both countries in search of their first victories in the tournament.

Veronica Perez put Mexico up 1-0 in the 35th minute, turning after a corner kick and firing a right-footed shot that Colombian goalkeeper Castano Cardoso Derly Stefany was unable to keep from just crossing the line.

Yoreli Rincon nearly equalized for Colombia in the 59th minute, but her free kick over the outstretched Mexican goalkeeper Cecelia Santiago hit the post. However, Montoya tied the game in the final 10 minutes.

Mexico next plays against England on Saturday, while Colombia faces France.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Costa Rica Draws With Spain, 1-1]]>Tue, 09 Jun 2015 17:08:46 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WWC-Costa-Rica-Spain-9-June-2015.jpg

Raquel Rodriguez Cedeno's first-half goal gave Costa Rica a 1-1 draw against Spain at Montreal on Tuesday in the Women's World Cup debut for both countries.

Rodriguez scored in the 14th minute off a centering pass from Katherine Alvarado, one minute after Vicky Losada put Spain ahead.

Spain controlled the possession for much of the second half, with Jennifer Hermoso and Sonia Bermudez narrowly missing chances soon after halftime.

Losada had another late opportunity, but Costa Rica goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz saved a shot headed to the top left part of the goal.

Costa Rica finished second in last year's CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup, losing to the U.S. 6-0 in the final. It plays South Korea on Saturday, when Spain meets South American champion Brazil.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rapinoe, U.S. Defeat Australia in World Cup Opener, 3-1]]>Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:57:41 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Megan-Rapinoe-WWC-8-June-2015.jpg

Megan Rapinoe scored twice and the United States overcame early defensive shakiness to beat Australia 3-1 Monday night in the Americans' opener at the Women's World Cup.

Christen Press also scored for the second-ranked U.S., which is seeking its third World Cup title and first since 1999.

Lisa De Vanna tied the score midway through the first half, beating controversial American goalkeeper Hope Solo.

U.S. star forward Alex Morgan, sidelined by a bone bruise in her left knee, entered in the 79th minute in her first game action with April 11 with her Portland club.

Rapinoe scored in the 12th minute for the Americans, Press put the U.S. ahead for good in the 61st, and Rapinoe added her 31st international goal in the 78th, the first two-goal game at the World Cup for the Americans since Abby Wambach against Norway in 2007.

The U.S., which won the title in 1991 and '99, improved to 5-0-2 in World Cup openers.

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<![CDATA[Netherlands Beats New Zealand 1-0 in World Cup]]>Sat, 06 Jun 2015 21:50:48 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/New-Zealand-Netherlands-WWC-6-June-2015.jpg

Lieke Martens' long strike from outside the box in the first half gave the Netherlands its first ever Women's World Cup goal and a 1-0 victory over New Zealand on Saturday night.

Martens curled the ball up and over the outstretched arms of New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler in the 33rd minute. Netherlands is one of eight teams making their debut in the World Cup.

The field for World Cup expanded this year to 24 teams, divided into six groups. Saturday was the start of the monthlong tournament, which concludes with the final in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 5.

Earlier in the day, host Canada opened the tournament with a 1-0 victory over China at Commonwealth Stadium. The Netherlands faces China on Thursday, followed by Canada's match against New Zealand as the group stage continues.

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<![CDATA[Canada Defeats China 1-0 in World Cup Opener]]>Sat, 06 Jun 2015 21:42:53 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Christine-Sinclair-WWC-6-June-2015.jpg

With the sellout crowd roaring, Christine Sinclair sprinted across the field and into the outstretched arms of coach John Herdman.

Sinclair had just converted a penalty kick in the second minute of second-half stoppage time, giving host Canada a 1-0 win over China on Saturday in the opening match of the Women's World Cup.

After the celebratory hug, Herdman turned to the crowd and leapt into the air, pumping his fist.

Canada's star striker and team captain had made her country proud.

"The first thing that went through my head was 'I'm taking this.' I've been practicing my whole life for that moment," said Sinclair, who turns 32 next week. "The next thing through my head was 'Man, the fans are very loud right now.'"

Canada was awarded the penalty by Ukrainian referee Natalia Rachynska after Adriana Leon was fouled by Rong Zhao. The sellout crowd of 53,058 at Commonwealth Stadium, the largest for a national team sporting ever in Canada, was on its feet when Sinclair's shot sailed just inside the post and past goalkeeper Wang Fei.

It was the first match of the month-long tournament played across six Canadian cities. The United States opens Monday against Australia, and the final is set for July 5.

The World Cup began with FIFA, soccer's international governing body, plagued by scandal. FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation earlier this week after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 people on corruption charges related to soccer. No FIFA officials participated in the opening ceremony.

Sinclair's goal erased a frustrating match for Canada, which outshot the visitors 14-5. Following the gala opening ceremony that included performances by Canadians Sarah McLachlan and Tegan and Sara, China had come closest to scoring with a first-half free kick that bounced off both posts.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. Of course, it's the opening game of the World Cup in front of 50-some-odd-thousand fans with the game on the line," Sinclair said. "Yeah, it's nerve-racking, but I live for those moments."

The pressure is on Canada, ranked eighth in the world and making its sixth World Cup appearance. Its best finish was fourth in 2003, and the Canadians were 0-3 at the 2011 tournament in Germany.

Canada has been on the rise in recent years under Herdman and has seen increased support by the government in advance of the World Cup. The team had a surprising bronze-medal finish at the 2012 London Olympics.

"I'm really proud of what we were able to put out there," Herdman said about the latest victory. "Three points. Well done Canada."

Sixteenth-ranked China was returning to an expanded 24-nation World Cup after missing out in 2011, when the field was 16 teams. Known as the Steel Roses, China's best World Cup finish was second in 1999, when the team fell to the United States in the final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Sinclair had her first a chance in the eighth minute, but her strike sailed just wide and past the outstretched arms of China's goalkeeper.

Gu Yasha threatened Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who came far off her line to stop the attack in the 18th minute. China's Wang Lisi's incredible free kick just minutes later bounced between both posts — but never made it in the goal.

Sinclair got a few more good chances late in the match, including a shot off a pass from Sophie Schmidt that was scooped up by Wang Fei.

Sinclair also scored on a penalty kick against China in January at the Four Nations tournament.

"You start thinking about things like that. But then you pick a side and I sort of said to myself, 'It either goes in or not.' Luckily it went in," she said.

It was Sinclair's 154th international goal. She's ranked only behind American Abby Wambach (182) for goals among active players.

"There was no doubt in my mind she was going to put that away," said Schmidt.

China coach Hao Wei was asked afterward about the penalty.

"We are here to play the game. We respect all the rules and we respect the referees," he said through a translator. "But I will have to look at it later to see if it was fair or not."

Group A also includes New Zealand and the Netherlands, who met in the late match on Saturday.

Top-ranked Germany is among the favorite along with the second-ranked Americans and No. 3 France. Japan is the defending World Cup champion after beating the United States on penalty kicks in the 2011 final.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Canada Opens Expanded World Cup Against China]]>Sat, 06 Jun 2015 06:44:14 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/USA-Canada-world-Cup-Soccer-6-June-2015.jpg

Canada coach John Herdman pretty much summed up the prevailing sentiment when he was asked what he was looking forward to most about the Women's World Cup.

"Winning," Herdman said.

Join the crowd, coach.

Canada, ranked No. 8 in the world, opens women's soccer's premier tournament with a group-stage match against No. 16 China on Saturday in Edmonton, one of the six Canadian cities hosting the monthlong event. The final is July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Twenty-four teams are competing this year, up from 16 that took part in the 2011 tournament in Germany. Japan won that one on penalty kicks in a memorable final against the United States.

The Americans, ranked No. 2, are among the favorites, along with top-ranked Germany and third-ranked France. The U.S. women are in Group D, the so-called "Group of Death" that includes upstart Australia, Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, and perennial African champion Nigeria.

Group D opens with a match between the United States and Australia in Winnipeg on Monday, but probably the most anticipated match of the group stage is the showdown between the U.S. and Sweden next Friday. It pits Sundhage against former assistant Jill Ellis, who took over the U.S. team last spring.

The players, many of whom played for Sundhage, were keeping perspective on the match.

"It's just another game for us, it's just another in the group round," said U.S. defender Meghan Klingenberg. "We're not looking at is as the 'Group of Death' or the easiest group, or whatever it is. We're just looking at it as a game we have to win because we want to be on the podium at the end of this tournament."

Some things to watch as the tournament gets underway:

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: The women's game and the World Cup have not really been touched all that much by the scandal rocking FIFA, the sport's international governing body.

The only telltale sign of its impact came when FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke withdrew from the tournament's opening news conference in Vancouver. He was replaced by Tatjana Haenni, FIFA's deputy director of the competitions division and head of women's soccer.

At the news conference, Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani was asked if there were any improprieties associated with Canada's bid for the event — a reflection of the corruption allegations facing FIFA as a whole.

The question was a bit amusing because Canada was the only country that bid. Zimbabwe withdrew.

"I actually think that it's a positive thing that the first tournament after whatever happened last week is the Women's World Cup. Because women's football is a very pure form of football. And I think women's football can shine some light in the dark clouds that are hanging over the game," Montagliani said.

ASSESSING THE UNITED STATES: There have been mixed reviews of the U.S. team in the matches leading up to the World Cup, starting with an uncharacteristic loss to France in Lorient in February and ending with a listless 0-0 draw against South Korea in New Jersey last Saturday.

The players themselves say they are unconcerned, trusting a process. "Everybody, don't freak out," forward Abby Wambach said. "We're going to be fine."

TURF WARS: The event is the first senior World Cup, for the men or women, to be held on artificial turf.

That hasn't gone over well with many players, who believe that artificial turf exacerbates injuries and changes the way the ball moves.

Wambach led a group of players who filed a legal challenge last fall, alleging gender discrimination — because the men's World Cup is always played on real grass. The players withdrew their action earlier this year when it became clear it wouldn't be considered before the event.

All six stadiums and 18 practice fields in Canada are outfitted with fake turf.

GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY: This is the first Women's World Cup that will use goal-line technology aimed at taking the guesswork out of the ref's hands when it comes to those critical goal/not-goal questions.

The Hawk-Eye system trains seven cameras on each goal. If there's a score, a signal is transmitted to a watch worn by each match official.

Goal-line technology was also used in the men's World Cup last year in Brazil. That system was provided by the German company GoalControl.

So what spurred technology's intrusion into the Beautiful Game? The 2010 World Cup. A shot by England's Frank Lampard in the second round against Germany was clearly over the line, but disallowed. That goal would have tied it 2-2. Instead Germany won 4-1.

SAYING GOODBYE: Several stars have announced that this will be their final World Cup, including Japan's Homare Sawa, who is playing in her sixth — a record among women and men.

German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer also said she is retiring after this year. And Wambach will likely to hang up her cleats — although she may stick around for the 2016 Olympics.

"We have stars like Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe who are going to continue on for many years on this team. And hopefully I'm going to be riding out off into the sunset with a World Cup championship," Wambach said. "For me it would be an amazing thing to be able to leave this team on a high note and know that it's in good hands with those players."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Leroux Primed for World Cup]]>Sat, 06 Jun 2015 06:48:28 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/179452239_master_WorldCup_SydneyLeroux.jpg

U.S. forward Sydney Leroux, a native of British Columbia, has no idea what the reception will be when she steps onto the field for the World Cup in Canada.

Any Canadian fans who think Leroux betrayed her roots, be warned.

"I feel like the worst you can do is boo me and try to make me feel bad," she said with a wry grin. "Because that just makes me hungrier."

Leroux and her U.S. teammates open soccer's premier tournament on Monday with a group-stage match against Australia in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The World Cup is being played across six Canadian cities over the course of the next month, concluding with the final on July 5 in Vancouver.

The United States, ranked second in the world, is among a tough group that includes the Matildas, as the 10th-ranked Australians are known, Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, and perennial African champion Nigeria.

Leroux is part of a dangerous pool of forwards on the U.S. team. Led by Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, the group also includes Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez.

"It's probably the deepest team in the world," Leroux said. "There's going to be games where you're not going to start, it's all going to be up to what the game asks for. We're all ready for that, and we all know what we need to do."

At 15, and holding dual citizenship, Leroux decided to move to Arizona — alone — in hopes of grabbing the attention of the U.S. Soccer. It worked. The UCLA alum was a promising U20 player for the United States before joining the senior team in 2011. She had a breakout the next year, scoring 14 goals as a sub.

Known for her speed, Leroux is lethal on the fast break, as evidenced by her two goals — the first coming at a seemingly impossible angle — in an exhibition last month against Mexico in Carson, California.

But earlier this year, Leroux struggled with a right foot injury that happened in training. She missed a pair of European exhibitions, a 2-0 loss to France in Lorient and a victory over England in Milton Keynes. The injury dogged her for 3 ½ months.

As part of her recovery, she worked out against her husband, Dom Dwyer, who plays for Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City. The couple married on Valentine's Day.

The workouts helped her speed.

"The injury in January really kind of sucked. I was out for a while, and then getting back to being game fit is tough," she said. "But I worked really hard when we were out of camp. And I'm feeling really good right now."

U.S. coach Jill Ellis said it was clear Leroux was focused when she returned.

"She's back to full fitness, she's back to full health, playing very well," Ellis said. "There's a calmness about her. You know, Syd is a very emotional, intense player. But she has a kind of calmness in what she's doing, even in her finishing."

Leroux says, sure, she'd like to start, but mostly she's ambivalent when it comes to her role in the World Cup: The team comes first.

"I wouldn't mind coming off the bench and ending the game as well. So it doesn't matter," she said. "As long as I'm putting my team in the best position to win, it doesn't really matter if I'm starting or finishing."

There's a bit of history when it comes to the reception Leroux can expect in Canada. She was booed back in 2012 at an Olympic qualifying match in Vancouver, and again during a 2013 match against Canada in Toronto. Leroux scored in stoppage time in that game and then pointed to the U.S. crest on her jersey.

Perhaps the good news for Leroux is that the United States plays in a different group than No. 8 Canada, which means the teams won't meet early on.

"The stronger the wind against her, the more Syd rises, I think," Ellis said. "She has a family, above all, a support group that will protect her. She is very, very strong. She knew what she signed up for when she left the Canadians. But she's so integrated into us, I don't think it's really entered her mind of 50,000 people booing her, maybe. Again, I think that just helps Syd, even more, get her edge."

Leroux herself is approaching it with that same calm she's displayed to her coach.

"I'm planning for everything," she said. "Negative, positive, who knows?"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Teams to Beat in the 2015 Women's World Cup]]>Mon, 01 Jun 2015 08:34:42 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-468351696_Soccer.jpgHere are the top seeded teams, aside from the USA, which is seeded second. Germany, in first place, is the team to beat.

Photo Credit: Bongarts/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why World Cup Sponsors Aren't Bailing]]>Thu, 04 Jun 2015 16:44:34 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-113161666+copy1.jpg

How much scandal is too much scandal?

With billions of dollars at stake and few other ways to tap into the global love of soccer, FIFA sponsors like Adidas, Coke and McDonald's are likely to hang onto their marketing deals and try to weather the scandal that has tarnished soccer's governing body.

It would seem like an advertiser's worst nightmare: More than a dozen soccer officials indicted in an investigation into decades of corruption and fraud. Some are even on Interpol's global "most wanted" list. There's no sign the revelations are ending.

But no FIFA sponsors have jumped ship. They've issued sternly worded public statements and called for change — some of which may have started when FIFA chief Sepp Blatter said Tuesday he would resign.

Whether the next two World Cups will be in Russia and Qatar as scheduled, or elsewhere, sponsors will still want to be there, said Rick Burton, a professor of sport management at Syracuse University.

"By the time we get to 2018, this will be in the rearview mirror," said Burton who has also served as chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "By 2018 McDonald's is still going to want to sell cheeseburgers in all the countries of the world, and they know everyone in the world will be watching the World Cup."

But the investigation is still going on, and more indictments are expected. Sponsors have to ask themselves: How much can we take before doing business with FIFA isn't worth it?

"We've never had a scandal in international sports quite this large at the core of an organization," said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University. "My sense is this is just the tip of the iceberg."

On a smaller scale, sponsors often pull support from athletes or teams tainted by scandals. Radisson last year pulled its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings after they said they said they would let Adrian Peterson play while facing a child abuse charge. Kia, Red Bull and others fled the Los Angeles Clippers after racist comments attributed to the team's owner Donald Sterling surfaced. And Nike, Anheuser-Busch and others dropped cyclist Lance Armstrong after a report that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.

But that rarely happens with big sponsorships like World Cup soccer.

In the first place, more money is at stake: FIFA said sponsorships totaled $1.6 billion between 2011 and 2014. And more than 3.2 billion people are estimated to have watched the 2014 World Cup, global reach that's unparalleled for advertisers.

In addition, sponsoring a big organization or event is less risky than individual athletes. Marketers can tie themselves to fans' love of the game, which is less likely to change than attitudes toward an athlete who might misbehave, or even teams whose fortunes can wax and wane.

"Very few global platforms help brands like Coke, Samsung or Hyundai reach as many consumers as these platforms do. That's a built-in strength that sometimes makes them think they're immune to any backlash," Boland said.

The FIFA scandal has grown to the point where sponsors felt they had to speak up. Visa threatened to reassess its sponsorship, although it pulled back after Blatter said he would resign.

While there are few precedents for the FIFA scandal, in 1998 members of the International Olympic Committee were accused of taking bribes to vote for Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Olympics.

At the time, Olympic sponsor John Hancock canceled $20 million in advertising with NBC. John Hancock President David D'Alessandro sharply criticized the IOC for its handling of the matter.

It remains to be seen if any FIFA sponsors will make a similar move. Many are in multiyear contracts. Sponsorship deals for Visa, Hyundai, McDonald's and Anheuser-Busch run through 2022, and Coca-Cola's and Adidas' until 2030.

Sponsors know that if they exit, they'll be quickly replaced, Syracuse University's Burton said. He said It's more likely that sponsors will ask for more concessions instead of opting out entirely. "They'll use the power of their money to say that if we don't get the extra value we now demand, we'll pay less than what you're charging," he said.

In the end, John Hancock renewed its multimillion-dollar Olympic sponsorship after the IOC adopted reforms in its voting process.

"They stayed in, but they made their point," Burton said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Americans' New Defense Will be in Attack Mode]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 11:13:07 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Meghan+Klingenberg.JPG

Meghan Klingenberg figured she could go above and beyond to further build team camaraderie, and it involved a box of beautiful gourmet doughnuts for her teammates before a recent World Cup tuneup.

Such gestures mean a lot for a group still getting to know each other.

With each match the Americans play and through every rigorous training session, Klingenberg and the defense become more comfortable together on a new-look back line ahead of their World Cup opener 2 1/2 weeks from now against Australia in Winnipeg.

"Step 1 to becoming the most popular girl on the team," wrote Klingenberg, who posted on Twitter a photo of the doughnuts from a popular San Jose spot.

The U.S. foursome that started in a 5-1 victory against Mexico in last weekend's send-off match in Carson featured nobody with more than 80 appearances for the national team, yet that certainly doesn't seem to have coach Jill Ellis overly concerned heading to Canada. Especially with veteran defender and captain Christie Rampone helping lead this young group in her fifth World Cup. She has the second-most international caps in U.S. women's soccer history with 305 behind Kristine Lilly and will turn 40 during the tournament, too.

Ali Krieger started all six matches of the 2011 tournament in Germany, while Becky Sauerbrunn earned a start. Add newcomer Julie Johnston and Klingenberg to the mix and Ellis acknowledges she has a uniquely skilled defense that loves to push forward on the attack whenever possible.

"We're asking more of them in the attack than we have in the past," Ellis said. "But I certainly think that defensively we're coming together. We read the game collectively very well. I still think individually there are things we can improve upon."

Goalkeeper Hope Solo has needed time to adjust to different players' tendencies as Ellis mixed and matched combinations to find her best lineup heading into the World Cup Group D opener on June 8.

Everybody involved understands there is unfinished business after the United States lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the 2011 World Cup final.

"Each game we're ironing out the details in the back. We have our clean sheets," Krieger said. "As of right now, we're golden. We've done really well together and we have a great understanding, a great communication in the back four. It's super strong. We also have so much depth for a back line. Anybody that has to come in and jump in is right there on the same page, and I think we've done such a great job in the last two games to solidify that."

The second-ranked U.S. team (7-1-1) has allowed just one goal over its last six games, and that was to Mexico. The Americans have eight shutouts dating to a 7-0 victory against Argentina on Dec. 18.

It hasn't seemed to matter much the personnel Ellis chooses.

Johnston earned her spot after filling in for the injured Rampone and Whitney Engen at March's Algarve Cup in Portugal. She scored her first career goal for the Americans in a 2-0 win over France in the Algarve Cup final March 11.

Johnston played in just her 11th match for the Americans last weekend, after she scored in a third straight game with a goal against Ireland on May 10.

"She's a warrior. She's got great spirit," Ellis said. "She's got grit. She will sacrifice life and limb to stop a defender or block a shot."

What some of these women might lack in experience on soccer's biggest stage they are determined to make up for with their energy on both ends of the field.

No ball gets by them, they tell each other. No matter who is on the field together at any given time.

"Our back line, our back four, everybody, is so easy to play with because we've been doing it a long time now," Klingenberg said. "It really doesn't matter who you're putting in. The way that we can read each other and rely on each other is really special. You get a rapport playing together. I feel like they totally have my back, same with Hope and all the rest of the keepers. When you can feel like that with your team you know it's good going forward. It's great."

Klingenberg has played alongside Sauerbrunn regularly and previously with Engen on the Houston Dash.

Krieger had a scare last month when she sustained a concussion with her Washington Spirit team. She has been using a protective headband, which only requires a slight adjustment after a header.

Solo sees strides as she watches the group in front of her. The Americans' final World Cup tuneup is May 30 against South Korea in Harrison, New Jersey.

"It's a learning process, but it's been a few years now, not necessarily working with the exact back line but with the same teammates," Solo said. "I'm comfortable and I'm really confident with my back line right now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[D Is for Death: U.S. Battles Tough Group]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 11:57:19 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hope+solo3.JPG

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Group C Preview: Defending Champs Japan Are Favorite]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:10:17 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/japan+womens+world+cup.JPGDefending world champions Japan are heavily favored in Group C, which features three debutantes. Switzerland, Cameroon and Ecuador all head to Canada with exactly zero combined previous senior Women’s World Cup matches played. Japan should cruise through the group.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Group B Preview: Look to Middle Match]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:05:46 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/germany+womens+soccer.JPGThere is unlikely to be much drama for the automatic knockout spots from Group B. Former champions Germany and Norway pace the group that also includes debutantes Cote D’Ivoire and Thailand. That makes the middle match day the most important.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Group A Preview: Canada Has Slight Edge]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:01:52 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/canada+womens+soccer+team.JPGGroup A is arguably the most wide-open of the six groups, even if hosts Canada will be slightly favored. The Netherlands are the dark horses of the tournament, while China and New Zealand are both capable of beating any of the teams in this group.


Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Team USA's Lori Chalupny Returns After 5-year Layoff]]>Sat, 06 Jun 2015 06:49:06 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Lori+Chalupny.JPG

Lori Chalupny remembers the sinking feeling when she was told that she couldn't play for the U.S. national team because of concussions. She thought, "What do I do now?"

That was in 2009 after she was injured in a training camp. She thought she'd be cleared to return to the team right away, but instead years passed.

With the World Cup looming, Chalupny contacted U.S. Soccer last summer with a comeback in mind. Accepted back onto the team, the next step was proving that she belonged.

Now she's going to Canada.

"It's been a crazy few months," she said. "Just getting back with the team and trying to catch up with the pace of the game nowadays, and then to make the team finally after waiting five years, it's pretty incredible," she said. "It's something that I've worked a long time for, and probably one of the greatest accomplishments of my career just because it's been a long journey. I've had to keep believing and keep working hard along the way."

Chalupny's work ethic impressed coach Jill Ellis, and the 31-year-old defender earned one of the 23 coveted spots on the World Cup team. It will be her second World Cup (she also went in 2007 to China) and she is just the second U.S. player to earn a roster spot in non-consecutive tournaments. Brandi Chastain did it in 1990 and 1999.

"I know her quality. I was on the sideline in 2008 when she was in the Olympics." Ellis said. "I was just hopeful we could get her back to where we know she can be. I think she's done a remarkable job."

The United States opens the World Cup on June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The monthlong tournament is being played in six Canadian cities, with the final set for July 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In the run-up to the World Cup, Chalupny scored in a 4-0 victory over New Zealand on April 4, playing in her hometown of St. Louis. It was her first goal since 2008.

Chalupny played in her 100th international game on May 10 against Ireland in San Jose, California, and a week later she scored against Mexico in a 5-1 victory in Carson, California.

Ellis said Chalupny's return was in the making back in December when the team played in the International Tournament of Brasilia.

"The biggest issue for me was, 'Can she play at the speed of the game?' We watched her in training and down in Brazil (in December) and felt comfortable with her ascension — she was getting better every single camp," Ellis said.

Chalupny was named the U.S. Soccer young player of the year in 2005, and two years later played in all six of the 2007 World Cup Games in China. But in late 2009 she had "a number of concussions in a short period of time," which prompted a neurologist for the team to recommend that she take time off. She had no noticeable ill effects, but she understands that the decision was made in her best interests.

She had no idea her layoff from the national team would stretch five years.

"The tough times were right at the beginning. Right when I was first told that I couldn't play anymore. It was like, 'What's your identity now?' I was playing on this team since I was 16," she said.

She eventually saw independent neurologists on her own, who gave her clearance to play. She played in the now-defunct WPS and she is currently with the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League.

She said the World Cup was not necessarily her impetus to return to the national team. She just hadn't given up the dream of playing for the US.

The goal in St. Louis was Chalupny's first wish come true. The second came 10 days later when she got "the call."

"The best part of coming back was getting the call from Jill, that I made the team. It's been a long journey back. It's been tough at times, the ups and downs," she said. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Now Chalupny's goals have shifted to Canada.

"Anytime you go through adversity and you come out," she said, "I think it definitely makes you stronger."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[EA Sports Adds Women's Game to FIFA 2016]]>Fri, 29 May 2015 12:27:12 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/FIFA-WOMEN-VO----00000000.jpg

Move over, fellas.

Women have joined EA Sports' popular soccer video game, making their debut this September in FIFA 2016. Twelve women's national teams, including the United States, will now be included in the game.

"When I started playing soccer I never thought that I'd be on the national team, let alone to be asked and have the opportunity to be in a video game,'' said U.S. forward Abby Wambach, who was "imaged'' for the game along with some of her teammates.

The announcement comes as the United States and most of the other national teams in the game prepare for the Women's World Cup in Canada starting next week.

In addition to the U.S. the other teams represented include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and Sweden. The women's teams compete exclusively against each other in the game.

Teammates Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe all traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, earlier this year for a motion capture session. Canadian players also contributed.

EA Sports also sent its mobile head-scanning unit to tournaments and matches worldwide to capture player's faces and hairstyles.

The idea was to make the players and their movements as authentic to the women's game as possible.

"I think it's important for people to understand the women's version is not going to be a dumbed-down version, it's going to be legit and the way we play,'' Wambach said. "That's what I'm most excited about.''

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan took to Twitter: "This is super sick. Never would have thought in my life this would happen. Love it.''

David Rutter, vice president and general manager of EA Sports FIFA, said the technology progressed to a point where the game could add women "properly, rather than just pretending.''

"Absolutely the time is right. The game's fantastic, the graphics are great, the consoles are awesome – and right on our doorstep here in Vancouver we have the Women's World Cup,'' Rutter said. "It would be wrong of us not to do it.''

Wambach said EA Sports' addition of women signifies another important advance for soccer.

"I think that for me what this shows is not only is the game making progress, but in the bigger picture, women are covering ground and they are making strides in terms of equality,'' Wambach said. "That's so massive.''

EA Sports is a digital interactive entertainment company based in Redwood City, California. It is known for its video games, including Madden NFL and NBA Live. FIFA 2016 is to be released in September.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: EA Sports
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Nadine Angerer Anchors German Team Facing Challenges]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 10:21:38 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/+Nadine+Angerer.JPG

Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer anchors a German team that is facing challenges and changes.

Ranked No. 1 in the world, the team got stung when Nadine Kessler, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, suddenly said she needed knee surgery in March. Then beloved coach Silvia Neid said she would step down next year after 10 years with the team.

And Angerer herself recently announced on her national team's website that she plans to walk away from the game, too, topping off a career that includes her own world player of the year honor.

But first she's got another World Cup to win.

"I always want to win," she said with a smile.

Angerer begins her quest for another title when Germany opens play in the Women's World Cup on Sunday in Ottawa, Ontario. The tournament will be the culmination of a journey that began with Angerer riding the bench for 10 years behind goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg, waiting for her chance.

She didn't play in a game during that time, watching as Germany won the 2003 World Cup and three European championships.

When Rottenberg tore an ACL, Angerer was named the team's starting goalkeeper for the 2007 World Cup in China.

"Before the tournament I said to the media, 'I want to play. I'm good enough to play.' Then Silke got injured, my coach said, 'OK, you're going to play, but now you have to show that you earned the right to play.' I was like, 'oh my gosh, now I have pressure,'" Angerer said with a laugh.

She did not concede a single goal during the tournament, setting a World Cup record for most minutes played (540) without being scored on.

"I always wanted to play and now I had to show it. But I think the pressure made me good. I trained so hard, I never trained that hard before. And I was mentally so focused. I was dead after every game, mentally dead. It was such a hard tournament. But it worked," she said.

Probably the most memorable moment came in the final against Brazil. She stopped a penalty kick from five-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta for a 2-0 German victory. It was the nation's second — and last — World Cup title.

A year later, Angerer helped the German team win the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She was also in goal for European titles in 2009 and 2013. For the latter title, she saved two penalty kicks in Germany's 1-0 victory over Norway. After the feat she became the first goalkeeper — male or female — to win FIFA's highest individual award.

Last year, she was signed by the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League, earning a whole new cadre of fans stateside.

"A lot of times you have the world's best players come in and they don't really want to get on board, but she's embraced the entire city, she's embraced the club, she's embraced the entire culture. She's been great on the field and in the locker room: She's a leader," Thorns coach Paul Riley said. "She's in early and she stays late. She still believes she can get better and give more, and that's what makes her the player she is."

At 36, Angerer surprised many recently when she announced via the German national team website that she would retire from international play following the World Cup. She will honor her contract with the Thorns through the rest of the season.

Neid called Angerer an extraordinary player and an even better person.

"She was and is a person I trust," Neid said. "I am sorry that she will retire after the World Cup, but I understand her decision. She is extremely important for the team — a leader and a great captain who understands how to integrate younger players in her own special way."

Angerer will have added responsibility this summer in Canada. In addition to the absence of Keller, the German team also lost midfielder Luisa Wessing, who broke her led during the Algarve Cup in Portugal earlier this year.

"We are used to it, to be honest. Before the European 2013, I think half the team was injured. Six key players were injured. So this time it's only two," Angerer said. "But we have a bunch of players who can compensate, that's the good thing. We have so many talented players, so many young players. So we'll have a strong team."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Soccer Star Fled Taliban at 10]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 09:20:48 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/nadia+nadim.jpg

Nadia Nadim sits at the dining room table of the New Jersey home she shares with her Sky Blue FC teammates, quietly studying. But it’s not a soccer playbook the star striker thumbs through.

It’s something called "Medicinsk Kompendium Lommebog," a medical handbook written in Danish, one of five languages she speaks.

"Five and a half, really," Nadim quickly corrects. Her French is admittedly a little rough these days. English, German, Persian and Urdu round out her list of languages, and Nadim is likely to use any one of them in a text back to her family and friends in Denmark.

She has a lot on her plate. When not busy scoring goals -- seven in her first six games with Sky Blue FC -- the 27-year-old is a dedicated medical school student with plans to become a plastic surgeon. She is nearing the end of her 6-year program at Aarhus University back in Denmark.

"Sometimes I'm like, 'Why am I doing this?'" she says of the endless hours of studying and soccer. But then she explains that the ability to save lives is something she feels strongly about, perhaps because of so many along the way who had a role in saving hers.

Leaving Afghanistan

Nadim remembers the day her father first handed her a soccer ball. She and her four sisters played dodgeball at first, eventually learning to kick the ball around within the secrecy of the walls that surrounded the family’s home in Kabul. Rabani Nadim was really into sports, but the father of five girls was also well aware that young women playing soccer was just not acceptable in 1990s Afghanistan.

He was a general in the Afghan army. And then one day, he was gone.

Nadia was 10 years old when she learned the Taliban had executed her father. Her mother, Hamida Nadim, knew they could not stay in Kabul.

"I can't even imagine that – we probably wouldn't be alive," says Nadim. "My mom and five girls in the family? That is hard to live in Afghanistan."

So they fled, first to Pakistan and then to Italy. Eventually, they arrived in Denmark, not speaking a word of Danish. While her mother worried about logistics like passports, schools and housing, Nadim used soccer to fend off the fear that accompanied their journey.

"We used to live in this refugee camp beside a soccer club with all these fields. I knew we were safe. We had tons of balls and all the kids were the same age," she said.

She had soccer, but she missed her father.

"There are moments when you see other people with families and you'll be like, 'I wish my dad was here,'" she said.

Jersey Shore

The big surfboard lying on the front porch of the yellow cape belongs to Nadim. She is somewhat obsessed with the beaches of New Jersey, and talks a little faster as she explains how determined she is to master surfing, as if she has time to learn anything else in between soccer and studying.

The Jersey Shore feels a little like home in Aarhus, Denmark. That was a big reason why she returned to Sky Blue FC, after lighting up the league with seven goals in six games last August while on loan from her team in Denmark.

Sky Blue FC and the National Women’s Soccer League are loaded with players who later this week will suit up for their respective national teams in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Nadim just missed the roster – “next time,” she laments – but is unquestionably a star in the NWSL. She lives for the pressure that comes with that territory.

"I kind of like the pressure," says Nadim, admitting she often catches herself lying in bed wondering how all this happened.

"I'm grateful I'm here and alive. And playing soccer, which I love."  


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<![CDATA[USWNT Veteran Christie Rampone Looks to World Cup]]>Wed, 03 Jun 2015 02:15:25 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/Christie-Rampone-World-Cup-USWNT-2.jpg

U.S defender Christie Rampone has been to four World Cups, including the last time the Americans won in 1999.

She'll head to her fifth this week, joining a group of just four other women internationally who have appeared in as many.

She's seen the team through the elation of hoisting the trophy at the Rose Bowl those 16 years ago, to the disappointment of 2003, when the United States hastily hosted the event because of the SARS outbreak in China and finished third, and to the sting of 2011 when the team fell to Japan on penalty kicks in the final.

She would like nothing more than to bookend her career with another title.

Rampone will turn 40 during the World Cup in Canada, and it's abundantly clear why she made the team: She's been there before.

"When we get to Canada it's a whole other level," she said. "The preparation is the first phase of it. When we get there, with the pressure and media and the spotlight, the level raises. And each country brings a whole different presence. That's something we have to be ready for and embrace, then put our best soccer out there."

Rampone said the drought between World Cup titles — and the frustration that lingers from the runner-up finish in Germany four years ago — is driving this squad.

"This is my fifth World Cup and every World Cup has been hard. It hasn't been smooth sailing: We haven't gone in and won every game and it's been great," she said. "There will be bumps, it's just how we overcome those."

The 39-year-old Rampone has been with the U.S. women's team since 1997 and is the most capped active player in the world. Her international appearances fall second only to fellow American Kristine Lilly, who had 352 caps from 1987 to 2010.

Only four other women have played in five World Cups: Lilly, Brazil's Formiga, Germany's Birgit Prinz and Japan's Homare Sawa. Formiga and Sawa are expected to play in their sixth this year.

"I feel strong. I feel fast," she said. "I'm in a good place and I'm ready for this World Cup."

Rampone has played only sparingly in the lead-up to Canada after dealing with injuries. First it was some strained muscles in her lower back as the result of weight training earlier this year. Then she strained a ligament in her left knee.

The first action she has seen this season came on May 17 when she came in as a second-half sub in a 5-1 victory over Mexico, part of a three-match send-off tour before the World Cup opens on Saturday.

She realizes her primary role has been expanded to include guidance of the younger players who will eventually take her place — like Julie Johnston, who has blossomed while Rampone was injured and has won a starting nod.

"I'm constantly communicating on and off the field to make sure we're in a good place and peaking at the right time, and not doing too much but doing enough, and not letting the pressure get to us," Rampone said. "I think our team does well with pressure, and embracing that pressure rather than flinching away from it."

Coach Jill Ellis also sees Rampone's contribution as coming from her experience, calling her role "critical."

"Great leadership. Confidence," Ellis said in describing what Rampone brings to the team. "You know, I met individually with all the players and my message to her was that she's an integral part of our team's success this summer. "

Rampone said there are distinct differences between the U.S. World Cup teams. Past squads — including that '99 team — were more defensive, while this team has more offensive threats.

"Now I think we're a defensive unit but we can attack with one or two — versus just relying on like a Mia (Hamm), back in the day, when everybody else would just sit behind and if she lost the ball we're gonna defend behind her," Rampone said. "I think now we have more of a creativity and we can expand and go after it — which exposes us a little bit defensively — but I think we'll take the creativity up top and try and handle it."

Of course, Rampone doesn't want to get too far ahead of herself — part of winning a World Cup, she said, is staying in the moment — but she sees the elements that could carry this team far.

"We're definitely prepared. This team has been together a long time. There's a great mix of new, young, old, but I think Jill's done a great job with the coaching staff on our preparation — whether it's the fitness aspect, preparing us on set pieces, or everything on the run of play, strategy, just all of those things that make up a successful team. We're ready."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Ties South Korea In Women's World Cup Warmup ]]>Mon, 01 Jun 2015 13:54:46 -0700https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP818996959893.jpg

The United States' fate at the Women's World Cup may hinge on Alex Morgan's left knee.

The 25-year-old star forward missed her third straight game due to a bone bruise, a listless 0-0 draw against South Korea on Saturday in their final warmup match.

Morgan hasn't played in a month but says she will be ready for the Americans' opener against Australia on June 8. Coach Jill Ellis, trying to lead the U.S. to its first World Cup title in 16 years, said Morgan will have to build her minutes at the tournament in Canada.

"We need her. We need her to win," said forward Abby Wambach, who may get more playing time because of Morgan's injury. "I'm comfortable if she doesn't start games. I'm comfortable if she comes off the bench, that we still are successful throughout this World Cup."

Three days shy of her 35th birthday, Wambach started in her 242nd international appearance in the only change by Ellis from the starters in the 5-1 win over Mexico on May 17. Wambach replaced Megan Rapinoe, who had a sore quadriceps in training Friday.

While the U.S. outshot the South Koreans 15-7, the Americans had few good scoring chances. The best was in the 36th minute, when Wambach was 1 yard from an open goal line and couldn't get her head on Meghan Klingenberg's cross from the left flank. South Korea goalkeeper Kim Jungmi stuck out her right hand to bat away Carli Lloyd's open 10-yard shot in the 49th minute after Morgan Brian pulled the ball back.

"Now's the time to get everything out of our system before we head over there." Lloyd said. "We'll be just fine."

The U.S. leaves by charter jet Tuesday for its training base in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Americans' first-round group also includes games against Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage on June 12 and Nigeria on June 16.

"We looked a little leggy," Ellis said. "It's now time to kind of put all the circus behind us and get up to Canada and recharge our batteries and be ready to go."

The second-ranked Americans were shut out at home for the first time since Nov. 5, 2008, in Cincinnati, also by South Korea. Still, the U.S. extended its home unbeaten streak to 96 since November 2004 (84-0-12) and is 7-0-2 against the South Koreans.

Wambach, who broke her nose in a collision with Ireland goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke on May 10, played until the 60th minute and worked on some combinations with Sydney Leroux.

"She can start. She can come in off the bench," Ellis said. "I think there'll be certain games where it's going to benefit us to have her come in and close a game. ... She's such a clutch player and is used to the spotlight,"

The Americans won World Cups in 1991 and 1999, and they have won three straight Olympic gold medals. But they have struggled in World Cups. Morgan, who has 51 international goals, was expected to lead the U.S. attack.

"Alex is always going to be important because of what she can bring to the game," Ellis said.

Before a capacity crowd of 26,467 at Red Bull Arena, all 23 U.S. players lined up for the anthem, outnumbering the visitors' 11. Eschewing their traditional red-white-and-blue color scheme, the American wore white uniforms with black trim and lime socks.

"Everybody's a little nervous. People don't want to get injured," Wambach said. "To be honest, it was a boring game. There wasn't really much attack. There wasn't really much brilliance individually or collectively."

The performance didn't inspire much confidence. But it was only an exhibition.

"Everybody, don't freak out," Wambach said. "We're going to be fine."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Bay Area



Photo Credit: AP]]>