Alternative title: Was the Kate Deines, Merrit Mathias trade the most cold-blooded, revenge-soaked trade in women’s soccer?
Kate Deines announced that she was retiring from professional soccer just a few weeks before the opening of the NWSL season, leaving defending champs FCKC in the lurch. Their backline was already going to be light, since Becky Sauerbrunn will miss most of the season for the World Cup, and without Deines’ presence for the season the Blues are down to just 3 defenders on their roster.
The Reign, on the other hand, can look forward to several good years from 24-yo Merrit Mathias, who has extensive experience in the youth national team and started 18 of 22 games for FCKC in their title-winning year.
This is probably just an unfortunate coincidence for the Blues, but fans might be allowed a little leeway to speculate about Deines’ motives. She is, after all, a lifelong Northwesterner – she was born in PDX, raised outside of Seattle, and played her college ball at the UW. And FCKC did crush Seattle’s dreams by demolishing them in the 2014 NWSL championship game. And Laura Harvey does appear, at times, to be a ruthless, season-wrecking, diabolical soccer genius.
Now all that’s left is to see whether that Sydney Leroux trade pans out for the Reign too. Quite the gamble, that one.
Following a solid, if not overwhelming 2-1 victory over Norway, the US will face a rising Swiss side this morning. This summer will be the first World Cup for the Swiss, who benefitted from the expanded pool. Since they lack the history of a team like Norway, and have yet to show well in a major tournament, they’re not expected to pose a major challenge for the US. But, with the spotty play of the US and the capacity for surprise that this tournament seems geared for, who knows!
Players to watch
The Swiss star Lara Dickenmann is having a great tournament so far, with 2 second half goals in Switzerland’s first game against Iceland. Dickenmann has played professionally in the US during the first women’s league, and was even named the W-league’s most valuable player in 2007. Since then, she’s played for Lyon in France, sharing the pitch with US players like Megan Rapinoe. Look for her to make things happen in the counter and trouble the US defense.
Keep an eye out for Hope Solo’s second game back from her suspension to see whether the rust is being worn away. If anyone was unconvinced about the importance of goal-keeping, yesterday’s games should have put that to rest: Nadine Angerer’s miscue in the second half against Sweden sent Germany to an inexorable downward spiral, while Solo’s reaction save to stop Norway from going up by 2 ushered in the US’s comeback. Solo is still central to the US play, so having her in top form is a top priority. It will also be interesting to watch Morgan Brian’s continued development in the midfield.
The first day of the Algarve Cup showed fans of women’s soccer one thing: the level of competition is finally leading to upsets, dark horses and maybe new international leaders. This World Cup is going to be off-the-charts.
Germany was shocked by a truly mentally tough Swedish team, who came back from what could have been a soul-crushing 2 goal deficit in the first 5 minutes of the game to win 4-2. Japan was shocked by a universally underrated Danish squad, 2-1. The US conceded a beautiful goal to Norway after dominating the run of play, and barely eked out a come-from-behind victory thanks to a Carli Lloyd brace.
The rules of the women’s game no longer apply
It’s not like the 90s. We’re not sitting back and debating whether disciplined Germany, athletic USA, tightly organized China, flashy Brazil or maybe an upstart Norway would take the Cup. It used to a game between five, maybe six countries. Now Sweden is a real contender. Japan has won the Cup. France is playing some of the best soccer in the world. Hell, even the US has been challenged by teams like Mexico and Canada on off days.
Sweden is officially the team to watch
Depending on how deep Sweden goes in the World Cup, Pia Sundhage may go down as one of the best coaches of the women’s game. Today’s game against Germany showed a quintessentially Pia tactical feel: a bit loose, fun, energetic, with lots of dynamic utilization of the wings. Watching the Swedish team mentally recollect themselves and claw their way back into the Germany game was a testament to the mentality that Pia instills in her players. That, and Sofia Jakobsson looks like a player to keep an eye on, especially for the US, when they play Sweden in the group round! She was a beast on the left wing, which is turning into a sore spot for the US squad. All in all, if the Germany/Sweden game is any indication, Sweden is one of the teams to beat in the upcoming cup, and the cup itself is going to be a joy to watch.
USA will square off against Norway tomorrow at 2pm eastern.
These longtime rivals will essentially re-play some grudge matches from the 1990s in the first match of the group stage of the Algarve Cup. Norway knocked the US out of the semi-finals of the second World Cup, then lost to the US in the semis of the following Olympics. It looks like history is coming full circle: Norway even has its coach from those days – Even Pellerud – back in the saddle, and lord knows how the US would love to emulate those glory days. All told, Norway has played the US more than any other team (48 times).
Norway’s seat at the table
Norway had been on the decline since the early 2000s, but they pulled out of their hole recently. They came in a tight second to Germany in the 2012 Women’s Euro Championship, falling 1-0 only after German keeper Nadine Angerer saved 2 penalty kicks. With some exciting new players like Ada and Andrine Hegerberg and Emilie Haavi joining several veteran defenders, the team is coalescing and promises to be one to watch.
US chance for redemption
As for the US, this Algarve Cup is for exorcizing demons. An earth-shatteringly poor performance from the team in last year’s Algarve Cup led to the quick dismissal of new head coach Tom Sermanni and seems to have ushered in a period of decline for the US squad. Anything less than a series of convincing victories in the group stage and an extended run for the Cup will bring the worry-warts of the US out in droves.
Algarve Cup Group Stage: what to watch for
All eyes will be on the return of Hope Solo, who is back from her 30-day suspension. Has her on-field mental toughness been affected by her off-field troubles? Fans of the game will also be curious to see how US head coach Jill Ellis handles what is proving to be a bit too much talent in the midfield – which unthinkable benching will happen? Will Carli Lloyd be banished to the wing? Will Megan Rapinoe sit for too long and get yet another injury? What about those Norwegian youngsters – how will the US defense hold up against them?