The next two stops on the U.S. women’s Victory Tour include something fans haven’t seen since the World Cup:
Brazil, the No. 7 team in the world, will play the United States in Seattle on Oct. 21 and in Orlando on Oct. 25. The first game, at 9 p.m. CT, is on ESPN2; the second, at 1:30 p.m. CT, is on Fox Sports 1.
There is much more on the line for the Americans than in most friendlies.
Led, as they always are, by Marta, arguably the best female footballer ever, the Brazilians are a team that’s capable of embarrassing the world champs.
Not only capable — they’ve done it.
In the first four stops on their Victory Tour, the U.S. women have hardly broken a sweat. Their opponents, Costa Rica and Haiti, were more foils than foes. The combined score of those four games — two against Costa Rica, two against Haiti — was USA 28, Other Guys 2.
By herself, Carli Lloyd scored four times as many goals as the Haitian and Costa Rican rosters together.
Haiti, in particular, was hopelessly overmatched. The Haitian women — girls, really — would have struggled to keep up with the Americans’ second team. They would struggle against the U.S. Under-19 team.
The Americans had 75.
In fairness, it should be noted that Haiti didn’t seek out this humiliation. The team was a last-minute fill-in for the Australian women’s team, which went on strike back home in a dispute over pay and working conditions.
If I counted correctly, Brazil and the United States have played 11 times since the beginning of 2006. The Americans won eight of those games, the Brazilians two. One was a draw.
Most teams would take 8-2-1 against an opponent perennially ranked in the world’s top 10.
Unless one of those losses came at exactly the wrong time.
If Brazil were to win in Seattle or Orlando, that would end Team USA’s astounding home unbeaten streak, currently at 100 games. The American women haven’t lost on U.S. soil since Nov. 6, 2004. That’s almost 11 years.
All things must pass, and so will this streak, but when it does, it will be a sad moment. It could be a very long time before this team — or any other –again goes 11 years without losing a home game.
Beyond extending their historic streak, the Americans have another compelling reason to avoid an upset by Brazil:
The next time these two teams meet, they might be chasing Olympic gold. On Brazil’s home turf.
The 2016 Summer Games are in Rio de Janeiro. The hosts will be under enormous pressure to perform well before their families, friends and fans. They’ll want to put on a show — and not just for their Brazilian followers but also for the huge global audience that the Olympics attract.
To use a baseball term, Brazil will be a tough out at home. Anything that happens between now and the Olympics that boosts the confidence of the Brazilian women — like, for example, beating the mighty Americans in the United States — could make that tough out tougher.
The Brazilians, of course, won’t be the only ones under enormous pressure. That’s something Team USA lives with every day. It’s one of two or three teams in the world — along with Germany and maybe Japan — that expects to win every big tournament. Anything short of first place means failure. That’s how the U.S. players see it, that’s how the coaching staff sees it, and that’s how fans see it.
The weight of those great expectations will only increase between now and next summer.
The champs had barely cleared Customs on their way home from Canada before writers started reminding them — and everyone who follows them — that no women’s team has ever won the Olympic gold medal right after winning a World Cup.
The Red, White and Blue can expect to hear this another few thousand times before they get to Rio.
This summer, Brazil’s trip to the World Cup ended in disappointment. They always do.
Brazilian culture still doesn’t take women’s soccer seriously or hold it in particularly high regard, and when it’s time to prepare for a big tournament, the national federation typically slaps together a roster consisting of Marta; a handful of other experienced professionals; and a ragtag assortment of awestruck, gifted but untrained youngsters.
Largely because of this national indifference, the Brazilian women have never won a World Cup or an Olympic gold medal.
Marta has competed in four World Cups, in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015; and three Olympics: 2004, 2008, and 2012. The best her team has managed — even with her on the field for every minute of almost every game — has been a couple of second-place finishes.
This year, the Brazilians dominated in the group stage, winning all three of their games without conceding a goal.
But in the first knockout round, they lost 1-0 to Australia. They didn’t stick around long enough (or even come close) to cross paths with Team USA.
Brazil and the United States teams last went at each other in December of 2014. They faced off twice in the International Tournament of Brasilia, an annual four-team competition hosted by Brazil.
Remember, in 11 meetings over the past 10 years, Brazil has only beaten the U.S. women twice and managed a single draw.
Those two December games in Brasilia account for one of those two wins, and the draw.
The title game, on Dec. 21, was the draw (0-0). Brazil won the tournament, having accumulated more points than the United States in the earlier rounds of play,
It was the other Brazil-USA match, however, that showed why As Canarinhas, and especially one Canarinha, cause opposing coaches to have bad dreams.
When Marta is at her best, she’s unstoppable. It doesn’t matter who’s marking her, how many defenders swarm to her, what formation she’s up against, who’s in goal for the other team. She is that rare footballer — like Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers, Carli Lloyd of late and Alex Morgan when she’s healthy — who can singlehandedly change the course of a game.
On Dec. 14, in the United States’ second match of the Brasilia tournament, Brazil beat the Americans 3-2.
More accurately, Marta beat the Americans 3-2.
After Team USA took a 2-0 lead on early goals by Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe, the incomparable South American took over. She dismantled the U.S. back line to score three unanswered goals. (See highlights below.)
• In the 19th minute (at the 2:02 mark of the video), she split the U.S. center backs with a timed run to collect a teammate’s pass as it arrived from just beyond the halfway line. With Hope Solo closing in off her line and Meghan Klingenberg, one of the defenders who’d been beaten, attempting a sliding tackle from behind, Marta quickly and calmly fired the ball into the back of the net.
USA 2, Brazil 1.
• In the 55th minute (4:12 in the video), she pressed the ball forward, outmaneuvering four U.S. defenders; created a touch of space on the left; and angled a left-footed shot back across the face of the goal, into the right side netting.
Ninety-nine percent of the players in the world, going 1-on-4 against the U.S. back line, would never have gotten off a shot.
Most of the other 1 percent would have missed the shot that Marta took.
USA 2, Brazil 2.
• In the 65th minute (4:53 in the video), she launched a missile from well outside the penalty area. The ball zipped between two defenders and dipped into the near corner, just inches beyond Hope Solo’s diving reach.
USA 2, Brazil 3.
It was vintage Marta, the sort of spectacular, did-I-really-just-see-that performance that inspired Pelé himself to embrace a description of her as “Pelé with skirts.”
And it would be plainly foolish for anyone, least of all Jill Ellis and her team, to think it couldn’t happen again.
Or in Rio.
Sunday, September 13
‘Second season’ begins in NWSL’s third season
The playoffs get under way in the National Women’s Soccer League, with two semifinal matches scheduled. Both are on Fox Sports 1.
The matchups and times are still to be determined. The four NWSL teams that made the playoffs are the Seattle Reign, who have the league’s best regular-season record; FC Kansas City, the current league champion; the Chicago Red Stars; and the Washington Spirit. But with a few games remaining in the regular season, it’s not yet clear who will play whom in the semis.
The championship game will be Oct. 1 at Providence Park in Portland, home of the Portland Thorns, who have led the league in attendance by large margins in each of its three seasons.
Thursday, September 17
The Victory Tour rolls on
n play Australia at 6 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. The match is on Fox Sports 1.
Australia was the opponent that the Americans faced in the first round of the World Cup in Canada. Team USA won 3-1, but the Aussies were a tough opponent. It took a couple of exceptional saves by Hope Solo to keep Australia from taking an early lead.
Sunday, September 20
The Americans again meet the Australians, this time at 1:30 p.m. CT in Birmingham, Ala. The game is on ESPN2.
Tuesday, September 22
‘We’re in the game’
This is the release date for FIFA 16, the ridiculously popular soccer video game from EA Sports. For the first time, the game includes players from women’s teams.
Friday, September 25
Still No. 1? Almost surely.
The new world rankings come out. Unless Australia pulls off a huge upset in one of its two friendlies against the United States, nothing much will change.
September 6 – Jill Ellis turns 49
September 7 – Briana Scurry turns 44
September 25 – Randy Waldrum turns 59
September 30 – Lauren Holiday (below) turns 28