Mark your calendars: Coming in June

Events this month: 

Two against Japan, June 2 and June 9

Getting ready for Rio

The Japanese national tem celebrates after defeating the United States in the championship match of the 2011 World Cup. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

The Japanese national tem celebrates after defeating the United States in the championship match of the 2011 World Cup. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. women have two games scheduled in June, both against Japan.

The two teams meet tonight (June 2) at 8 p.m. CT in Commerce City, Colo., outside Denver; and on Sunday (June 5) at 11:30 a.m. CT in Cleveland.

Tonight’s game is on Fox Sports 1; Sunday’s is on ESPN2.

Japan has long been one of America’s toughest rivals. The two teams have met in the finals of the last three world championships, the 2011 World Cup, the 2012 Olympics, and the 2015 World Cup.

Lately, though, the scales have tipped in Team USA’s favor, most notably in the drubbing that Carli Lloyd & Co. delivered in last summer’s World Cup title match.

After that, Japan failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, a disastrous showing for the team that won the silver medal at the 2012 Games and finished fourth in 2008.

Asako Takakura. (Kyodo)

That led to the resignation of Norio Sasaki, the veteran coach who guided the team through its most successful years.

He was replaced by Asako Takakura, the first female to coach the Japanese women’s team.

Takakura, 48, was an accomplished midfielder for Japan, earning 79 caps and appearing in the 1991 and 1995 World Cups as well as the 1996 Olympics.

But her coaching experience is limited to Japan’s youth programs; her team won the under-17 Women’s World Cup in 2014. These two games against the United States will be her first as coach of the senior team.

Homare Sawa

Homare Sawa

Japan is without its greatest star and all-time leading scorer, Homare Sawa, who  announced her retirement at age 37 on Dec. 16 — the same day that Abby Wambach, a close friend, played her final game for the United States. After Japan’s World Cup victory in 2011, Sawa was honored as the Women’s World Player of the Year, the only recipient in the award’s 15-year history who was not from the United States, Germany or Brazil.

Despite the past year’s tumult, Japan could prove to be a handful for the high-flying U.S. women, who are 11-0-0 in 2016. Japan is still ranked No. 7 in the world. The United States won’t have Carli Lloyd, who is still recovering from a knee sprain.

Carli Lloyd vs.Brazil, Oct. 21, 2015. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

Carli Lloyd, Oct. 21, 2015. (Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports)

And if there’s one accomplishment that could bring a ray of light to what has been a dark year for Japan, it would be upsetting the world champs on their home soil in Team USA’s run-up to this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

That would go a long way toward achieving what Takakura says is her first goal as coach: Restoring her team’s self-esteem.

“The players have to get their confidence back,” she said in a May interview.

The U.S. women will only play twice more before heading to Brazil. On July 9, they face South Africa in Chicago. One other July game has yet to be announced.

 

soccerball

NWSL season at the half

An August recess for the Olympics

nwsl-logoThe 10 teams of the National Women’s Soccer League will reach the midpoint of their 20-game schedule in June.  Most teams have played seven games so far; a couple have played six.

The big surprises to date are found near the bottom of the standings. FC Kansas City, the defending champion, is in second-to-last place with a record of 1-4-2. The team has scored just four goals in seven games. Seattle Reign FC, which dominated in the regular season last year — finishing 13-3-4 to take first place by a comfortable 10-point margin — is tied for sixth, at 2-3-2.

standings

Last year, KC beat the Reign 1-0 in the championship game. The same two teams met for the title in 2014, with KC winning 2-1.

Kansas City celebrates its second consecutive NWSL title after defeating the Seattle Reign 1-0, Oct. 1, 2015. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Kansas City players celebrate their second consecutive NWSL title, defeating the Seattle Reign 1-0 on  Oct. 1, 2015. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

This year, it will take a strong second-half surge for either to even have a shot at making the playoffs.

The regular season ends the weekend of Sept. 24-25, with the top four finishers advancing to the playoffs. The dates for the two semifinal games and the championship have yet to be announced.

rio logo

The league will take a break from Aug. 1 to Aug. 25, when many of its star players will be at the Olympics — and soccer fans’ attention will be focused on Rio.

 

soccerball

New rankings — same as the old, we hope

USA should remain on top

The new women’s rankings come out June 24.

Barring a dazzling performance by Japan, there won’t be any change at the top:

  1. USA
  2. Germany
  3. France
kelley2

No, Kelley. No. 1 — not No. 2. (Instagram)

 

soccerball

Birthdays

June 2 – Abby Wambach turns 36
June 6 – Becky Sauerbrunn turns 31
June 9 – Heather Mitts (photo) turns 38
June 12 – Christine Sinclair turns 33
June 24 – Christie Rampone turns 41
June 25 – Jill Loyden turns 31
June 29 – Shannon Boxx turns 39

mittsy

 

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