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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quarter Finals around the Corner

"souvenir" cup... at least it is if you take it

Almost everyone piled in the RV for another trip to Vancouver.  Unfortunately, Jack (on Father’s Day) had to stick with his commitment to coach the ALL-Star Baseball Team.  Fortunately, Nick and Ben played great on Saturday to help their team’s advance and headed to Vancouver to catch another game.  A tough call as both boys truly love baseball, but it makes me smile inside to know the memories from past World Cups and the anticipation of more around the corner is what lures the boys to Vancouver.  

Nick has already discussed multiple times (a) “When we go to France, are we getting an RV?” (b) “Can you believe in the next World Cup Ben will be in High School?"  (c) “Can Zach come to the next one?” and (c) “Will you still be alive in 6 World Cups?”

The border crossing went as slick as a whistle... and then we quickly slowed to a halt in the city.  Lesle was probably the only one annoyed as she was at the wheel.  The rest of us love a little extra time in the RV.  Makes us feel like we are really heading somewhere far.  Snacks, a heated game of Go Fish, good tunes, and lots more leg room then the last trip where we looked like a clown car getting out of the van. 

Pulled in to space 27 just in time to hook up, clean up, make a little dinner and hit the hey.  All of us trying not to notice how close we were to the freeway just pretended the sound of cars zooming by were waves. 

Australia v Brazil in RV 

Next morning, we drove all the way across an intersection to a huge shopping center to grab groceries and on to check the Griffins into their Time Share a mere three blocks from the stadium. Landing in our spot on Canada vs. Switzerland Game day, we couldn't be in a more perfect time or place. 

Parting the Red Sea was impossible as we rolled with the tide to our seats.    We are locals in this spot and anticipate who will do what today.  Will the 3 Irish women with less than remarkable tattoos cheer for Canada or Switzerland?  So far they have belted out cheers for Switzerland (v Japan) and Nigeria (v USA).  Will the extremely nice family in front of us still be there? We hope so.  Will the Seattle Reign fans that recognize Lesle and make sure they rub elbows with her upon each passing,  make sure they bump into her again?  And for the love of Pete! The guys behind us… everyone has a set of them in their section.  You know the ones. The soccer “know it alls” that really do not know it all.  Talking about “Amy Wambatch”  as well as why so many teams play much better with only 10 on the field…. And it just doesn’t stop.  Benjamin rolls his eyes, while Nick smiles… because they really do know the scoop.    
He was cheering for Nigeria at the last match. 
And the answer is Yes! They are all here and even more!  We’ve got crazy fans, happy fans and nervous fans.  We’ve got fans that are trying to sit in our seats, Fans with B.O., first time fans and fans that have been rooting for Canada forever.  These are the fans that realize the Canadian Women’s Soccer team is the only team sport in Canada that has ever won a medal in the summer Olympics or World Championship. The atmosphere is exactly what we hoped for; a loud,  packed house with a game that would certainly be up for grabs; and it didn’t disappoint. 

As a matter of fact the ebb and flow, a couple of special players and a cohesive energy allowed for one of our favorite matches thus far.  Martina Voss (a former German National Team player) had the Swiss team firing on all cylinders.  A couple of athletic, talented players in Dickenmann & Bachmann were crowd pleasers but the team as a whole was composed.  Their team moved the ball fairly well and the captain of the back line, Abbe, had her hands full, but guarded the back 1/3 as well as anyone.  Far less athletic than most teams we have seen, their back line was smart, effective, composed and very tough to crack even for Tancredi, Schmidt and Sinclair. 
Hats off to the person who swam out to dress this statue in a Canadian jersey!

One quality chance converted into a goal allowed the anticipatory stadium to erupt into relief and pandemonium all at once as Canada was on the board 1-0 and that was how it ended.  

Canada's team not as dominating as we would have thought.    As much as we hoped to see Switzerland's Bachmann steal a goal back, Canada moving on, even though they didn't WOW us, makes the crescendo of WWC2015 a bit louder; and now we can put our focus where it needs to be... USA, USA, USA!

A little exercise and sightseeing at Stanley Park.  Our bicycles pedaled us to Coal Harbor where the ice cream and view of a few Orcas (click to see) playing in the Harbor made for a perfect day.
Orca's Spotted in Coal Harbor

Onto view USA v. Columbia. Yes.. originally we planned to drive to Edmonton and then drive back.  As we got out our map, matched it with our clocks and the rational people in our crew, we chose to stay in Vancouver.  Everyone expects a victory, but in the past couple of matches with Columbia we have either struggled to get the first goal and/or there has been blood and bruises.  Getting past Columbia is expected... but it will most likely be unpleasant.

So.. thankfully the friends we bumped into... and the food were spectacular.

 Next think ya' know, it's half time.  We are still 0-0, have missed a p.k. and Rapinoe and Holday are out for the next round.  All of us trying to focus on the 2nd half AND figure out how the USA will morph for the next match with China without 2 of the 4 midfield starters.   As much as Columbia had some players that enjoy their time on the ball... maybe a little too much... the tean didn't give the USA much to worry about. A solid back line, plus Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd getting on the board may prove big dividends later down the road.  It's amazing what a little extra confidence can do for a player (and a fan) when your 'GO TO' players find the net.    Let's hope it's the beginning of many more.  Lots of talk about how we didn't win pretty.. Good for us.  Let's move on. Moving on is the tough part.  Who is our starting 11?  That makes for interesting conversations.  A new system?  :)  A Morgan Brian? Are we going to "press?"  A-rod?  Rampone? Boxx?  Experience over legs? Man I'd love to be a fly on the wall and listen to the conversations ... I take that back, being a bar fly with soccer buddies and our family is even more fun!
Whoever marches out for the national anthem on Friday should out maneuver China's roster and their predictability.  Not looking past China in the least bit, they have had enough success to get this far and have their full roster to boot.  Rapinoe has been one of the better players on our squad and we will miss her presence.  Hey.. By the way Megan.. since you are out for the Quarter Final.. .do you think you can bust it to Seattle to make it to the Seattle Reign game on 27th?  Just checking.

So much fun to be with people who have opinions and have contributed to the game for so long in just about every capacity imaginable; and all of us today filled the role of "FAN" and as much as it's fun to throw out ideas and see what might stick... we all want the same thing: 3 more wins.

USA!  USA!  USA!  
Okay.. was hoping to finish this before our next match, but didn't want to miss out on any fun.  So I will pause just long enough to mention things that maybe should not be mentioned but that keep swirling around in my noggin.
1) Canada's Coach, John Herdman (& a few others)...what's with the tight fitting shirt, hair gel and efforts he's made to get on camera.  Does he get a commission for every time he's on the screen?
2) Lots of tatoos
3) Our uniforms.  Don't get me wrong I think the jerseys look sweet.  It's a World Cup.. and last I checked we were U.S.A.  and our colors are Red, White and Blue.  
4) Youth Girls Soccer and NWSL in action during WWC2015;  as in during France/Germany  USA/China  Seattle Reign FC/ FC Kansas City.    Booo.

Due to some late sleepers our gang split up.  Lesle, Heather and Steph kayaked the day away. While the Griffins hit the Vancouver Aquarium
Nothing like a beautiful place to kayak 10 minutes from the city. 

If there is an animal in sight, Nick and Ben are happy campers.  The aquarium is one of very few that no longer captures animals.  Since 2009, all creatures in the aquarium have been rescued and deemed by either the govt. or the Wildlife Soc. unable to go back into the wild.  The aquarium rehabilitate each animal trying to get them to be able to live in the wild, but often times unable to do so.  Each animal had it's own story of how it ended up at the aquarium; and although the stories were different, the common theme happened to be how people aren't very kind to our environment.  The presentations were heart felt, heart warming and the animals seemed very well cared for.  I thought I'd miss the tricks and shows but actually enjoyed watching the animals seem comfortable and cared for.  A day full of belugas, otters, parrots, bats, dolphins, penguins and some happy, worn out kids.
Beautiful Mammal on a beautiful Day

2 more mammals stuck in an enormous tree trunk.  

I see a 2-toed sloth

A quick rest stop before the long 90 second walk to the stadium for Japan v Nederlands.
Butterflies anyone? 
It seemed as if Japan had the Nintendo joystick controls the entire match.  11 players moving in sync to create and recreate gaps in a Dutch defense that was trying to stay condensed.   To watch Japan live is a treat.  One can gain a better sense for how their technical abilities and cohesion make them special; not strength, speed and a player that is destined to be the recipient of FIFA's Golden Ball (MVP).  The best word to describe their team... EFFICIENT.  Not a ton of wasted movement, technical speed that is beautiful to watch and an attacking style that will put any fan on the edge of their seat.
So much is talked about what they can do when the ball is at their feet, but a huge strength of Japan's is their approach when the ball is not in their control.  Defensively, Japan is just as resourceful.  Baiting opponents to play a ball into what seems like a comfortable space and then, "WHAM!" outa' nowhere the flying Ninjas are on top of you, take the ball and dance down the field.  And, they look like they are having a blast.

A World Cup is grueling.  Seven games in a month at the highest level in the world ... on turf. Win or go home.  Japan's efficiency and their ability to let the ball do the work vs. individual players makes me think while the world cup wears on, the work load these women have put on their bodies isn't as grueling as other teams. Sometimes, it really does look effortless.  With that said, other World Cup Champs including the U.S. have had the strength, power, speed, fortitude, and WOW players to kick efficiency to the curb and steamroll out a victory.  It is why the sport is the world's greatest.  You can be a petite, smiling Japanese player that can slice you to bits with sharp passing, a strong, skillful German that can receive a 45 yard ball on the fly to unbalance your entire back line, or a defensive minded team that has no hope of winning... and waits... just waits for a set piece to bend into the goal and then manage that clock as best you can with no time outs and very few subs.  On any given day.... it is up for grabs.

Yes.. the best team won, although I'd love to see the Dutch at the next World Cup.  Their young team hung with the Japanese, refused to give up and had some quality attacking chances until the final whistle.   Excited to see Japan vs. Australia, but Japan seems to have some GK issues. The GK that opened the World Cup struggled with her distribution, and an ugly goal was given up on a bobbled ball that should have been a routine save in this latest match. Those GK's.. .it's a sucky position.  Like gymnasts in the Olympics.  One little hiccup and all voices are talking about it "Oh my God, did you see that!!?? She flinched on the balance beam and she let the gold medal slip from her grasp!"... It's the same with GK's.  One dipped shoulder and there are gasps throughout the stadium.  And it's warranted.  Keepers are supposed to be solid, no soft goals, no missteps.  But every now and then, when I hear those comments, I cannot help but mutter, "Yeah.. I saw .. did you see the field player bonk a ball off her shin.... 25 times.? "
Okay.. deep breath.   As the WWC2015 marches on, the teams dwindle and the match ups are worthy of watching for everyone who has kicked a ball.  Young or not so young, male or female, fan or naysayer.   Canada/ England     Australia / Japan     USA / China     France / Germany   Lions and tigers and bears, Oh MY!

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