<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - Sports - [FEATURE] Women's World Cup]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/sportsen-usSat, 21 Sep 2019 01:52:27 -0400Sat, 21 Sep 2019 01:52:27 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Soccer Player Celebrates World Cup Win With Dance From J. Lo]]>512675541Sat, 13 Jul 2019 04:05:03 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/CarliLloyd_JLo.jpg

Carli Lloyd of the U.S. women's national soccer team celebrated her recent World Cup victory with a lap dance from J. Lo.

Jennifer Lopez pulled Lloyd from the audience to the stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Friday night, working her sensual moves on the soccer star.

After Lopez told the crowd that Lloyd was in attendance, her fiance Alex Rodriguez escorted Lloyd to security guards who walked her to the stage, where she sat on a chair shaped like a stiletto shoe.

Lopez congratulated Lloyd for her team's win and then told the athlete: "Got a little present for you."

"Actually Carli, I got two presents for you," the pop star said. "Girls, will you take care of Carli and give her a little birthday present?"

Lopez left the stage and two of her female backup dancers gyrated on Lloyd as the 2009 hit "Birthday Sex" by R&B singer Jeremih played in the background. Lloyd's 37th birthday is Tuesday.

Lopez returned to the stage, and she and her female dancers moved sensually in front of Lloyd, who was cheered on by the audience.

"Carli, you doing OK?" Lopez asked, then sitting on Lloyd's lap as she sang a slowed-down version of "If You Had My Love," her debut single released in 1999.

The U.S. women's national soccer team has been on a celebratory run since beating the Netherlands to capture a record fourth Women's World Cup title earlier this week. On Wednesday, the team won trophies at The ESPYS and was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City.

Lloyd wasn't the only special guest at the concert: Lopez's 11-year-old daughter, Emme Maribel Muñiz, joined her onstage to sing a duet, which earned a standing ovation from the audience.

Lopez's "It's My Party" Tour will return to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2019 Women's World Cup Schedule of Play]]>510909691Fri, 07 Jun 2019 11:19:39 -0400Click here for the full 2019 schedule.]]>Click here for the full 2019 schedule.]]>https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/fifa-women-sked-2019a.jpg

The 2019 Women's World Cup kicks off Friday, June 7, in Paris with 24 teams vying for soccer's biggest prize over the course of the month. Telemundo networks will provide Spanish-language coverage and livestream all of the matches. FOX will air English language coverage. 

Below is the schedule of play. All times listed below are Eastern Daylight Time. 

The United States women's national soccer team, the No. 1-ranked defending champion, first plays on Tuesday, June 11, at 3 p.m., against Thailand. The U.S. women will next take on Chile on Sunday, June 16, then Sweden on Thursday, June 20. 


Friday, June 7 - Paris
France vs. South Korea, 3 p.m.

Saturday, June 8 - Reims
Norway vs. Nigeria, 3 p.m.

Wednesday, June 12 - Grenoble
Nigeria vs. South Korea, 9 a.m.

Wednesday, June 12 - Nice
France vs. Norway, 3 p.m.

Monday, June 17 - Rennes
France vs. Nigeria, 3 p.m.

Monday, June 17 - Reims
South Korea vs. Norway, 3 p.m.

Saturday, June 8 - Rennes
Germany vs. China, 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 8 - Le Havre
Spain vs. South Africa, Noon

Wednesday, June 12 - Valenciennes
Germany vs. Spain, Noon

Thursday, June 13 - Paris
South Africa vs. China, 3 p.m.

Monday, June 17 - Montpellier
Germany vs. South Africa, Noon

Monday, June 17 - Le Havre
China vs. Spain, Noon

Sunday, June 9 - Valenciennes
Australia vs. Italy, 7 a.m.

Sunday, June 9 - Grenoble
Brazil vs. Jamaica, 9:30 a.m.

Thursday, June 13 - Montpellier
Australia vs. Brazil, Noon

Friday, June 14 - Reims, France
Jamaica vs. Italy, Noon

Tuesday, June 18 - Grenoble, France
Australia vs. Jamaica, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 18 - Valenciennes
Italy vs. Brazil, 3 p.m.

Sunday, June 9 - Nice
England vs. Scotland, Noon

Monday, June 10 - Paris
Argentina vs. Japan, Noon

Friday, June 14 - Rennes
Japan vs. Scotland, 9 a.m.

Le Havre, France
England vs. Argentina, 3 p.m.

Wednesday, June 19 - Nice
Japan vs. England, 3 p.m.

Wednesday, June 19 - Paris
Scotland vs. Argentina, 3 p.m.

Monday, June 10 - Montpellier
Canada vs. Cameroon, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 11 - Le Havre
New Zealand vs. Netherlands, 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 15 - Valenciennes
Netherlands vs. Cameroon, 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 15 - Grenoble
Canada vs. New Zealand, 3 p.m.

Thursday, June 20 - Reims
Netherlands vs. Canada, Noon

Thursday, June 20 - Montpellier
Cameroon vs. New Zealand, Noon

Tuesday, June 11 - Rennes
Chile vs. Sweden, Noon

Tuesday, June 11 - Reims
United States vs. Thailand, 3 p.m.

Sunday, June 16 - Nice
Sweden vs. Thailand, 9 a.m.

Sunday, June 16 - Paris
United States vs. Chile, Noon

Thursday, June 20 - Le Havre
Sweden vs. United States, 3 p.m.

Thursday, June 20 - Rennes
Thailand vs. Chile, 3 p.m.

Saturday, June 22 - Grenoble
Group B winner vs. Group A, C or D third place, 11:30 a.m.

Saturday, June 22 - Nice
Group A second place vs. Group C second place, 3 p.m.

Sunday, June 23 - Valenciennes
Group D winner vs. Group B, E or F third place, 11:30 a.m.

Sunday, June 23 - Le Havre
Group A winner vs. Group C, D or E third place, 3 p.m.

Monday, June 24 - Reims
Group B second place vs. Group F winner, Noon

Monday, June 24 - Paris
Group F second place vs. Group E second place, 3 p.m.

Tuesday, June 25 - Montpellier
Group C winner vs. Group A, B or F third place, Noon

Tuesday, June 25 - Rennes
Group E winner vs. Group D second place, 3 p.m.

Thursday, June 27 - Le Havre
Nice winner vs. Valenciennes winner, 3 p.m.

Friday, June 28 - Paris
Le Havre winner vs. Reims winner, 3 p.m.

Saturday, June 29 - Valenciennes
Montpellier winner vs. Rennes winner, 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 29 - Rennes
Grenoble winner vs. Paris winner, 12:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 2 - Lyon
Le Havre winner vs. Paris winner, 3 p.m.

Wednesday, July 3 - Lyon
Valenciennes winner vs. Rennes winner, 3 p.m.

Saturday, July 6 - Nice
Semifinal losers, 11 a.m.

Sunday, July 7 - Lyon
Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: FIFA]]>
<![CDATA[Photos: Young Fans Rejoice at US Women's World Cup Parade]]>512534562Wed, 10 Jul 2019 16:05:12 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/222*120/D_I1I1qXoAAjE_A.jpeg

Young soccer fans, some sporting U.S. flags and club jerseys, were among the thousands who lined Manhattan streets as the U.S. women's national soccer held a victory celebration for their historic fourth Women's World Cup title

As the team paraded down the Canyon of Heroes, we asked kids along the route how they felt being at the parade. Many had words of congratulations for their childhood heroes. Some said they came from as far away as California, Tennessee and Florida to be there. 

Click on each photo to see more. 

This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Q&A: 2019 Women's World Cup Ticker-Tape Parade in NYC]]>512419931Wed, 10 Jul 2019 09:26:47 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/usa2AP_19188638125678.jpg

Watch NYC Ticker-Tape Parade for World Cup Champs Live HERE

New York City will hold a ticker-tape parade to celebrate the U.S. women's soccer team's World Cup victory Wednesday, marking the second time that the honor will be bestowed upon female athletes.

Here are the answers to a handful of common questions about the parade.

What is the parade route?

The parade will take place along "The Canyon of Heroes," traveling east on Battery Place to Broadway, turning north on Broadway and then concluding at Chambers and Centre streets.

What is the time of the parade?

The parade kicks off at 9:30 a.m. A special ceremony at City Hall Plaza will follow at 10:30 a.m.

How can I watch the parade?

If you can't watch the parade in person, don't worry. We've got you covered. NBC 4 New York will air full TV coverage of the event and will stream all the action on this website.

How many people does the Plaza hold?

It holds more than 3,500 people.

What streets will be closed?

The NYPD will begin street closings on Broadway and the surrounding area and the surrounding area at approximately 6 a.m. before the parade starts. "No Parking" will be in effect beginning at 12 a.m. Wednesday. Any cars remaining will be towed.

The Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan Bound) Centre Street exit will be closed for the duration of the parade. The Park Row entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge will also be closed during this time. Those looking for access to the Brooklyn Bridge should use the Frankfort Street/Pearl Street entrance, the city says.

Deliveries will be restricted for all businesses and residences in the area beginning 10 p.m. Tuesday and will not resume until Wednesday 5 p.m.

What about train and bus services?

The MTA will have train service changes, and may close certain subway entrances and exits in the area. Due to street closures, many MTA buses may be re-routed. Head to the MTA website for details.

How much did the previous Women's World Cup parade cost?

About $2 million, of that $450,000 in private donations.

Was any of the previous parade sponsored?


Where does the confetti come from?

Confetti comes from a number of sources—residential buildings and businesses along on the route purchase it, residents provide their own. There is no single source of paper.

How much trash has been collected from recent parades?

Here are the numbers from the last nine parades:

  • 7/10/15 U.S. Women's National Soccer Team World Cup Win 29.6 tons
  • 2/7/12 New York Giants Super Bowl XLVI Win 34.06 tons
  • 11/6/09 New York Yankees World Series Win 56.55 tons
  • 2/5/08 New York Giants Super Bowl XLII Win 34.2 tons
  • 10/30/00 NY Yankees Subway Series World Series Win 46.7 tons
  • 10/29/99 New York Yankees World Series Win 57.4 tons
  • 11/16/98 John Glenn & NASA Astronauts 12.9 tons
  • 10/23/98 New York Yankees World Series Win 43.9 tons
  • 10/29/96 New York Yankees World Series Win 50 tons
  • 6/17/94 New York Rangers Stanley Cup Win 20.5 tons

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Women's Team Boldly Embraces Off-the-Field Activist Role]]>512458512Tue, 09 Jul 2019 07:09:43 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/US-Women-GettyImages-1160858454.jpg

Setting itself apart from other great American sports teams, the U.S. women's soccer team is embracing a front-line role in social justice causes even as it savors a fourth world championship.

The players are now world leaders in the push for gender equity in the workplace, having sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay and treatment vis-a-vis the men's national team. With a lesbian coach and several lesbian players, including World Cup MVP Megan Rapinoe, they're a proud symbol of LGBTQ inclusion. And they have stood firmly behind Rapinoe after she said she'd refuse to visit the White House if invited by President Donald Trump.

Far from being daunted by these off-the-field roles, the players seem to relish them.

"I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us as we live, and it's just an incredible feeling," Rapinoe said after the team's 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in Sunday's title match in Lyon, France. The team won all seven of its matches, scoring 26 goals, allowing just three.

Individual athletes — notably Muhammad Ali, more recently Colin Kaepernick — have risked their careers in the past by taking political stances. Some teams in the NBA and WNBA wore warm-up outfits a few years ago protesting police brutality and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

But it's difficult to think of another high-profile U.S. team sticking its neck out, in the run-up to its most important competition, the way the women's soccer team did by suing the USSF in March. The two sides have agreed to mediate the lawsuit now that the World Cup is over.

"These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women," said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players in their lawsuit. "It is time for the federation to correct this once and for all."

Debra Katz, a Washington attorney who specializes in sexual harassment cases, said the U.S. team had earned global support for the causes it is embracing.

"Their message is, 'You're not going to divide us. We're united for nondiscriminatory treatment for all of us.'"

The victory in Lyon, coupled with the drive for equal pay, will further entrench the U.S. team as a symbol for female athletes elsewhere. Indeed, Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation that required equal sporting opportunities for girls and women, has benefited not only the top U.S. players but also many World Cup players from other countries who honed their skills on U.S. college teams.

For LGBTQ Americans — many of them frustrated by the lack of openly gay players in major league baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL — the women's soccer team has been a source of pride and celebration. Two of its players, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger, are engaged to each other. On hand as a spectator in Lyon was Rapinoe's girlfriend, WNBA star Sue Bird.

"Science is science. Gays rule," Rapinoe tweeted on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the largest U.S. LGBTQ-rights organization, Matilda Young of the Human Rights Campaign, said the impact of the team's inclusiveness would be profound.

"Young LGBTQ athletes, who all too frequently are made to feel unwelcome, have seen themselves reflected in these history-making champions," Young said. "Having Americans from every corner of our country embrace these women who are unabashedly proud of their country and of who they are sends a powerful message not only to LGBTQ people, but to sports fans around the world that we are here, we are queer, and we just won the World Cup — again."

Congratulations to the team came from a wide array of celebrities and politicians, including Trump and many of the Democratic presidential candidates hoping to defeat him. One of them, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, swiftly arranged for the team to have a victory parade Wednesday through the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan.

"Congrats to the record breakers on the @USWNT, an incredible team that's always pushing themselves_and the rest of us_to be even better," tweeted former President Barack Obama. U.S Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat with a huge following on social media, tweeted "At this point we shouldn't even be asking for #EqualPay for the #USWMNT. We should demand they be paid at least twice as much."

On Monday, the top Democrats in Congress invited the team to the Capitol "to celebrate their inspiring victory," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

At the National Women's Law Center in Washington, the U.S. team's victories and outspokenness were welcomed by a staff that has campaigned vigorous for equality in the workplace and on the playing field.

"This team is so dominant because they work together — they lift each other up," said Sabrina Stevens, the center's senior manager of campaign and digital strategies.

"It resonates for so many of us — women especially — to work your heart out and be so good at what do, and still not get the pay or recognition you deserve," she said. "We're rooting for them because we're rooting for ourselves."

AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Naomi Baker/FIFA via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Holding Ticker Tape Parade to Celebrate World Cup Win]]>512321492Mon, 08 Jul 2019 14:46:44 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1160601237+copy.jpg

New York City will hold a ticker tape parade this week to celebrate the United States’ win over the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup, the mayor’s office said. (Check out this Q&A with answers to some of the most common questions.)

The U.S. beat the Netherlands 2-0 on Sunday afternoon, winning its fourth Women’s World Cup title.

In a tweet minutes after the team’s victory, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced there would be a parade Wednesday at the Canyon of Heroes, a stretch of Broadway in lower Manhattan where parades are held, to celebrate the victory.

“To our 2019 World Cup Champion @USWNT: you have inspired the entire country — and New York City knows how to celebrate champions,” de Blasio tweeted.

“We’ll see you Wednesday at 9:30 AM for the Ticker Tape Parade down the Canyon of Heroes," he added.

A limited number of tickets to attend a ceremony at City Hall will be available to the public. Registration opens at 2 p.m. Monday.

Other details about the parade would be released Monday, the city said. 

The last ticker tape parade in NYC honored the Women's Wold Cup victory in 2015, the city said. That was also the first time a women's team was honored with the parade. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: FIFA via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Morgan Says Tea-Sipping Celebration Was Nod to Sophie Turner]]>512299972Sat, 06 Jul 2019 12:02:03 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/morganAP_19183708158268.jpg

Alex Morgan said her tea-sipping celebration at the Women's World Cup was a nod to actress Sophie Turner's amusing Instagram posts.

No, it wasn't a dig at England or a random reference to the Boston Tea Party, or any number of other theories out there.

"My celebration was actually more 'that's the tea,' which is telling a story, spreading news," the U.S. forward said.

Morgan has been criticized for the celebration. Her former teammate on the Orlando Pride, Lianne Sanderson, a broadcast commentator during the World Cup for beIN Sports, called the celebration "distasteful."

"She can celebrate however she wants and I'm a big believer in the Americans and how they celebrate but this was disrespectful," said Sanderson, a former striker for England.

Morgan pretended to sip tea after scoring the go-ahead goal in Tuesday night's semifinal victory over England. Goalkeeper Alysaa Naeher preserved the 2-1 victory by stopping Steph Houghton's penalty kick late in the game.

The victory sent the Americans into their third consecutive World Cup final. They'll face the Netherlands for the championship on Sunday at Stade de Lyon.

Morgan spoke to reporters Friday, clarifying the source of the goal celebration and referencing the "Game of Thrones" actress. Turner's Instagram is filled with her saying audacious or gossipy things, adding "That's the tea" and taking a sip.

"I feel that there is some sort of double standard for females in sports to feel like we have to be humble in our successes and have to celebrate but not too much, or do something but always in a limited fashion," Morgan said.

She said it's hard to understand the outrage when men have celebrated goals by grabbing their crotches.

The U.S. team has drawn some criticism for its goal celebrations in France. First it was the repeated celebrations after every goal in a 13-0 rout of Thailand, which some said were unsportsmanlike. Carli Lloyd responded in the next game with a golf clap after her goal.

Megan Rapinoe struck an "Are you not entertained?" pose in the quarterfinals against France before Morgan's tea sipping in the semis.

"Everybody's just kind of having fun with the celebrations and embracing the moment," Lloyd said.

Turner herself responded to Morgan on social media while on her honeymoon after marrying Joe Jonas.

"Unfortunately the UK women's football team lost at the World Cup. And of course I'm incredibly sad and incredibly proud of that team, but I am so honored that we lost to such and incredible team, the U.S. women's football team. Alex Morgan, all the haters saying that this is disrespectful, I'm honored that you thought of me," Turner said.

Yorkshire Tea company made light of Morgan's celebration, tweeting a photo of a bag of tea readied for shipping.

"Dear @USWNT, Sorry you had to drink pretend tea. If you'd run out of the proper stuff, you only had to ask! PS No hard feelings - good luck on Sunday."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Francois MorI/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sweden Beats England 2-1 to Take Third at Women's World Cup]]>512299242Sat, 06 Jul 2019 14:09:14 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/SWEDENAP_19187632120344.jpg

Kosovare Asllani and Sofia Jakobsson each scored and Sweden beat England 2-1 Saturday night to take third place in the Women's World Cup.

Asllani, who was taken off the field in a stretcher during Sweden's semifinal loss to the Netherlands, started Saturday and gave the Swedes the lead in the 11th minute as they took advantage of early struggles by England. Alex Greenwood had plenty of time to clear Fridolina Rolfo's cross but sent it straight into the path of Asllani, who drilled it into the bottom right corner. England goalkeeper Carly Telford got a hand to it but couldn't keep it out of the net.

Sweden almost doubled its lead five minutes later but Jakobsson's effort came off the right post and went out off of Telford's knee.

Jakobsson did score shortly after as she cut inside the left side before curling into the opposite side of the net.

England cut Sweden's lead to 2-1 in the 31st when Fran Kirby cut in from the right, beat her defender and fired one inside the left post.

Ellen White thought she had tied the score two minutes later but her goal was ruled out after the video review determined there had been a handball. The forward had also had what would have been an equalizing goal ruled out in the semifinal loss to the United States.

Lucy Bronze almost leveled in the final minute but her effort was headed off the line by Nilla Fischer.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Claude Paris/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's Soccer Enters New Era With Huge World Cup Audiences]]>512316651Sun, 07 Jul 2019 06:04:08 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1153325726.jpg

No longer a sideshow, women’s soccer has stepped into the spotlight.

The sport will hope to further establish its growing appeal on Sunday as millions prepare to watch the reigning world champions, the United States, take on the reigning European champions, the Netherlands, in the World Cup final.

The game kicks off at 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET). Tickets for the stadium in Lyon, France, are sold out.

This World Cup has been widely popular with fans and nonfans alike, setting viewing records, and organizer FIFA expects to reach 1 billion viewers by the end of the final. 

For some, it marks the point women’s soccer escapes the shadow of the more popular and lucrative men’s game.

Photo Credit: Marcio Machado/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Women Win 4th World Cup Title, Eye Gender Equality]]>512316581Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:55:34 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/usaGettyImages-1160599986.jpg

After every goal celebration and all the confident posturing, the U.S. national team backed up its swagger at the Women's World Cup by winning it all.

The Americans also took a swipe at gender inequity, too.

The United States won its record fourth Women's World Cup title and second in a row, beating the Netherlands 2-0 Sunday night when Megan Rapinoe converted a tiebreaking penalty kick in the second half. Rose Lavelle added a goal to seal it.

Afterward, Rapinoe looked out on the sea of reporters and said, "I've got a party to get to, y'all."

Rapinoe scored in the 61st minute after a video review determined Stefanie van der Gragt had fouled Alex Morgan with a kick to the shoulder while competing for a deflected pass in the penalty area.

Two days past her 34th birthday, Rapinoe slotted the ball past Sari van Veenendaal for her sixth goal of the tournament. She became the oldest player to score in a Women's World Cup final, and earned the Golden Boot for the tournament's top scorer and the Golden Ball as the top player.

Her preferred goal celebration in France, with her outstretched arms in victory, was already on T-shirts.

"I feel like it's kind of iconic of everything that we have gone through and we continue to go through, and yet we put this beautiful product out on the pitch," she said.

Lavelle, at 24 the team's up-and-coming star, added her third goal of the tournament on an 18-yard left-footed shot in the 69th after a solo run from the center circle.

The monthlong journey isn't over quite yet for players who captured the hearts of a nation. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio needed just a few seconds after the match to invite the team to a ticker-tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Fans, many dressed in red, white and blue, chanted "Equal Pay!" at the final whistle , a reminder players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March claiming gender discrimination. The sides have agreed to mediate the lawsuit.

Rapinoe drew the ire of President Donald Trump by saying she would refuse to visit the White House. Trump called out Rapinoe on Twitter, saying she should never "disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team." He said he would invite the team win or lose.

But shortly after the title game, Trump tweeted: "Congratulations to the U.S. Women's Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!"

Always outspoken, Rapinoe also called out FIFA on the eve of the championship, suggesting soccer's governing body was not doing enough to grow the women's game, pointing to unequal prize money and the scheduling of the final on the same day as the championships of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago and the Copa America final in Brazil.

The Americans never trailed at the tournament and set records with 26 goals and a 12-game World Cup winning streak dating to 2015. Jill Ellis became the first coach to lead a team to two Women's World Cup titles, and the U.S. joined Germany in 2003 and 2007 as the only repeat champions. While the U.S. has four titles, Germany is the only other nation with even two.

"Getting to play at the highest level of the World Cup with the team we have is just ridiculous. But to be able to couple that with everything on the field and to back up all of those words with performances and to back up all of those performances with words, it's just incredible," Rapinoe said. "I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us as we live, and it's just an incredible feeling."

With confidence that some called arrogance, this American team established a standard that exceeded the U.S. champions of 1991, 1999 and 2015, becoming a goal for all others to match. Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were among the former American players who joined the current generation for the postgame celebration.

Alyssa Naeher, the 31-year-old who succeeded Hope Solo in goal, faced repeated questions entering the tournament but allowed just three goals and finished with her fourth shutout, earning the Golden Glove for the tournament's best goalkeeper.

The U.S. had scored within the first 12 minutes of its previous six matches but the European champions sat back to keep their defensive shape and kept the score 0-0 through the first half.

Rapinoe, who missed Tuesday's semifinal win over England with a hamstring injury, became the first woman to score on a penalty kick during a Women's World Cup final, her 50th goal in 158 international appearances. She ended the Netherlands' 317-minute scoreless streak and matched Morgan and England's Ellen White for most goals in the tournament, winning the Golden Ball based on fewer minutes.

She was given a standing ovation when she was substituted in the 79th minute. The crowd of 57,900 at Stade de Lyon for Le Grand Finale included France President Emmanuel Macron.

Rebounding from a loss to Sweden on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics, the Americans opened the World Cup with a record 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand, triggering debate over whether the celebrations after each goal were excessive. Carli Lloyd responded the next match by following a goal with a polite golf clap. Then Morgan stirred it up again when she scored against England and celebrated as if sipping tea, pinkie outstretched.

Now, after all the memorable drama, they will have a fourth star above the crest on the team's jerseys and a higher platform to advance their cause.

"It's something that we've worked so hard for. All of us, individually, have just faced so much adversity through this whole journey," Morgan said. "We've been tested individually and collectively so much. So to see, four years ago, us go from two to three, and now three to four, it's really a dream come true." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: FIFA via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Video Review Tech Creates Drama at Women's World Cup]]>511858942Wed, 26 Jun 2019 18:07:39 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP_19176780368951.jpg

Video review has created confusion and brought questions at the Women's World Cup.

The Video Assistant Referee, or VAR, was integrated into the men's World Cup in Russia last year, leading to calls for it to also be used for the women's tournament in France. But it certainly hasn't gone as smoothly as it did for the men.

VAR has already led to a change in the rules for the knockout stage of the tournament. Some have suggested there has been an overreliance on the technology, and there have been complaints that it is causing delays and interrupting the flow of the game.

FIFA officials insisted Wednesday that the system is working as intended.

"The VAR cannot be blind, cannot ignore. If you have a tool that offers you the possibility to check, you have to check," said Pierluigi Collina, chairman of FIFA's refereeing committee.

Through 44 matches at the Women's World Cup, there were 441 incidents checked through the course of play and 29 VAR reviews, FIFA said. That's one review per 1.52 matches. Of those reviews, 25 resulted in decisions being changed. Four were confirmed.

There have been a record 23 penalty kicks heading into the quarterfinals, surpassing the 22 taken across the entire 2011 World Cup in Canada. Eleven were awarded with VAR assistance. Three were cancelled after VAR review.

Collina maintains that VAR helps referees by making sure calls are correct in the high-pressure setting of the World Cup while also protecting teams from bad calls that might impact advancement in the tournament.

Kari Seitz, FIFA's senior manager of refereeing, insisted VAR is not changing the way games are being officiated.

"We instruct the referees to referee as they would referee (without VAR), and that is really a critical point. They are out there officiating like they would officiate with or without VAR. That hasn't changed. Refereeing remains the same, but with the parachute, with the opportunity to correct those big mistakes, or those things the video evidence shows us," Seitz said.

Last week, the use of VAR prompted a rules change going into the round of 16.

The rule was meant to give goalkeepers more flexibility, making them keep just one foot, not two, on the goal-line during penalty kicks. But the use of VAR strictly enforced the rule, with goalkeepers given little time to adjust. FIFA feared more goalkeepers could be penalized and sent off, a concern because no substitutes are allowed during shootouts.

So FIFA received approval from the game's lawmaking body last week to suspend the requirement that goalkeepers be shown yellow cards for stepping off the goal-line during penalty shootouts, which means goalkeepers can only be booked at the tournament for stepping off the line during a penalty kick in normal time. The kick will still be retaken, however.

The law could be revisited at future meetings of the International Football Association Board, which includes four FIFA delegates and a representative from each of the four British associations.

"I mean they're calling it very tight and I guess we didn't really know coming into the tournament how tight they were really going to call it," U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said at the end of the group stage. "I think the last few games has obviously shown what they can and will call. So I think it's just something to keep in the back of my mind, trying not to dwell on it or think about it too much and have it affect what I'm doing and how I'm playing. But it's obviously something you have to be aware of."

The rule became an issue in the group stage when Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander saved a penalty kick by Argentina's Florencia Bonsegundo in stoppage time. A VAR review showed Alexander had moved just inches off her line and Bonsegundo scored on the retake, tying the game at 3-3 and scuttling Scotland's hopes of going through to the knockout stage.

"I think most of the problems came after Argentina versus Scotland because of how the match went — 3-0 to 3-3. A few days before the same penalty kick was retaken in Jamaica versus Italy and nobody complained," Collina said. "We have to enforce the rules."

At the men's World Cup, FIFA claimed afterward that 99.3 percent of "match-changing" plays were called correctly.

Collina presented figures that showed VAR was used 20 times in 64 matches in Russia, with 17 decisions overturned and three confirmed.

Seven penalties were awarded in Russia because of VAR. Two goals were given after being initially ruled offside, including one by South Korea that helped to eliminate world champion Germany.

AP Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: David Vincent/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Tells US Soccer Star 'Never Disrespect' White House]]>511838901Wed, 26 Jun 2019 11:49:14 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/trump-rapinoe.jpg

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he will invite the U.S. women's national soccer team to the White House following this year's Women's World Cup — whether or not they win the mega sporting event.

But his attempt at extending a level of courtesy toward the women's team came with a dig at co-captain Megan Rapinoe, who said in a video clip shared on social media this month that "I'm not going to the f------- White House."

"I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women's Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!" Trump wrote in a series of tweets, at first tagging the wrong Twitter account for Rapinoe.

"We haven't yet invited Megan or the team, but I am now inviting the TEAM, win or lose," Trump added. "Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team. Be proud of the Flag that you wear. The USA is doing GREAT!"

The president also said that sports teams "love" coming to the White House.

Rapinoe said in an interview this month in Eight by Eight magazine that "no f---in' way will we be invited to the White House." She surmised that Trump doesn't invite teams that he knows will decline or "like he did when the Warriors turned him down, he'll claim they hadn't been invited in the first place."

Photo Credit: Getty]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Dutch Advance to Quarterfinals]]>511798902Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:27:38 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Dutch-World-Cup-Win.jpg

Lieke Martens scored her second goal on a late penalty kick to send the Netherlands into the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup for the first time with a 2-1 victory over 2015 finalist Japan on Tuesday.

The new handball law led to referee Melissa Borjas awarding the penalty because Saki Kumagai's hand blocked Vivianne Miedema's shot, even though there was no clear intention.

Martens scored from the spot to set up a meeting with Italy on Saturday.

As befitting a meeting of the Asian and European champions, the game produced some of the slickest action of the World Cup. An audacious backheel flick set up Martens to send the Dutch in front in the 17th minute and Yui Hasegawa equalized in the 43rd to complete a slick passing move.

With the last Asian team eliminated, the Women's World Cup will have a record seven European teams in the quarterfinals. Norway and England meet in Le Havre on Thursday and France takes on the United States the following night. After the Netherlands plays Italy on Saturday, Germany and Sweden will meet.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: David Vincent/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Italy Beats China 2-0, Reaches First Quarterfinal Since 1991]]>511793111Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:32:02 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/women%27s-world-cup-italy.jpg

Italy made its case to be considered a contender in the Women's World Cup after a convincing 2-0 win over China on Tuesday night.

Coach Milena Bertolini believes Italy is set to play in its first quarterfinal since 1991 because her players are striving for a goal that goes beyond the final result.

"They have a mission. Their mission is to try and have the Italian public to discover and appreciate the women's game," Bertolini said. "This aspect helps you because it allows you to find that extra energy and motivation. I really believe this side has allowed the women's game to break new ground back home."

Italian viewers have had good reason to tune in. While the men's team failed to qualify for last summer's World Cup in Russia, the women are proving to be a revelation in France.

China had only allowed one goal in its three group stage games but the talented Italian attack broke down the vaunted defense.

Valentina Giacinti scored in the 15th minute. Aurora Galli's long strike put the result beyond doubt four minutes after halftime at the stiflingly hot Stade de la Mosson.

Italy will play the Netherlands on Saturday in Valenciennes after the Dutch beat Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night. Germany and Sweden will meet in the other quarterfinal on Italy's side of the bracket.

China coach Jia Xiuquan seemed to put his future in doubt after his team exited with just one goal scored in the tournament, saying "maybe it is time to take a break."

"I believe the World Cup is a big stage and it makes us realize our shortcomings," Jia said through a translator. "To improve Chinese football it requires generations. It can't only depend on myself."

Playing its first World Cup in 20 years, Italy had already surpassed expectations by winning its group ahead of Brazil and Australia before topping China with relative ease.

The Italians have advanced in style, deploying an attack with three forwards that hasn't cost it at the back. Italy has scored nine goals in its three wins in the tournament, while the only two goals it has conceded have come on penalties.

Giacinti said the secret to Italy's success is in the smallest of gestures.

"This win was absolutely crucial as a squad as a whole," Giacinti said. "We try to have a smile on our face regardless of the circumstances. I think it is important to help one another on the pitch without shouting. Catching someone's eye or smiling can produce those fine margins" needed for victory.

There was nothing subtle about Giacinti in the early stage of the match.

The forward was a force as she threatened on two occasions before she sparked the chance that ended in her goal.

After pressuring to win a ball near the touchline, she raced down the flank and found Barbara Bonansea, who waited to find left back Elisa Bartoli joining the move. Bartoli's shot was blocked by China goalkeeper Peng Shimeng but Giacinti pounced on the loose ball and drove it home.

China midfielder Wang Yan did manage to make goalkeeper Laura Giuliani palm her effort over the bar in the 28th.

But Peng then had to dive to parry a powerful strike from Valentina Bergamaschi as Italy looked close to a quick second goal against a China team that couldn't handle its press and its trio of attackers.

Once China settled down and eliminated sloppy passes, the action tilted momentarily to the other half. Forward Li Ying gave Bartoli fits with her dribbling and she made the Italian defenders work with her dangerous crosses.

Italy suffered a bigger blow when striker Cristiana Girelli had to walk off the field with an apparent leg injury in the 39th.

She was replaced by Galli, who surprised Peng with a right-footed strike that went skimming over the turf and beyond the goalkeeper's reach.

It was Galli's third goal of the tournament, all as a substitute.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Says US Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe Wrong to Protest During Anthem]]>511775711Tue, 25 Jun 2019 09:17:52 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/megan-rapinoe.jpg

President Donald Trump says he does not think it's appropriate for a co-captain of the U.S. women's soccer team to protest during the national anthem. 

Megan Rapinoe has described herself as a "walking protest" to Trump's policies. 

Trump told The Hill in an interview Monday that he disagrees with her actions, but loves watching women's soccer and thinks the players are very talented. 

After Rapinoe started kneeling during the anthem, the United States Soccer Federation adopted a policy that requires players to stand during the anthem. Now she stands, but she has been criticized for not singing and putting her hand over her heart like other players.

Rapinoe delivered two goals on Monday against Spain to send the top-ranked U.S. women's soccer team to the Women's World Cup quarterfinals. The Americans will play host country France on Friday. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: US Beats Spain 2-1 to Reach Quarterfinals]]>511722991Mon, 24 Jun 2019 18:15:01 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/women-soccer.jpg

Spain tested the United States like no other team at the Women's World Cup.

The U.S. looked disorganized at times facing Spain's aggressive and physical style before pulling out a 2-1 victory Monday night.

It could have been just what the Americans needed: France is waiting.

Megan Rapinoe converted a pair of penalty kicks to set up the United States' much-anticipated quarterfinal rendezvous with the hosts.

The tense match was knotted at 1 until Rapinoe's second penalty put the defending champions ahead in the 75th minute.

"I think we showed just a lot of grit and experience, to be honest, in this game," Rapinoe said. "Obviously as we get into these knockout rounds it's more stressful, there's more pressure, the games are more intense. Every team lifts its level."

Rapinoe's first came in the seventh minute to the cheers of the U.S. supporters melting in temperatures that reached nearly 90 degrees at the Stade Auguste-Delaune. They were quieted a short time later when Jennifer Hermoso tied it up for Spain with the first goal the Americans had allowed in France.

Video review was used to confirm a foul on Rose Lavelle that gave the pink-haired captain the game-winner, spoiling Spain's spirited effort in its first knockout-round appearance at a World Cup.

The three-time World Cup winners now head to Paris to face France on Friday night. The French defeated Brazil 2-1 in extra time Sunday night, with Amandine Henry scoring the game-winner in the 107th minute.

"I think this is the game that everyone had circled," Rapinoe said, referring to France. "I think it's going to be a great match. I hope it's wild and crazy, I hope the fans are crazy and there's tons of media around it and it's just a big spectacle. I think this is incredible for the women's game, when you have two heavy hitters meeting in the final knockout round."

The game at the home of Paris Saint-Germain has been anticipated since the tournament draw in December. France is vying to become the first nation to simultaneously hold both the men's and women's World Cup titles. The French men won in Russia last year.

The United States skated through its group with a stage record 18 goals. The team also didn't concede a goal in the group stage for the first time at a World Cup.

Until Monday, the Americans had not allowed a goal in eight straight competitive matches dating to the 2016 Olympics, outscoring opponents 44-0. It was the first goal the United States had allowed this year since a 5-3 win over Australia in an April friendly.

"This tournament isn't supposed to be easy and Spain was a great team," midfielder Samantha Mewis said. "I think these are the kinds of things that let us know that we're strong and that we can grind through something. So I think we're gonna take a lot from this and it gives us a lot of faith in ourselves."

La Roja had not scored in its previous two games but still finished second in its group to Germany to get the matchup with the Americans.

The U.S. and Spain last met in a friendly in Alicante in January, part of a European exhibition trip for the United States. Christen Press scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory. That match was a confidence-booster for No. 13 Spain because it was able to hang with the world's top-ranked team. Spain's profile on the international stage has grown under coach Jorge Vilda, who took over following the team's World Cup debut in 2015. Spain won the 2017 Algarve Cup and last year won the Cyprus Cup.

Spain pushed the U.S. hard Monday.

"I actually think we deserved it more, but you know sometimes football is like that. I'm so proud of the team," Spain midfielder Vicky Losada said. "I'm so proud of the effort of the team and I think now we have to think about it, and think about the future, which I think is going to be so good."

Rapinoe's first penalty kick was the result of Maria Leon's tackle on Tobin Heath after a pass from Abby Dahlkemper.

Less than three minutes later, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher's pass to Becky Sauerbrunn was stripped by Lucia Garcia and the ball wound up at the feet of Hermoso, who sent her shot from the penalty arc into the top right corner. It was Hermoso's third goal of the tournament to lead Spain.

Alex Morgan was set to take the penalty after Lavelle was tripped up by Virginia Torrecilla, but after the review Rapinoe stepped forward and slotted the ball just under the outstretched arm of Spain goalkeeper Sandra Panos.

Sauerbrunn was grateful.

"She's never going to have to buy another drink for the rest of the time. I will supply her with whatever she needs," she said.

Morgan, who leads the field in France with five goals, took a beating throughout the game and was seldom a factor. She stayed down for a long while in the second half after a hard tackle by Irene Paredes.

Coach Jill Ellis did not start midfielder Lindsey Horan, replacing her with Mewis. Horan, who came in as a sub in the 89th minute, had a yellow card in the team's second match.

Rapinoe collected a yellow card in the 37th minute against Spain. The cards could become an issue for the United States going forward. Players who accumulate two through the quarterfinals must sit out the next game.

Ellis, who coached her 124th match to match April Heinrichs for the most in team history, said she felt Spain's challenge will benefit the Americans come Friday.

"I think what this game gave us and the takeaways from it — massive," Ellis said afterward. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Dominates Rival Sweden 2-0 to Remain Undefeated]]>511568431Thu, 20 Jun 2019 19:42:20 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/horanAP_19171691296357.jpg

The United States is showing just how fiercely it is prepared to defend its Women's World Cup title.

The Americans faced their toughest test of the tournament on Thursday night and dominated in a 2-0 victory over Sweden, the rivals that stunned them in the last Olympics.

The U.S. went undefeated in the group stage, posting wins against Thailand and Chile before beating the Swedes, all without conceding a goal. It is the first time the Americans have shut out all their group opponents in the World Cup. They also scored a group-stage record 18 goals.

"We come here, we want to win, all the time," goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said. "Every game we come out with that mentality: We want three points, we want to score goals, we want shutouts. That's something we take pride in."

Lindsey Horan scored within the first three minutes, the fastest goal of this tournament. The United States went up 2-0 on an own goal off Jonna Andersson in the 50th minute.

Already assured a spot in the round of 16 before the game, the United States finished atop its group and will head to Reims to face Spain on Monday. Sweden will play Canada in Paris.

The meeting was the first tournament game between the two teams since the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics. The Swedes bunkered in on defense and advanced on penalties after a 1-1 draw, handing the United States its earliest-ever exit from the Olympic tournament. Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the Swedes "cowards" for the defensive stand, a comment that effectively ended her career with the U.S. team.

"We've been part of some very big games against them, and we haven't beaten them in a major tournament in a while. So it feels good that we can go into this tournament and we can play well against a quality side and get a result," defender Becky Sauerbrunn said.

The United States pounced on Thailand in its opener, winning 13-0 and drawing criticism for celebrating every goal even when the game was well in hand. The Americans had a more staid performance against Chile on Sunday in Paris, winning 3-0 with more muted celebrations, including a golf clap from Carli Lloyd, who scored a pair of goals in that game.

Ellis made seven lineup changes for the game against Chile but for Sweden she went back to a lineup similar to the one she used in the opener. Lloyd, who played every minute of the 2015 World Cup and scored three goals in a 5-2 victory over Japan in the title match, came in off the bench to start the second half.

She replaced Alex Morgan, who was involved in a couple of collisions in the first half and at one point held her right knee.

A hip contusion kept defensive midfielder Julie Ertz out of the game after she started in the first two and scored her first World Cup goal against Chile.

"Alex took a knock in the first half and it was just, 'Let's be smart about this.' Similar vein to Julie. It is a zero risk game in terms of having players available for the next round," Ellis said.

Ninth-ranked Sweden, which opened with a 2-0 victory over Chile and followed with a 5-1 win over Thailand, made seven lineup changes for the game against its rival.

Coach Peter Gerhardsson said he selected his starters with an eye toward the next game.

"We know that we have a new match on Monday, which is a knockout match, and that's the one that's the most important one," he said.

The victory gave the top-ranked United States a potentially more challenging path to the final. If the team can get by Spain, that could set up a quarterfinal clash against No. 4 France in front of its home fans in Paris, and then a possible meeting with No. 3 England in the semifinals.

With a victory over Canada, Sweden could have a quarterfinal game against No. 2 Germany.

The U.S. was on the attack from the start and went ahead early when Horan scored on a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe that bounced twice past two defenders and deflected off Samantha Mewis just 2:40 into the game. It was Horan's second goal in France.

Naeher didn't face her first challenge until the 21st minute, when she stopped a shot from Kosovare Asllani.

Tobin Heath dribbled in front of Andersson then blasted an angled shot in the 50th minute from eight yards out that went over goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl at the near post. The goal was reviewed by VAR after it appeared Lloyd was offside. It was later determined to have come off Andersson for an own goal.

Lloyd was denied by Lindahl in the 90th minute, stopping her World Cup-record scoring streak at six games.

Ellis said the dominant group stage will help the team going forward.

"To have the players in a good place with self-belief makes my job easier," she said, "because certainly they are highly motivated and hungry." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[England Beats Japan 2-0 to Clinch Top Spot in Group D ]]>511512061Wed, 19 Jun 2019 18:01:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/engAP_19170747878743.jpg

England remained undefeated at the Women's World Cup and clinched the top spot in its group with a 2-0 victory over Japan on Wednesday.

Ellen White scored both goals against Japan and has three so far at the tournament. The Birmingham City forward broke the deadlock in the 14th minute when she chipped the ball past Japan goalkeeper Saki Kumagai.

White's second score came in the 84th minute following a through-ball by Karen Carney.

It was the first time since 1982 that an England team, men or women, won all three group stage games. The Lionesses advanced to the knockout stage to face a third-place team in Valenciennes on Sunday.

Japan's first defeat of the tournament dropped it to second in Group D, with a match against the winner of Group E on Tuesday in Rennes.

SCOTLAND-ARGENTINA: Florencia Bonsegundo converted a penalty kick in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time on her second attempt, and Argentina overcame a three-goal deficit in the final 30 minutes for a 3-3 draw against Scotland on Thursday night that eliminated the Scots from the Women's World Cup.

Scotland built a 3-0 lead on goals by Kim Little in the 19th minute, Jenny Beattie in the 49th and Erin Cuthbert in the 69th, but Argentina became the first team at a Women's World Cup to get a point after trailing by three goals.

Milagros Menéndez scored on a counterattack in the 74th minute and Bonsegundo's long-range shot five minutes later hit the crossbar, bounced down and had enough backspin to go off the fingertips of goalkeeper Lee Alexander and across the line.

Sophie Howard had just entered the game when she slid into a leg of Aldana Cometti, who was streaking into the penalty area. After a lengthy video review, North Korean referee Ri Hyang-ok awarded the penalty kick. Alexander dived to stop the kick by Bonsegundo, who could not get the rebound in. But another video review showed Alexander came off her line before the kick.

Given the second chance, Bonsegundo kicked the ball to the right of the keeper, who dived left.

Scotland, which had been on the verge of winning a Women's World Cup match for the first time, could not muster a threat in the remaining stoppage time and finished last in Group D at 0-3.

Argentina finished with two points after opening with a 0-0 draw against Japan — its first World Cup point — and losing to England 1-0.

Four of the six third-place teams advance, and Brazil (six points) and China (four points) are assured of two of those spots. Nigeria finished third with three points.

Argentina would advance if both the Cameroon-New Zealand and Thailand-Chile matches on Thursday finish in draws. Argentina was eliminated in the group stage of its first two World Cup appearances.

RECAPPING TUESDAY:Marta set a World Cup record for men and women with her 17th goal in Brazil's 1-0 victory over Italy. Marta's 17th goal came on a penalty kick in the 74th minute at Stade du Hainaut in Valenciennes. The goal broke the mark Marta had shared with Miroslav Klose, who scored 16 World Cup goals for Germany from 2002-14. Marta is the only player, male or female, to score in five World Cups. Brazil needed only a draw to advance, while Italy had already earned a spot in the round of 16 but won the group even with the loss. ... Sam Kerr scored four goals, one shy of the World Cup record and the most by an Australian, in a 4-1 victory over Jamaica hat advanced the Matildas into the knockout round for the fourth consecutive tournament. Kerr tied her with Alex Morgan of the United States for the tournament lead with five goals. Jamaica got its first World Cup goal when Havana Solaun scored early in the second half.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Marta Sets Record With 17th World Cup Goal in Brazil Victory]]>511452831Tue, 18 Jun 2019 17:42:50 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/marAP_19169749632934.jpg

Marta set a record for men and women with her 17th career World Cup goal in Brazil's 1-0 victory over Italy on Tuesday night at Valenciennes that advanced the Selecao to the knockout rounds for the sixth straight time.

The 33-year-old forward, playing in her fifth World Cup, scored on a penalty kick in the 74th minute at Stade du Hainaut, sending a line drive to the left of goalkeeper Laura Giuliani after Debinha was fouled by Elena Linari.

It was the second goal of the tournament for Marta, and both have been on penalty kicks. Her goal against Australia last Thursday tied the record set in the men's World Cup by Miroslav Klose, who scored 16 World Cup goals for Germany from 2002-14. The United States' Abby Wambach and Germany's Birgit Prinz are tied for second among women with 14 each.

Marta is the only player, male or female, to score in five World Cups.

Brazil had needed only a draw to advance.

Italy won Group C on goal difference over Australia and Brazil as all three nations finished with 2-1 records and six points. Le Azzurre will play a third-place team in the round of 16 on Tuesday.

Australia, which beat Jamaica 4-1 on Tuesday, meets Norway on Saturday. Brazil wound up third and will play Germany on Saturday or host France on Sunday.

Recapping Monday: France completed World Cup group play with a 3-0 record for the first time by beating Nigeria 1-0 at Rennes. Wendie Renard converted a penalty kick in the 79th minute after missing her first attempt. Referee Melissa Borjas awarded the penalty kick when Viviane Asseyi was knocked over by Ngozi Ebere and the call was upheld in a video review. Eberle was given her second yellow card of the match for the foul, causing Nigeria to finish a player short. Renard's initial attempt was wide to the right of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, but Borjas ordered the kick retaken because Nnadozie came off the line before the ball was kicked. Renard's second try went in to Nnadozie's right for her third goal of the tournament. France will play a third-place team on Sunday at Le Havre in the round of 16, and the winner will advance to a quarterfinal against the United States, Sweden or Spain. .... Germany won its group for the fifth consecutive time and avoided an immediate matchup with the United States by routing South Africa 4-0. Germany topped Group B with a 3-0 record and will play a third place team in its round of 16 match Saturday at Grenoble. South Africa was winless in group play and outscored 8-1. Two-time tournament champion Germany has not lost a match in group play since falling to Sweden in 1995. ... Spain and China played to a scoreless draw that advanced both squads to the round of 16. Spain finished second in Group B behind Germany. Spain advanced to the knockout stage for the first time and will face the winner of Group F on Monday at Reims — likely the United States if the Americans win or draw in its final group match against Sweden. China has advanced to the knockout stage at each of its seven World Cup appearances. It finished third in the group at 1-1-1. ... Norway knocked South Korea out of the tournament by scoring on two penalties in a 2-1 victory. South Korea went 3-0 in France with one goal while allowing eight. Norway advanced to the round of 16 as runners up in Group A.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sunday's US Women's World Cup Win Set Group Match Ratings Record]]>511452271Tue, 18 Jun 2019 08:55:19 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/women-from-us.jpg

The Americans' 3-0 win over Chile set a record for the most-watched group-stage Women's World Cup match on U.S. English-language television.

Fox drew 5,324,000 viewers for Sunday's game, topping 4,492,000 for the Americans' 0-0 group-stage draw against Sweden in 2015. The game was the most-watched English-language soccer telecast in the country since last year's men's World Cup final.

In addition, Sunday's match averaged 84,000 viewers online, the second-most streamed Women's World Cup match.

The first two U.S. matches averaged 3,975,000, up 2% from 3,902,000 from four years ago.

The U.S. has advanced to the knockout stage and will finish group play on Thursday against Sweden.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Spain and China Advance With Scoreless Draw]]>511418411Mon, 17 Jun 2019 16:10:26 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/spain-and-china-world-cup.jpg

Spain and China played to a scoreless draw Monday that advanced both squads to the round of 16 at the Women's World Cup.

Spain finished second in Group B behind Germany. La Roja advanced to the knockout stage for the first time and will face the winner of Group F on Monday at Reims — likely the United States if the Americans win or draw in their final group match against Sweden.

Defender Celia Jimenez said it doesn't matter which team Spain will face because they are all good.

"The U.S. has a really powerful team, they play a direct game, they like to be dangerous, but at the same time I think Sweden is as well a really good team," she said. "They also tend to play direct, so they kind of are similar teams. I think Spain is ready, I think we know what we play, our style of play, it's good, and I don't think it matters who we take on next."

China has advanced to the knockout stage at each of its seven World Cup appearances. It finished third in the group at 1-1-1.

Spain also finished 1-1-1.

La Roja's best chance came in the 39th minute but Peng Shimeng stopped Jennifer Hermoso's header off a cross from Virginia Torrecilla. China's goalkeeper also fended off Alexia Putellas' free kick in the 71st.

Peng got her fingertips on another shot from Hermoso in the 86th minute to deflect the ball over the net as Spain appeared to apply pressure in the waning minutes.

"We have opportunities, We still have hope. That's why I'm so touched about our players' effort and spirit," China coach Jia Xiuquan said through a translator.

Two-time World Cup winner Germany, which defeated both Spain and China, finished atop Group B after a 4-0 victory over South Africa in Montpellier on Monday. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Germany Beats South Africa 4-0 to Win Group]]>511418271Mon, 17 Jun 2019 16:13:36 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/germany-womens-world-cup.jpg

Germany won its Women's World Cup group for the fifth consecutive time and avoided an immediate matchup with the United States by routing South Africa 4-0 on Monday.

Germany topped Group B with a 3-0 record and will play a third place team in the round of 16 on Saturday at Grenoble.

After Germany grinded out 1-0 wins over China and Spain, its offense broke out with three goals in the first half, matching its total goals in its previous five World Cup games combined.

"We are happy that we won the group and did so with a good performance tonight," said Sara Däbritz, who contributed the second goal. "We could have scored even more. I think we are ready for the round of 16."

Germany had clinched a spot in the knockout rounds after two matches.

South Africa was winless in group play and outscored 8-1. At 49th, South Africa had the lowest ranking of the 24 teams in the tournament.

Spain finished Group B as runner-up after a 0-0 draw with China and advanced to the knockout stage for the first time. Spain will face the winner of Group F on Monday at Reims, and the United States would be the opponent with a victory or draw in its final group match against Sweden.

Melanie Leupolz opened the scoring in the 14th minute with her first goal for Germany since the 2016 Olympics. Däbritz doubled the lead in the 29th minute and Alexandra Popp made it 3-0 in the 40th. Lina Magull added the final goal in the 58thth.

Two-time tournament champion Germany has not lost a match in group play since falling to Sweden in 1995.

"Germany has won tournaments that it stared out with difficulties," Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said through a translator. "It would be great to have the same this time. All the matches will be challenges, and I hope we will be able to meet them all."

Germany didn't miss the playmaking of Dzsenifer Marozsan, who broke a toe in its opener. Voss-Tecklenburg said she couldn't guarantee the Lyon midfielder will be ready for the round of 16.

Leupolz put Germany ahead when she was left all alone on the edge of the 6-yard box to deftly nod a corner kick into the far corner of the net.

Däbritz made it 2-0 after a blunder by goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, who turned what appeared to be a poor German pass into a perfect assist.

Left back Verena Schweers's cross looked like an easy grab for Dlamini, only for Dlamini to parry the ball right into the path of Däbritz, who got her second goal of the tournament.

"We conceded poorly from a set piece and a second goal as well and were on our back foot from there," South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said.

Germany boosted the lead to 3-0 with pure power. Popp, the team captain, jumped over her marker to drive home a header.

Magull took the fourth goal when she rushed in to finish off a save by Dlamini, who did well to push a header by Marina Hegering off the post, only to see the ball bounce across the open goalmouth.

Only Dlamini's sharp reflexes saved South Africa from a greater defeat.

"We always knew it would be a challenge," Ellis said. "We are happy with the performance but not the result."


More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/FIFAWomensWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[France Goes 3-0 at World Cup With 1-0 Win Over Nigeria]]>511396601Mon, 17 Jun 2019 17:58:33 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/socAP_19168747239114.jpg

France completed World Cup group play with a 3-0 record for the first time, beating Nigeria 1-0 Monday night at Rennes when Wendie Renard converted a penalty kick in the 79th minute after missing her first attempt but getting a second chance.

France will play a third-place team on Sunday at Le Havre in the round of 16, and the winner will advance to a quarterfinal against the United States, Sweden or Spain.

Referee Melissa Borjas of Honduras awarded the penalty kick when Viviane Asseyi was knocked over by Ngozi Ebere, a call upheld in a video review and one that drew vehement protests from the Super Falcons. Eberle was given her second yellow card of the match for the foul, causing Nigeria to finish a player short.

Renard's initial attempt was wide to the right of goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie, but Borjas ordered the kick retaken because Nnadozie came off the line before the ball was kicked. Renard's second try went in to Nnadozie's right for her third goal of the tournament.

A crowd of 28,267 watched host nation Les Bleues outshoot Nigeria 22-2 and hold 69 percent possession. France advance to the knockout stage for the third straight World Cup.

Nigeria finished third in Group A with three points and a minus-two goal difference, and the Super Falcons will have to wait to find out whether they can advance as one of the four top third-place teams. Nigeria has played in every Women's World Cup but advanced past the group stage just once, reaching the quarterfinals in 1999. 

SOUTH KOREA-NORWAY: Norway knocked South Korea out of the Women's World Cup by scoring on two penalties in a 2-1 victory Monday. 

Caroline Graham Hansen scored after five minutes and Isabell Herlovsen beat goalkeeper Kim Min-jung from the spot six minutes into the second half.

Yeo Min-ji converted in the 78th minute but couldn't spark a South Korean comeback.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Thailand Scores 1st World Cup Goal in 5-1 Loss to Sweden]]>511373592Sun, 16 Jun 2019 12:35:17 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/thaisweAP_19167543033794.jpg

Thailand finally found something to celebrate after a humiliating start to the Women's World Cup.

It was just a single goal, and it came in a 5-1 loss to Sweden on Sunday, but it was enough to briefly allow the Thai squad to celebrate. Thailand was routed 13-0 by the United States in its opener.

Sweden, which advanced into the round of 16 with the victory, led 4-0 when Thailand scored. Kanjana Sungngoen got on the end of a high ball and beat Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl at her near post in the first minute of stoppage time.

The Thai players and coaches celebrated as if they had won the match.

Five different players scored for Sweden, and the last goal came from Elin Rubensson from the penalty spot on the final kick of the game after a video review.

The Thai squad bowed to its fans after the final whistle. The game had the smallest announced crowd so far at this tournament with only 9,354 fans in attendance for the Group F match in Nice.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Claude Paris/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Lloyd Scores 2 and the US Downs Chile 3-0 at the World Cup]]>511371702Sun, 16 Jun 2019 19:04:06 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/SOCCERUSAAP_19167607847020.jpg

Carli Lloyd wasn't thrilled to open the Women's World Cup on the bench for the United States. She accepted the role, but made no secret she wanted to start.

When the call came Sunday, Lloyd made it count with a pair of goals to lead the defending champions to a 3-0 victory over Chile. The win pushed the United States into the round of 16.

Lloyd was the hero of the World Cup in Canada four years ago when she scored three goals in the final against Japan that gave the Americans their third World Cup title. But she was on the bench when the U.S. opened the tournament, even though she scored later as a substitute in the 13-0 victory over Thailand.

"I know that my ability is there, I know this is my best version of me. I've just got to go out there and prove it," she said. "Whether that's coming off the bench and making an impact, whether that's starting and getting the opportunity, which I'm grateful for, I'm just trying to make the most of it. I want to win."

Lloyd became the first player to score in six straight World Cup matches with her goal in the 11th minute.

She added another on a header off a corner in the 35th for her 10th career World Cup goal, which moved her into third on the U.S. list behind Abby Wambach (14) and Michelle Akers (12). At 36, she became the oldest player to have a multi-goal game in the tournament.

She nearly got another hat trick — which would have made her the first player with two in the World Cup — but her penalty kick in the 81st minute went wide left.

"It's haunting me right now," Lloyd said. "Wasn't good enough."

The score could have been worse for Chile without unshakable goalkeeper Christiane Endler, who finished with six saves and fended off a flurry of U.S. shots in the second half.

Endler was named player of the match.

"I love the balls coming towards me and being able to showcase my skills," she said through a translator. "Obviously it's difficult to maintain concentration. I think in the first half it was difficult for me to get into the game. I think the second half went better for me and in general for the team."

The victory over Chile was more subdued than the U.S. team's record-breaking rout of Thailand. The Americans celebrated every goal even after the win was well in hand, and the display offended many who thought the champions should have shown more class. The controversy clouded the run-up to the match against Chile.

Several of the American players reached out to their Thai counterparts following the match. Lloyd exchanged encouraging words and tweets with goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying, and FIFA posted an interview with Thailand's coach thanking the U.S. players for being professional and playing well.

After such a rout, Jill Ellis made sweeping changes to the starting lineup against Chile, including a new front line with Lloyd, Christen Press and Mallory Pugh. Alex Morgan was moved to the bench along with Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath.

Becky Sauerbrunn, who sat out the match against Thailand because of a minor quad injury, returned and anchored a backline that included 20-year-old Tierna Davidson, who was making her World Cup debut. Davidson is the youngest player to start for the United States in a World Cup since Tiffany Roberts against Norway in 1995.

Chile made just one lineup change, starting midfielder Claudia Soto in place of Yanara Aedo.

Chile lost its opener to Sweden 2-0, but Endler was solid in that game, too, keeping the Swedes out of the goal until 83rd minute. The second goal got past the 6-footer in stoppage time.

Julie Ertz scored in the 26th minute with a header off a corner kick from Davidson that Endler got her hands on but couldn't stop. It was Ertz's first World Cup goal and came with her husband Zach Ertz, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, looking on.

Endler denied Lloyd another chance at the hat trick when she tipped the U.S. captain's shot over the net in the 72nd minute.

Sweden also advanced out of Group F with a victory 5-1 victory over Thailand earlier Sunday in Nice. Japan, playing in Group D with England, also went through to the knockout stage because both the United States and Sweden won.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was among the U.S. team's well-wishers before the sold-out game at Parc des Princes stadium. Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, referenced the team's lawsuit against U.S. Soccer alleging gender discrimination and seeking equitable pay.

"As we cheer them on in the World Cup, we must support their fight off the field for equal pay. In 2019, it's past time we close the pay gap and ensure women get paid as much as men," Biden tweeted.

U.S. soccer maintains the two teams have different pay structures because of separate collective bargaining agreements.

But for now, the players are concentrating on France and bringing home a fourth World Cup championship.

The United States plays Sweden on Thursday to wrap up the group stage. It is the first meeting between the two teams since Sweden ousted the Americans from the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics.

Chile wraps up the group with a match against Thailand on Thursday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Venus Williams, Other Female Athletes Talk Gender Pay Equality at Paris Forum]]>511367522Sun, 16 Jun 2019 03:04:07 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP_19166717284487.jpg

Venus Williams joined retired soccer star Julie Foudy and ice hockey player Hilary Knight in the Eiffel Tower to highlight the push for pay equality for women athletes.

The trio gathered Saturday night for a forum sponsored by LUNA bar and moderated by Catt Sadler, who quit E! in December 2017 after she learned her male co-host earned twice the pay.

Williams praised women athletes who had joined the push for better pay and conditions.

"Not everyone wants to get on the train," she said. "So if they don't want to go to glory and go to the top of the mountain, they can stay at the base camp."

Players on the U.S soccer team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, charging institutionalized gender discrimination. The USSF countered that pay and benefits for members of the men's and women's teams, bargained by separate unions, can't be compared and said there was no basis for allegations of illegal conduct.

LUNA Bar announced on Equal Pay Day on April 2 that it was giving each of the 23 women on the U.S. roster $31,250. That amount is how much more the U.S. men receive from the federation for making a World Cup roster.

Foudy, a 48-year-old former midfielder who won two World Cups and two Olympics, recited poor conditions for her and teammates in the 1990s, recalling "you're staying in roach motels and you're driving the hotel shuttle bus to games."

"We actually won a World Cup in 1991, yet at that time, there was no marketing, there was no support for the team, we were getting $10 a day," she said.

FIFA doubled prize money for the women to $30 million this year from the amount four years ago, and the amount for the winning team is $4 million. That remains a fraction of the money awarded at last year's men's World Cup, where France received $38 million from a $400 million pool. FIFA has raised the men's pool to $440 million for 2022.

Sadler, 44, had worked for E! for a dozen years when she learned co-host Jason Kennedy earned what she said was double her pay.

"Initially I was pretty ticked off about that, rather infuriated, a little embarrassed," she said.

She said she quit when management refused to remedy the situation.

Williams, a five-time Wimbledon and two-time U.S. open champion, got involved in the women's player council 20 years ago, when she was 18. While the U.S. Open reached pay equality in 1973 after Billie Jean King threatened a boycott, the Australian Open didn't follow until 2001, the French Open in 2006 and Wimbledon in 2007.

"I think the fuel is when people say that you shouldn't or that it's not possible or you don't deserve it," Williams said. "Don't tell me what I deserve. I know what I deserve and I will work for what I deserve and I will get what I work for."

Knight, a 29-year-old ice hockey forward, won an Olympic gold medal last year after silvers in 2010 and '14. She was among 200 women who announced in May they will not play professional hockey in North America this year in an attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league.

"Enough is enough. I'm done with being grateful," she said. "We didn't have the equitable support that we need."

She praised the women's soccer team as trailblazers and said hockey players were 20 years behind. Knight revealed a conversation she had with retired soccer goalkeeper Briana Scurry.

"It's sort of like planting seeds. And on one side there's been a lot of seed planting, a lot of watering and a lot of growth, and that's the men's side," Knight said. "And on the women's side, unfortunately there haven't been as many seeds planted and right now we're trying to open those doors and get those seeds planted, so we can have that growth. We just need the opportunity to do so."

After the U.S. women's soccer team opened the tournament with a 13-0 win over Thailand this week, U.S. President Donald Trump sidestepped a question about whether the women should get equal player.

"We'll talk about that later," he said.

While Foudy said, "Yes, I'm troubled" by Trump's decision not to address the matter, Williams said she had been "under a rock" getting ready for Wimbledon and had not heard the comment.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Ronald Blum/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Canada, The Netherlands Advance in Women's World Cup]]>511344902Sat, 15 Jun 2019 19:34:47 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Canada.jpg

The Netherlands advanced in the Women's World Cup with a 3-1 win against Cameroon. Meanwhile, Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince each had second-half goals and Canada advanced to the knockout round at the Women's World Cup with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand on Saturday night.

Vivianne Miedema scored a goal in each half Saturday to advance the Netherlands into the second round of the Women's World Cup for the second straight tournament with a 3-1 win over Cameroon on Saturday at Valenciennes, France.

Miedema put the Dutch in the lead in the 41st minute of the Group E match at Stade du Hainaut and then finished it off in the 85th.

Dominique Bloodworth also scored for the Netherlands in the 48th minute, while Gabrielle Onguéné got Cameroon's goal in the 43rd.

For Canada, Fleming took a well-placed pass from Prince and scored in the 48th minute to break up a scoreless match. Fleming, who made her debut with the senior national team at 15, currently plays for UCLA. 

Prince got her goal in the 79th minute, a rebound of Christine Sinclair's header that hit the post.

Led by Tom Sermanni, former coach of Sweden and the United States, New Zealand was hurt in the first half when defender CJ Bott was injured and had to be subbed out.

Cameroon is in last place in the group, with no points and a minus-3 goal difference, and it is all but eliminated. Cameroon plays New Zealand on Thursday, and the Netherlands meets Canada in a match that kicks off at the same time.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Francisco Seco/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Taylor Puts England in World Cup Last 16 With Game to Spare]]>511291541Fri, 14 Jun 2019 17:48:21 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/socAP_19165737015228.jpg

Jodie Taylor scored her first international goal in 14 months to send England into the second round of the Women's World Cup on Friday in a 1-0 victory over Argentina.

The Argentines, who scored their first ever World Cup point in an opening draw against Japan, were resilient but Taylor finally found a way past goalkeeper Vanina Correa in the 61st minute after she had repeatedly thwarted England's attack. Correa saved a first-half penalty from Nikita Parris.

Taylor sneaked into a central location unchecked by the Argentine defense and met Beth Mead's low cross. She nudged the ball into the net and ended a 540-day England goal drought for the Golden Boot winner from the 2017 European Championship.

After edging Scotland 2-1 on Sunday, England has now opened a World Cup with back-to-back wins for the first time and advanced to the next round ahead of its final Group D match against Japan. Italy, France and Germany are also already through to the round of 16 with a game to spare. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Girelli's Hat Trick Lifts Italy Into Next Round of World Cup]]>511290481Fri, 14 Jun 2019 14:06:03 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/italyAP_19165616770702.jpg

Cristiana Girelli scored a hat trick to put Italy into the second round of the Women's World Cup with a 5-0 victory over Jamaica on Friday.

It was Italy's second hat trick at the World Cup, as Girelli joined Carolina Morace, who did it at the inaugural 1991 tournament. Girelli's three goals were the third hat trick so far this World Cup.

Italy upset Australia 2-1 in its opening Group C match with a goal in stoppage time. It positioned the squad to advance out of the group stage with a victory over Jamaica.

Girelli's first goal was on a penalty kick she got two chances at making. Jamaica goalkeeper Sydney Schneider saved Girelli's low penalty shot to the right post, but video review determined Schneider came off her line too soon.

Girelli scored on her second attempt to get Italy rolling.

Aurora Galli came in as a substitute for Italy and scored twice to push the final score to 5-0.

The night before the match, Jamaican sprint great Usain Bolt used Skype to call into a team gathering of the Reggae Girlz and encouraged them to "to go out there and do your best. You don't worry about what other people are thinking."

Jamaica lost 3-0 to Brazil in its opening match.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Francisco Seco/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Japan Holds Off Scotland 2-1 at Women's World Cup]]>511290011Fri, 14 Jun 2019 13:53:55 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/soccerAP_19165496865161.jpg

Mana Iwabuchi had an early goal and then Japan held off a late charge from Scotland for a 2-1 victory on Friday at the Women's World Cup.

Iwabuchi, who was on the Japanese team that won the World Cup in 2011, scored in the 23rd minute to give Japan its first goal of the tournament. Yuika Sugasawa converted a penalty in the 37th minute to pad the lead going into the break.

Lana Clelland's left-footed shot went into the top right corner of the net in the 87th minute as Scotland furiously worked to break through Japan's defense.

Japan played to a scoreless draw against Argentina in its opener and needed the confidence boost win with Wednesday's final group match against England looming.

Scotland has now dropped both of its matches so far in France, after opening with a 2-1 loss to England. The team will play Argentina in its group-stage final. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: David Vincent/AP]]>
<![CDATA[China Beats South Africa 1-0 to Set Up Decider vs. Spain]]>511237381Thu, 13 Jun 2019 17:36:31 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/chinaAP_19164770708927.jpg

China is back on track at the Women's World Cup, tied for second in Group B after a 1-0 victory in South Africa, and focused on it goal of moving into the next round of the tournament.

China, evened with Spain at three points each, lost its opener but stayed calm in Thursday night's second match as the squad tries to join group leader Germany in the last 16.

"We had a bigger stress, we could not afford to lose. This invisible stress was there and the players were able to overcome this stress," China coach Jia Xiuquan said. "Their desire to win has impressed me most over the year. This gives me the courage to lead them. It is also a manifestation of their mentality."

He thinks the pressure is somewhat off his players now and more on Spain, which is also trying to move on in the tournament.

"Spain is a very strong team and they have a traditional style similar to the men's team," he said. "Spain is stronger than we are so we don't have a lot of stress. So I think (this) will give us a better performance. I hope the players can unleash their potential."

Forward Li Ying put 1999 runner-up China ahead in the 40th minute with an opportunist effort. Meeting Zhang Rui's right-wing cross, she got ahead of her marker and poked the ball into the bottom right corner.

China lost 1-0 to two-time champion Germany in its opening match. South Africa was beaten 3-1 by Spain and now has two losses.

"We knew it was going to be a battle out there but we also had our chances. Very proud of the team," coach Desiree Ellis said. "Each player can pat themselves on the back after today's performance. We pride ourselves on teamwork and togetherness."

Forward Thembi Kgatlana scored against Spain and was South Africa's most dangerous player against China, with a chance to equalize in the 76th.

Pouncing on a loose ball inside the left of the penalty area, her shot hit defender Lin Yuping near her right shoulder. There were calls for a penalty but no video review was done.

South Africa is the lowest-ranked team playing, but China worked hard for its win while keeping a close watch on Kgatlana. She made two strong runs in the first half, one down each flank, but her rushed passing let her down each time.

Kgatlana caused problems after the break with her speed and well-timed runs, although she was isolated and not adequately supported.

"Sometimes she's too quick for her own good. She's always a danger. But at times we couldn't get the ball up to her more," Ellis said. "We made poor decisions in the final third. We're not clinical enough in front of goal."

China will need to improve its finishing against Spain, for the miss of the game came from forward Gu Yasha.

She burst down the left and, after South Africa captain Janine Van Wyk slipped over, smacked the ball so wide it almost went out for a throw-in.

South Africa goalkeeper Kaylin Swart made two smart, late saves, the second a fine finger-tip effort from substitute Yang Li's curling effort in the 90th.

The 48,000-capacity stadium Parc des Princes stadium was less than half full with 20,011 the attendance given. It has hosted three matches and only France's opening game against South Korea was full.

China's win also sent Group A leader France, which has six points, through to the last 16. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Australia Beats Brazil 3-2 With Aid From an Own Goal]]>511235101Thu, 13 Jun 2019 14:45:44 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/ausAP_19164650668578.jpg

An own goal gave Australia a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Brazil at the Women's World Cup, even after Marta added a record 16th career tournament goal.

Marta, who sat out Brazil's opening game with a left thigh injury, became the first player to score in five different World Cups when she converted a penalty kick in the 27th minute of Thursday's game.

Cristiane scored a header to put the Brazilians up 2-0. Caitlin Foord scored before the break to pull Australia within one.

Chloe Logarzo's shot from distance in the 58th minute tied it and then Australia went ahead on the own goal, an error by Monica that snapped the stalemate in the 66th minute. Sam Kerr appeared to be offside but the goal was awarded after video review, and the Brazilians fumed.

Australia, just the second team to win a World Cup match after going down two goals, needed a good game after dropping its opener 2-1 to Italy. Brazil won its tournament opener against Jamaica 3-0 on Cristiane's hat trick.

It was the first loss in the group stage for the Brazilians since 1995, snapping a 16-match unbeaten streak.

Brazil's Formiga, the oldest player in the tournament at 41, collected her second yellow card during the match. She will have to sit out the final group match against Italy.

American Abby Wambach and Germany's Birgit Prinz rank behind Marta on the World Cup goals list with 14 each. 

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Photo Credit: Claude Paris/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Host France Beats Norway 2-1 to Make It 2 Wins Out of 2]]>511192551Wed, 12 Jun 2019 17:21:02 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/franceGettyImages-1149595407.jpg

France recovered from a terrible own goal to beat Norway 2-1 on Wednesday as the host nation remained undefeated at the Women's World Cup.

Eugenie Le Sommer scored the winner from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute after video review determined Ingrid Syrstad Engen had fouled Marion Torrent in the area.

Valerie Gauvin, benched in France's opening 4-0 win over South Korea, broke the deadlock after halftime but Norway tied when Wendie Renard turned a cross into her own net.

Renard, considered one of the best defenders in the world, appeared to be in tears as she raised her face to the sky in anguish.

France moved three points ahead of Norway in Group A. Nigeria was also three points behind France, which is vying to become the first nation to hold both the men's and women's World Cup titles at the same time.

Norway, which won the competition in 1995, is playing without Ada Hegerberg. The 2018 FIFA Ballon d'Or winner stepped down from the national team because of what she says are differences in the way the federation treats the men's and women's teams.

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Photo Credit: CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Germany Gets Another 1-0 Win at World Cup, Beating Spain]]>511184401Wed, 12 Jun 2019 16:42:14 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/germanyAP_19163598288310.jpg

As Germany clung on for another 1-0 win at the Women's World Cup, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg could sense the unease in her team.

And considerable relief in edging past Spain.

So when the final whistle blew in northern France on Wednesday the coach quickly gathered her players on the field.

"There was some tension," she said. "I told my players we pushed our limits."

The way her side lost possession of the ball still grated. But Voss-Tecklenburg ultimately reminded the squad to be proud and united in the pursuit of a third world title.

The Germans are finding it far from easy going at the start of Group B, relying on Sara Däbritz's goal in the 42nd minute against the run of play to prevail against the skillful Spanish.

"In the last 15 minutes in the first half," said defender Sara Doorsoun, "we came together and said, 'OK be more self-confident.'"

Däbritz had the confidence to be in the right place to pounce.

After goalkeeper Sandra Paños couldn't keep hold of Alexandra Popp's header, Däbritz got on the end of the loose ball and bundled it into the net.

"We were playing some great football," Spain coach Jorge Vilda said through a translator, "and in the end some mistakes cost us dearly against a strong side."

Until that point, the confident passing, the intensity and much of the verve had been coming from Spain in heavy rain.

"When we got the ball they put a lot of pressure on our defense," Doorsoun said. "It was definitely tough to get the ball."

Playing in only their second World Cup, the Spanish were more than just equals to a second-ranked team that has made at least the quarterfinals in all eight editions of the FIFA tournament.

What was missing was the ability to complete well-worked moves with a goal.

When a high ball was sent to Nahikari Garcia in the 14th minute, the forward broke through the center backs. But with only goalkeeper Almuth Schult to beat, Garcia sent the ball wide.

"We showed what Spain can do on the pitch and I think the team is strengthened by our performance," said Vilda, whose side opened with a victory over South Africa. "We have to never been as close as we are now ... and we need to use this as a basis for growth."

So does Germany, which opened with the 1-0 victory over China.

"We know that we have to play better," Doorsoun said. "But mentality of the team is good."

But Germany will still be without Dzsenifer Marozsan for the final group game against South Africa as the midfielder recovers from a broken toe.

"In the difficult situations she helps out every player," Voss-Tecklenburg said, "because she doesn't lose many balls. It would have been great to have her with us. We tried to compensate her loss."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Michel Spingler/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Nigeria Earns 4th World Cup Win, 2-0 Over South Korea]]>511179841Wed, 12 Jun 2019 11:29:51 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/nigeriawinAP_19163527852531.jpg

Asisat Oshoala became the second Nigerian player to score in two different Women's World Cup tournaments with a late goal in a 2-0 victory over South Korea on Wednesday.

Chidinma Okeke chipped the ball past the South Korean defense in the 75th minute and Oshoala chased it down, slipped past Hwang Bo-ram and drew the keeper off her line before sliding it into an open goal from a tight angle.

Nigeria took a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute at Stade des Alpes when South Korea's Kim Do-yeon volleyed the ball into her own net.

The two own-goals so far in this tournament have both featured Nigeria, which is the first team to both score and concede an own-goal at the same Women's World Cup since the United States in 1999. Osinachi Ohale scored on her own team in Nigeria's opening Group A loss to Norway.

Oshoala, who plays for Barcelona, joined Rita Nwadike as Nigerians to score in multiple Women's World Cup tournaments. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Laurent Cipriani/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Morgan Has 5 Goals as US Routs Thailand 13-0]]>511124511Tue, 11 Jun 2019 21:04:54 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/morgAP_19162693908713.jpg

Thailand was never a real threat to the U.S. national team. Even so, the three-time Women's World Cup champions had no desire to go easy on a lesser opponent in their opening game.

Goals matter in the group stage.

And statements matter in soccer's biggest tournament.

"Obviously we have the utmost respect for everyone we play, but it's the World Cup," said captain Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan tied the tournament record with five goals and the United States opened with a historic 13-0 rout of Thailand on Tuesday night. Samantha Mewis and Rose Lavelle each added a pair of goals for the United States, which broke the record for goals and margin of victory in a World Cup game.

Rapinoe, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh and Carli Lloyd also scored. The previous record margin was Germany's 11-0 victory over Argentina in 2007.

Morgan tied Michelle Akers' record for World Cup goals, set in the quarterfinals against Taiwan in 1991. The team's seven different scorers also set a tournament record.

Lloyd, 36, became the oldest American woman to score at a World Cup and joined Germany's Birgit Prinz as the only players to score in five straight World Cup games.

The United States faced criticism over its relentless attack. The Americans led 3-0 at the break and then broke the match open in the second half, with the players celebrating goal after goal.

The Americans meant no disrespect, said Morgan, but they simply wanted to position themselves for a run at a second consecutive title.

"We really just came into the game really wanting to showcase ourselves," Morgan said. "Every goal matters in this tournament and that's what we were working on."

Asked about the lopsided score, U.S. coach Jill Ellis wondered if a 10-0 victory in a men's World Cup would elicit the same questions.

"This is a world championship, so every team here has been fantastic to get to this point. And I think that to be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents, and as Alex said, it's a tournament where goal differential is important," Ellis said.

The two teams were the last to kick off in the group stage for the monthlong tournament. Host France opened the World Cup before a sellout crowd in Paris on Friday night with a 4-0 victory over South Korea.

Ranked No. 1 in the world, the Americans had dropped only one match in their previous 38, a loss to France in Le Havre in January. The team was 7-1-2 overall this year, with six straight wins going into the World Cup.

The last time the Americans played in the sport's top tournament, Lloyd had a hat trick in the first 16 minutes and the United States beat Japan 5-2 in Canada for the trophy.

The U.S. pounced early against Thailand, too, on Morgan's header in the 13th minute off Kelley O'Hara's precisely placed cross. Mewis, Lavelle and Horan were all making their World Cup debuts.

"When you get a deluge of goals like that, it's a good feeling," Ellis said. "It builds confidence."

Thailand, ranked No. 34 in the world, was clearly outmatched even though the team has shown progress on the world stage. Making its World Cup debut in 2015 four years ago, Thailand finished third in its group but earned its first win, a 3-2 victory over Ivory Coast.

At the final whistle, Lloyd and Christen Press were seen consoling the Thailand goalkeeper. Morgan put her arm around Thailand's Miranda Nild, who was wiping away tears on the field. Nild and Morgan both played college soccer for the California Golden Bears.

"They were disappointed of course, they intended to make an impression in this first match and they were disappointed," coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian said through a translator. "Yes, they are all athletes and they will be resilient. We've got two more games to play and we need to bounce back."

Srathongvian said soccer in Thailand is still growing and there is a limited pool of players to draw from.

The World Cup comes at a time when female players across the globe are seeking better treatment, conditions and pay. The U.S. national team has long championed equal rights, and players collectively filed a lawsuit earlier this year that alleges discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation and are seeking pay equitable with that of the men's national team.

The players say the lawsuit is on hold while they're in France. But a pair of prominent well-wishers on Twitter referenced the team's pursuit of equality.

"The @USWNT is something to smile about. It was great to celebrate with them back in 2015 and I'm excited to root them on in their drive to earn their fourth star. Best of luck to these champions for equality, on and off the field," wrote former President Barack Obama.

Tennis legend Billie Jean King weighed in: "The pursuit of a record 4th World Cup trophy for the #USWNT officially begins today, but the journey has been years in the making. You have the support of a nation behind you. Get that win, and then get the equal pay you deserve!"

Ellis made some lineup moves for the match in the absence of defender Becky Sauerbrunn, whom the team said was held out as a precaution with a minor quad injury. Julie Ertz was moved to the backline and Mewis got the start in the midfield.

Morgan, U.S. Soccer's 2018 Player of the Year, now has 106 international goals. Playing in her third World Cup, she was named player of the match.

It came close to the team's biggest rout ever. The U.S. beat the Dominican Republic 14-0 in a 2012 Olympic qualifier in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Up next for the U.S. is World Cup newcomer Chile on Sunday in Paris. In the final group match before the knockout round, the Americans will travel to Le Havre to face nemesis Sweden, who they've been grouped with six times in World Cup play.

In the last meeting between the teams, Sweden ousted the United States in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics. Afterward, former U.S. goalkeeper Hole Solo called Sweden "cowards" for bunkering on defense. Alyssa Naeher has since replaced Solo, who was dismissed from the team.

Sweden defeated Chile 2-0 earlier on Tuesday in Rennes, a match that featured a 40-minute weather delay. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[England Beats Neighbor Scotland 2-1 to Open World Cup]]>511044972Sun, 09 Jun 2019 15:56:38 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/fifa3AP_19160596737160.jpg

Ellen White got England off to a winning start at the Women's World Cup, curling in a shot to give the 2015 semifinalists a 2-1 victory against tournament newcomers Scotland.

In a dominant first half, Nikita Parris netted a penalty in the 14th minute before White struck in the 40th on the French Riviera.

But there was no repeat of England's 6-0 rout of its neighbor at the European Championship two years ago, with Scotland ensuring it was a nervy end for England coach Phil Neville's side after Claire Emslie pulled one back in the 79th.

But the 20th-ranked Scots couldn't produce an equalizer against No. 3 England in Group D, which also features Japan and Argentina.

Despite FIFA's attempts to talk up ticket sales at the World Cup, the stadium in Nice was only about a third full with the attendance given as 13,188.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Claude Paris/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Italy Beats Australia 2-1 on Bonansea's Stoppage Time Goal]]>511044752Sun, 09 Jun 2019 15:45:13 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/fifaAP_19160471125029.jpg

Barbara Bonansea scored twice, including the game-winner in stoppage time, as Italy upset Australia 2-1 in the Women's World Cup on Sunday.

Bonansea got past Australian captain Sam Kerr with a header that caught goalkeeper Lydia Williams off guard in the fifth minute of stoppage time. The Juventus player also had the equalizer in the 56th minute for the 15th-ranked Italians, who are making their first appearance in the World Cup since 1999.

Sam Kerr, playing in her third World Cup, scored her first-ever goal in the tournament in the 22nd minute for the sixth-ranked Matildas. She celebrated by punching the corner flag in a tribute to Australia soccer great Tim Cahill.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Francisco Seco/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cristiane's Hat Trick Gives Brazil 3-0 Win Over Jamaica]]>511044922Sun, 09 Jun 2019 15:51:33 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/fifa2AP_19160536397339.jpg

Cristiane scored all three goals and Brazil spoiled Jamaica's first-ever Women's World Cup match with a 3-0 victory on Sunday.

The veteran forward's goal in the 64th minute for the hat trick came on a free kick that curled just under the crossbar. She also scored in the 15th and 50th minutes for the Brazilians, who were playing without star Marta. The six-time women's world player of the year was ruled out of the match because of a left thigh injury.

Brazil stopped a nine-game losing streak that began with a 4-1 defeat to the U.S. last Aug. 2.

The loss could have been worse for the Reggae Girlz, but goalkeeper Sydney Schneider stopped Andressa's penalty kick in the 38th minute. The save prompted countryman Usain Bolt to tweet "Yes mi keeper." Jamaica is the first Caribbean nation to play in the Women's World Cup.

It is Brazil's first hat trick in a World Cup since 1999. Cristiane is the ninth player overall to score 10 career World Cup goals; Marta holds the record with 15.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Laurent Cipriani/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup Becomes Platform for Social Change]]>510964201Fri, 07 Jun 2019 10:05:07 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/soccer-equality.jpg

Seizing on the once in every four years spectacle, teams at the Women's World Cup are hoping that the attention the sport will get in France will bring about change at home.

But it's not just about soccer. It's about respect.

For the defending champion U.S. women's team, that means a focus on the players' fight for equitable pay. For Australia, that means increased prize money for the most prestigious tournament in women's soccer. And for Jamaica, it means more support for the athletes from a federation that let the team go unfunded, and as a result, dormant, for years.

"It certainly is a platform. It's the biggest stage that we have," Megan Rapinoe said while discussing the U.S. team's ongoing fight. "It's a balance, though, because first and foremost, I think we have this platform and it's as big as it has been because we've been so successful, and on the biggest stages we've been successful."

The U.S. is the defending champion and a three-time winner of the World Cup, which kicks off Friday in Paris. Twenty-four teams will crisscross France over the next month, with the winner decided in Lyon on July 7.

Jamaica, the first Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women's World Cup, is among those teams. The Reggae Girlz want to change the perception of the women's game in a nation that traditionally hasn't valued it: Funding was cut when the team didn't qualify for the 2008 Olympics. The team was revived just five years ago.

Like many teams in the region, Jamaica's women have struggled for basic support, even equipment. There's been little or no compensation for players.

Coach Hue Menzies said the team's first-ever appearance in the World Cup is "actually a cause."

"We want to make an impact socially," Menzies said.

The Americans are largely seen as the leaders when it comes to tackling equity issues — using their status as the top-ranked team in the world. Players have filed a federal lawsuit that accuses the U.S. Soccer federation of discrimination and seeks compensation that's equitable with compensation for the men's national team.

U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn sees this World Cup as a turning point.

"I think we have so much further to go, but I think we're at that point right now where, for women's soccer and for this tournament, it's, 'How much can we push this and raise this further? How much more can we get the neutral fan to become the die-hard fan?' Can we get the investors to go from 'Maybe we'll invest in this,' to 'We're absolutely investing in this because we see this as an untapped marketplace?' So I think this is kind of a critical point for us where we can really take some strides that maybe we wouldn't be able to in a non-World Cup year," Sauerbrunn said.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis was the first to declare that video review should be used at the Women's World Cup after it was used for the first time in 2018 for the men's tournament in Russia. Ellis has also criticized FIFA, soccer's international governing body, for scheduling the finals for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America on the same day as the World Cup championship game.

Other teams have followed America's lead. Australia and Ireland are among the teams that have waged successful campaigns for better pay and conditions. The Dutch soccer federation, the KNVB, said this week that it would raise the compensation for the women's team to equal that of the men's by 2023.

Australia has undertaken a campaign to protest the prize money pool. The country's players' association is calling on FIFA to bring the women's prize up to equal the men's.

Prize money for the tournament in France is $30 million, with $4 million going to the champion. That's double the prize money that was awarded for the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

However, it is just a fraction of the $400 million in prize money for the 2018 men's World Cup. France, the men's winner, was awarded $38 million. The prize money for the 2022 men's World Cup in Qatar will be $440 million.

FIFPro, the international players union, said this week that FIFA has agreed to start negotiating better conditions for women's national team players after the World Cup. The union is "determined to making real and lasting progress on behalf of them," FIFPro said.

But progress in many countries will only come with dedicated funding.

"There are a lot of questions among players from Latin America about how the federations are spending the money that comes from FIFA for women's football. Is it really going to women's football, or is it going to young male players? So we're not talking about contracts yet, we're not talking about equal play, because we have a situation and a landscape that is more vulnerable, miles apart," said FIFPro board member Camila Garcia Perez. "It's different than you would even imagine in the U.S., or Denmark, or Sweden."

Last fall, FIFA introduced its global strategy for women's soccer, designed to grow the game. But the plan has been criticized because it's unclear how much money the organization is putting into the effort.

FIFA wants to see women's participation in the sport double to 60 million worldwide by 2026. A key component will be insuring all associations have comprehensive women's plans in place by 2022.

The World Cup is key to driving the strategy, said Sarai Bareman, FIFA's chief women's football officer. She's hopeful that it leads to progress.

"I really believe that a lot of the issues that exist, especially in the more developing countries, if we are able to really commercialize the women's game at the top end, a lot of those challenges and barriers will start to come away in the more developing countries as well," Bareman said. "So we're putting a big focus, particularly this summer in France, around promotion, proactive communication, raising the profile of our players, really doing as much as we can to get as many eyeballs onto the games." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Here Are Key Players to Watch]]>510907931Thu, 06 Jun 2019 08:45:41 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/alex-morgan.jpg

The Women's World Cup kicks off Friday in Paris. Twenty-four teams will traverse France for the next month in pursuit of soccer's most prestigious trophy. Here are five players to watch during the tournament:

ALEX MORGAN, United States

Morgan was named the U.S. national team's Player of the Year after she closed out 2018 with 18 goals in 19 games. She had seven goals during the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament alone.

Morgan is a proven scorer: She also earned Player of the Year honors in 2012 when she had 28 goals and 21 assists, and helped the national team win an Olympic gold medal. Mia Hamm is the only other player to have 20-plus goals and assists during a single season.

The 29-year-old forward, who will have a birthday during the tournament in France, is playing in her third World Cup. She was the youngest player on the 2011 World Cup team, scoring a goal in the final match against Japan.

She scored her 100th goal with the national team in April — not bad for a late-bloomer who didn't play club soccer until age 14.

Morgan, who also plays with the National Women's Soccer League's Orlando Pride, was named this year to Time Magazine's 100 most influential people list.


 Sinclair is the most prolific scorer ever in Canadian soccer, and with 181 career goals she's edging closer to former U.S. star Abby Wambach, who holds the international record — among men or women — with 184.

Sinclair has been the face of the Canadian women's team for 19 years. Now 35, this tournament will be the soft-spoken captain's fifth, and likely final, World Cup.

Canada has won bronze medals at the past two Olympics. But the closest the Canadians have come to a podium finish at the World Cup was in 2003, when they finished fourth.

From Burnaby, British Columbia, Sinclair won two NCAA championships at the University of Portland. She's stayed in the Pacific Northwest, and plays with the NWSL's Portland Thorns.

MARTA, Brazil

Known by just her first name, Marta Vieira da Silva is a six-time FIFA World Player of the Year.

Marta is playing in her fifth World Cup, She has also played in four Olympics for Brazil, but so far, a championship has eluded her in both tournaments. The 33-year-old has the most World Cup goals with 15, one better than both Wambach and Germany's Birgit Prinz.

Growing up in a small town in Brazil, Marta played soccer with the boys. But her talent was recognized quickly and she left home to play soccer when she was just 14.

At the 2016 Olympics in her native country, she played with so much passion that fans crossed out Neymar's name on their No. 10 jerseys and wrote in Marta's.

She had a setback last week when she injured her left thigh in practice but she has since returned to training.


There are few players, if any, that are as dynamic as Kerr with the ball. She's also known for her signature backflip following goals.

This will be the 25-year-old's third World Cup, and the Australians hope to improve on their surprising run to the quarterfinals in the 2015 tournament.

Since making her debut with the Australian national team at 15, Kerr has collected 31 goals in 77 games. As captain of the team, known as the Matildas, Kerr has been called "fearless' by coach Ante Milicic.

Kerr plays soccer year-round with the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL and with the Perth Glory of Australia's W-League. Last season, she led the NWSL in goals for the second straight year with 16.


Marozsan is the inspirational story of the World Cup, having returned to the game after a pulmonary embolism kept her sidelined for several months last year.

Marozsan grabbed international attention at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil when she scored the winning goal against Sweden. The 27-year-old has 32 goals in 89 appearances overall with Germany.

At just under 15, she became the youngest player to debut in the Bundesliga. She currently plays for Lyon and has been the French player of the year for the past two seasons.

Lyon has won the French league and the Champions League for the past three seasons. A World Cup championship is the only major title Marozsan is missing.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: US Should Fear These Teams in Group F]]>510911461Thu, 06 Jun 2019 11:06:16 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1146665751.jpg

Three stars on their uniform, one for each conquest, distinguish the U.S. women's national soccer team as three-time FIFA World Cup champions. 

Of the 24 participants in the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France, which begins Friday, the U.S. is the only team that boasts so many feats. But this year they'll have to face two strong lineups in group play: Sweden and Chile.

But first some background on Team USA. The U.S. triumphed in the inaugural edition of the Women's World Cup in 1991 and won the last tournament in 2015. From their three championships, their second one, in 1999, stands as the most memorable. That could be because of the impressive picture that 90,185 fans drew in the stands of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.

Neither Michelle Akers' two goals in the 1991 final (2-1 victory against Norway), nor Carli Lloyd's three goals in the 2015 final (5-2 victory against Japan) marked the history of American soccer like that vibrant atmosphere in Pasadena did between June 19 and July 10, 1999.

Twenty years later, the legacy of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett and the women's U.S. soccer team lives on. Nike has decided to reuse the design of the uniform the 1999 team used back then.

The 23 players of the U.S. women's soccer team, summoned by coach Jill Ellis, are once again the favorites to win the cup.

As part of Group F, the U.S. will face Thailand as well as Chile, which makes its World Cup debut. These couple of matches are supposed to be easy tasks for the U.S. However, the South American team has the potential of giving this group a surprise.

During the first round, though, Sweden represents the U.S.' biggest threat. 

A Sweden-U.S. rivalry, which will be rekindled in Le Havre on June 20, is the most repeated clash in the history of the World Cup. The teams will have faced off in five of eight World Cups with this year's match. 

Both teams also faced-off in the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, in 2016. That time, the triumph of the Nordic team, 3 to 4 in penalties, left the U.S. without an Olympic medal for the first time after four golds (1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012) and one silver medal (2000). 

The U.S. record in the World Cup is equally admirable. The U.S. has been in the semifinals of all seven previous tournaments, in which it won three golds, one silver and three bronze medals.

As for the other teams in Group F, Thailand did not go through the group stage in 2015. It was their their first time in this elite tournament, which now welcomes Chile.

Sweden could be formidible in this tournament. They reached the semifinals in 1991 and in 2011 and lost to Germany in the 2003 final. But Sweden's soccer program is now going through a delicate moment. Its league is no longer among the top ones in Europe. The good old days of the Malmö, the Linkopings, the Rosengard and the Tyresö groups are long gone.

Follow all the action of the 2019 Women's FIFA World Cup starting June 7 on Telemundo.

FIFA Group F and Rankings

Chile (39), United States (1), Sweden (9) and Thailand (34)

Group F Calendar:

June 11:

Chile vs Sweden (Rennes)

United States vs Thailand (Reims)

June 16:

Sweden vs Thailand (Nice)

United States vs Chile (Paris)

June 20:

Sweden vs United States (Le Havre)

Thailand vs Chile (Rennes)

A version of this story translated by Cristian Arroyo-Santiago first appeared on Telemundo local station sites.

Photo Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Equity Will Be the Theme of This Women's World Cup]]>510917451Thu, 06 Jun 2019 12:15:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/megan-rapine.jpg

The world's best player won't be at the Women's World Cup but the world's best team will be, with both sides taking a stand for equality.

The U.S. national team, ranked No. 1 globally, will try to defend its title in soccer's premier tournament, which kicks off Friday in Paris. While the Americans make their way around France for the monthlong event, back at home they're all part of a lawsuit that accuses U.S. Soccer of gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, Ada Hegerberg , the first female Ballon d'Or winner for the world's top player, won't be accompanying Norway's national team. She stepped away in 2017 because of what she perceives to be a general disregard for women's soccer by the country's federation. The crux of her frustration is the uneven pace of progress and strategy in the women's game.

Hegerberg, 23, is at the top of her game. She had a hat trick for Lyon in its 4-1 win over Barcelona in the recent Women's Champions League final. In domestic games, she has 211 goals in 208 games.

"We are happy for this debate to raise attention and respect for women's soccer in the world, and I do view it as a big change-maker." said Lise Klaveness, sporting director for the Norwegian Football Federation, "But I just wish she was in our team."

The U.S. team hopes to collectively be a difference-maker, too.

Twenty-eight members of the current player pool filed the lawsuit on March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging "institutionalized gender discrimination" that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men's national team.

Because the lawsuit is still in the early stages, it's likely no significant movement will be made until the team returns home.

Megan Rapinoe was asked whether the pay issue puts more pressure on the team — which will already be facing a strong field looking to topple the three-time World Cup winners.

"I think that the huge media splash of the lawsuit is behind us and we're obviously focused on the World Cup," Rapinoe said. "But also it's like this is our life, and there are a lot of things that we have to grapple and deal with: Family, friends, partners, media, pressures, games, World Cup, travel. So it's just kind of just one more thing. This team always has a lot of media attention, and we've always had a lot of things on our plate so it's not like it's anything new, or all of a sudden we're getting all the more attention. It's sort of the same for us."

The 24-team tournament will be played at nine stadiums across France over the course of the next month, with the final set for July 7 in Lyon.

THE LAST TIME: The United States won the last World Cup in 2015. Carli Lloyd scored three goals in the first 16 minutes to help give the Americans a 5-2 victory over Japan for their third overall World Cup title, most for any nation since the tournament was introduced in 1991. England was a surprising third-place finisher in Canada.

VAR: In March, FIFA approved the use of video review for the World Cup in France. The Video Assistant Referee system, or VAR, was used at the men's World Cup in Russia last year.

PRIZE MONEY: The prize money for the World Cup will be $30 million, of which $4 million will go to the federation of the champion. While the total is double the prize money for the 2015 Women's World Cup, it is a fraction of the $400 million in prize money for last year's men's World Cup, of which $38 million went to champion France. FIFA, soccer's international governing body, says prize money for the 2022 men's World Cup will be $440 million.

TICKET FIASCO: Some fans who ordered tickets to World Cup matches were surprised last month when they discovered their seats were not together. The issue was especially problematic for families bringing young children. After an outcry on social media, FIFA said it would work with the local organizing committee to resolve the issues.

Some fans recently reported tickets that had been delivered electronically were no longer available, with the message: "FIFA and the LOC are currently working on improving the seating arrangements for certain orders for a limited number of matches. If your order is affected, please expect to receive a dedicated communication shortly."

TOO MANY TOURNAMENTS: FIFA has also been criticized for scheduling the World Cup final on the same day as the Copa America final in Rio and the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Chicago. U.S. coach Jill Ellis pointedly said: "In my own personal opinion, playing three big matches in one day isn't supporting the women's game. So, there you go."


AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Faces Greater Challenges This Time Around at World Cup]]>510396681Fri, 24 May 2019 17:06:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WWCup-Soccer-USA.jpg

The U.S. women's national team is well aware the rest of the world is catching up.

Long dominant on the international stage, the No. 1-ranked Americans are heading to France for the Women's World Cup with any number of teams potentially in position to topple the defending champions.

Among the challengers are host France, upstart England, the surprise third-place finisher at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and even the Canadians themselves, who would love to get an upper hand in a longstanding rivalry with their North American neighbors.

"I do not think that the U.S. is as strong as they have always been, the same with Germany, while not underestimating teams like Italy and Spain that may be inferior," said Sweden midfielder Kosovar Asllani. "We will of course do everything to be at the top. It is open for any national team, really."

Jill Ellis is leading the U.S. team into her second World Cup as coach. She selected a roster that emphasized experience, but the lineup will look vastly different from four years ago. Stalwarts Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday have retired, and Carli Lloyd — who scored a hat trick in the title game in Canada — has moved into a "super sub" role off the bench .

The U.S. women are focused on winning on the field in France even while at home they are looking for a different victory. Known for championing women's rights and equality, the players collectively filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation and seeking pay equitable with that of players on the men's national team.

Forward Christen Press said it's this unity on and off the field that makes the United States a formidable team. "The World Cup is precious to us and we want to have all our focus there," she said.

Alex Morgan will lead the attack, flanked by Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath. Morgan, who broke out at the 2012 Olympics and is playing in her third World Cup, scored 18 goals in 19 games last year and was the team's Player of the Year for 2018.

A focus will no doubt be Alyssa Naeher, who has the daunting task of replacing Hope Solo in goal. Solo won the Golden Glove in Canada as the tournament's best goalkeeper, allowing just three goals. But she was ultimately dismissed from the team following the 2016 Olympics.

Naeher is known for her calm demeanor.

"I've kind of found over the years that it's best to just keep that even mindset, not too high and not too low," she said. "There's obviously a lot of defensive strategies and changes leading into a game, and within a game. The more that I can kind of just stay in the moment and kind of take it all in, the better position I'll put myself in."

Helping Naeher will be a backline that includes veterans Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O'Hara, both playing in their third World Cup.

In the Brazil Games, Sweden bunkered on defense and went on to advance to the semifinals, handing the U.S. its earliest exit in Olympic competition. Solo famously called the Swedes "cowards" for the tactic.

But that game could provide something of a blueprint for how to beat the United States. Sweden was coached at the time by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, who knew the Americans well.

Sundhage has since moved on, but the U.S. will again face Sweden in the final game of the group stage. Ellis joked before the draw in December that she fully expected to be grouped with Sweden — so of course it happened. It is the sixth time the two teams have been in the same group. Also in Group F are Thailand and Chile, which is making its World Cup debut.

"I think that the emphasis is not to overload or add, it's more about trusting what we've done and going in there and now just being able to focus on what's exactly in front of us in terms of games," Ellis said. "I think that sometimes coaches go to a playoff round or go into the postseason and suddenly what do you want to do — more and more and more — and I think the complete opposite actually."

The U.S. will open the tournament against Thailand in Reims on June 11. Sweden, ranked No. 9, will face the U.S. on June 20 in Le Havre — the final group match for both. The U.S. and the Swedes are expected to advance to the knockout round.

The United States has won the World Cup three times since the women's event was launched in 1991, more than any other national team. Japan defeated the U.S. in an emotional final in 2011 that came as that nation was still reeling from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Photos: Fans Celebrate World Cup Champions]]>313252381Fri, 10 Jul 2015 12:23:57 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

More Coverage: 

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup Parade]]>313023041Fri, 10 Jul 2015 06:34:05 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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."



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.



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.



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. 



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.



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.

<![CDATA[Top Photos: U.S. Wins 2015 World Cup]]>311697541Mon, 06 Jul 2015 06:43:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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[World Cup Champs Kick Off Welcome Home Party]]>312057881Wed, 08 Jul 2015 01:00:07 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[World Cup Transcends FIFA Scandal]]>311860991Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:27:25 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Becomes Captain America for U.S. Women]]>311725351Mon, 06 Jul 2015 18:01:11 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[U.S.A Win's Women World Cup, 5-2]]>311689201Mon, 06 Jul 2015 06:37:14 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[U.S. Women Look to Reclaim Victory in World Cup Final]]>311664531Sun, 05 Jul 2015 07:00:54 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[England Beats Germany 1-0 in Extra Time]]>311664101Sun, 05 Jul 2015 01:26:02 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Aussie Coach Has Advice for Defeating Japan]]>311631581Sat, 04 Jul 2015 07:50:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Defense Helps U.S. Team to The Women's World Cup Final]]>311374661Thu, 02 Jul 2015 01:15:44 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[U.S. Soccer Team Reacts to Facing Japan in Final]]>311365721Thu, 02 Jul 2015 00:09:15 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[Japan Advances to Final on England's Own Goal, 2-1]]>311356751Wed, 01 Jul 2015 23:19:52 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Japan Faces Upstart England in Women's World Cup Semifinal]]>311140831Wed, 01 Jul 2015 04:28:18 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[U.S. Prevails in 2-0 Victory Over Top-Ranked Germany]]>311136141Wed, 01 Jul 2015 09:42:28 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[U.S. Triumphs Over Germany, 2-0]]>311063531Tue, 30 Jun 2015 22:00:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Looks to Step Up in Semifinal]]>310572341Tue, 30 Jun 2015 14:04:44 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Women's Soccer Brims With Confidence Ahead of World Cup Semifinals]]>310375311Sat, 27 Jun 2015 20:55:39 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[World Cup Players Lament Artificial Turf]]>310233051Sat, 27 Jun 2015 01:50:11 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Carli Lloyd Leads U.S. Over China, 1-0]]>310201141Sat, 27 Jun 2015 02:16:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Loses Rapinoe, Holiday for Quarterfinals]]>309391571Tue, 23 Jun 2015 19:03:32 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Morgan, Lloyd Score in 2-0 U.S. Victory Over Colombia]]>309176951Tue, 23 Jun 2015 07:52:40 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Meet the USA Women's World Cup Team ]]>305492331Sun, 05 Jul 2015 21:56:26 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306006731Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:09:34 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>307752301Wed, 17 Jun 2015 08:57:58 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Starter or Sub? Abby Wambach Just Wants to Win]]>307630891Tue, 16 Jun 2015 13:34:21 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[What to Know About the Women's World Cup]]>306166271Thu, 09 Jul 2015 23:49:03 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>307265661Sat, 13 Jun 2015 20:11:15 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S., Sweden Scoreless for 0-0 Draw in Women's World Cup]]>307232821Fri, 12 Jun 2015 22:20:52 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

<![CDATA[Best of the Women's World Cup]]>307167351Sun, 05 Jul 2015 21:54:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306858151Wed, 10 Jun 2015 20:58:38 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Colombia and Spain Draw, 1-1]]>306718811Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:59:38 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Costa Rica Draws With Spain, 1-1]]>306714981Tue, 09 Jun 2015 20:08:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rapinoe, U.S. Defeat Australia in World Cup Opener, 3-1]]>306570411Mon, 08 Jun 2015 21:57:41 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Netherlands Beats New Zealand 1-0 in World Cup]]>306400231Sun, 07 Jun 2015 00:50:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Canada Defeats China 1-0 in World Cup Opener]]>306400091Sun, 07 Jun 2015 00:42:53 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Canada Opens Expanded World Cup Against China]]>306367541Sat, 06 Jun 2015 09:44:14 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Leroux Primed for World Cup]]>306367021Sat, 06 Jun 2015 09:48:28 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Teams to Beat in the 2015 Women's World Cup]]>305493261Mon, 01 Jun 2015 11:34:42 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306162491Thu, 04 Jun 2015 19:44:34 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Americans' New Defense Will be in Attack Mode]]>306019631Wed, 03 Jun 2015 14:13:07 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[D Is for Death: U.S. Battles Tough Group]]>306025871Wed, 03 Jun 2015 14:57:19 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/hope+solo3.JPG

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Group C Preview: Defending Champs Japan Are Favorite]]>306027861Wed, 03 Jun 2015 15:10:17 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306027281Wed, 03 Jun 2015 15:05:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306026861Wed, 03 Jun 2015 15:01:52 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>306023691Sat, 06 Jun 2015 09:49:06 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[EA Sports Adds Women's Game to FIFA 2016]]>305486971Fri, 29 May 2015 15:27:12 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: EA Sports
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<![CDATA[Women's World Cup: Nadine Angerer Anchors German Team Facing Challenges]]>306013391Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:21:38 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Soccer Star Fled Taliban at 10]]>305924621Wed, 03 Jun 2015 12:20:48 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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]]>305760791Wed, 03 Jun 2015 05:15:25 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[U.S. Ties South Korea In Women's World Cup Warmup ]]>305736001Mon, 01 Jun 2015 16:54:46 -0400https://media.nbcwashington.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 / NBC4 Washington

Photo Credit: AP]]>