Japan Rallies Twice, Wins Women’s World Cup on Penalties

The U.S. took leads in the 69th and 104th minutes of a riveting Women’s World Cup final in Frankfurt yesterday, but could not hold either advantage and eventually lost to Japan in a penalty shootout.

The Americans missed several golden chances in the opening 20 minutes, a period they dominated, and, with better finishing, could have used to put the game out of reach. As it happened, a defensive lapse and soft defending on a corner kick allowed Japan to rally twice, and then a failure of nerve in the shootout ultimately cost the Americans.

Here are the highlights:

Three quick thoughts:

• The U.S. needs more team speed. When they brought on striker Alex Morgan, who does have some wheels, she immediately stretched and put dire pressure on Japan’s backline. Imagine what this approach (and some more speedy attackers) could do against Germany or Sweden in future tournaments.

• With Hope Solo in goal, and the mental toughness they’d shown to that point in the tournament, the U.S. had to like their chances in a shootout. Yet, they gacked it like my former cat coughing up a hairball. Three straight misses! Surprising. And did you see the Japan coach laughing and smiling in the team huddle prior to the penalty kicks? His players were almost as relaxed as that as they took their shots.

• Great story for Japan, which lost some 23,000 citizens to an earthquake and tsunami this year, and great heart from their team to get the win. They played a tidy, technical style and didn’t wilt under the U.S.’s early onslaught.

Real Salt Lake Falls Short: 15-Month CCL Effort Ends in Massive Disappointment

Real Salt Lake’s 37-match home unbeaten streak came to an end at the worst possible time.

Last night, the reigning Mexican champions Monterrey came in to Rio Tinto for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final and did what no team has been able to do there for two years: beat the hosts.

Humberto Suazo‘s 46th-minute goal stood up for a 1–0 win that gave Monterrey the CCL crown 3–2 on aggregate and denied the 2009 MLS champions what would have been a historic berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.

It also tripped up Real Salt Lake at the very last step of a  journey they began soon after winning that ’09 MLS crown, when they made it a club priority to win the CONCACAF Champions League and advance to the CWC.

Speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, coach Jason Kreis called it “a major, major disappointment,” and “a huge, huge opportunity gone missing.”

Highlights here:

While RSL certainly missed captain Kyle Beckerman, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation, they can’t pin the loss solely on his absence.

The MLS side never found its rhythm, never was able to impose its ‘RSL’ possession game on the visitors. And while much credit should go to those visitors for disrupting the hosts, Salt Lake was a little flat, and lacked the poise needed for the occasion.

Second half substitute Arturo Alvarez—who’d helped RSL secure the draw in the first leg with some great set-up work on Javier Morales’s equalizer—was particularly poor last night. He gave the ball away on three consecutive occasions while under minimal pressure in the offensive third.

Right back Tony Beltran, also a second-half sub, had similar troubles with unforced errors. He made a play around the 72nd minute that typified RSL’s lack of poise and concentration on the night.

With the ball at his feet, about 15-20 yards of space in front of him, and passing options to either side, Beltran humped the ball aimlessly forward, where it was picked up by a Monterrey midfielder.

Panic ball? Concentration lapse? Hard to say, but it was a terrible turnover in a game too full of them, especially for RSL.

Both Suazo’s goal and the buildup that created it were excellent, but all in all, the game was a scrappy, cagey affair, with plenty of mistakes and without a lot of fluidity.

Salt Lake did generate some chances to equalize, but couldn’t convert any of them, and will now have to bounce back for MLS play after seeing nearly two years of hard work and effort evaporate in 90 minutes.

Real Salt Lake Drops Preposterous 5-4 Decision to Cruz Azul

We burned through five headlines to this post in the waning moments of tonight’s completely insane CONCACAF Champions League clash between Real Salt Lake and Cruz Azul in Mexico City.

Here they are:

1. Real Salt Lake Overcomes Elements, Cruz Azul, to Make History with 3-1 win (80th minute)

2. Real Salt Lake Implodes, Blows 3-1 lead in Rainstorm to Tie 3-3 (88th minute)

3. Real Salt Lake Melts Down, Blows 3-1 lead in Rainstorm to Lose 4-3 (89th minute)

4. Real Salt Lake Escapes with Absurd 4-4 tie (92nd minute!)

5. See Top. (93rd-plus minute. Sigh.)

Yep. That happened.

In case the frenzied rewrites above are not enough to piece this unhinged game together, here’s a brief recap:

We heard the weather might be a factor in this one, and “factor” turned out to be a huge understatement.

The conditions were almost unplayable: driving rain left huge pools of standing water in midfield by halftime, and the second half was delayed by the conditions. Routine passes bogged down, the footing was Boogie Board-esque.

Real Salt Lake had an early goal dubiously called back, and Cruz Azul opened the scoring directly after that, with Javier Orozco finding the net in the fifth minute.

No matter for RSL fans: Alvaro Saborio equalized from the spot 18 minutes later, and then, just before halftime, Saborio pounced on a waterlogged backpass to the Cruz Azul keeper, rounded him, and punched it into the open net. Emphasis on “punched”—Saborio made sure his finish didn’t stall in the muck.

Halftime: Real Salt Lake 2, Cruz Azul 1

When Fabian Espindola scored in the 64th minute to make it 3-1, it seemed that CONCACAF history was in RSL’s—and MLS’s—grasp.

Sure, Orozco pulled one back in the 75th, but Real Salt Lake still led 3-2 as the game rounded the 80th minute and steamed toward 90….

Just two minutes left ….

And that was when Orozco buried his third, and Real Salt Lake’s chance to make history evaporated.

Before RSL fans could process that development, things went from bad to worse: Orozco struck a fourth. Cruz Azul 4, RSL, 3.

What. T….F….?

But wait! Will Johnson bagged a stoppage-time equalizer, 92nd minute! 4-4.

RSL would get a point out of this after all.

The RSL players dogpiled on the sideline in celebration, but the good feeling did not last long: Cruz Azul’s Christian Gimenez bagged the unlikeliest of winners just moments after the re-start.

So, to recap: Four goals in the final five minutes transformed a 3-2 RSL lead into a 5-4 loss.

Rossi Cut from Italy World Cup Squad; Subotic Picked for Serbia

Italy coach Marcello Lippi announced his final 23-man roster for South Africa 2010 yesterday, and New Jersey–born Villareal striker Giuseppe Rossi was not on it.

Rossi, who graced the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s May 17 issue (left), under the header, “Meet America’s Best Hope at the World Cup …” (ouch), addressed the news on his Twitter account, writing,

 “Didn’t make it, but I have no regrets…worked hard and showed what I could do. I guess the coach had other plans. Good luck Italy.”

Now, we’re not ones to gloat, and Rossi is only 23, so he’ll have another shot with the Azzurri, but man, this could have been a win-win for everyone involved: The U.S. needs a quality forward, and Rossi, whose Twitter account says “Hometown is always NJ” [!] needs a World Cup team.

This way, nobody wins.

In other what-might-have-been news, former U.S. youth international Neven Subotic did make Serbia’s team, which will battle Germany, Ghana and Australia in a tough Group D.

With the U.S.’s needs at the back starkly exposed in recent friendlies, count Subotic as another player the Yanks could have used. And he was in the U.S. program for some time.

The rangy, sought-after defender has said that a falling out with U.S. under-20 coach Thomas Rongen contributed to his decision to leave U.S. Soccer, but yesterday, he told Ives Galarcep,

“The main point that I based my decision on was my heritage, origin and family. It was a step back to my birthplace. I was always different than the American kids because my parents were from Yugoslavia. I was raised a different way all my life, and even though my family and I learned to love the U.S., we were still Serbs.”

Maybe so, but the fact that Subotic was in the U.S. system for years (he was called up to the senior national team just months after being cut from the 2007 U-20 World Cup team) makes his departure even tougher to take than that of Rossi, who made his intentions to play for Italy clear from the start.