This weekend draws the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It has been a gut wrenching journey of both triumph and heartache. A victor will soon be crowned and the cup will find its way either returning to Japan with the reigning champions, or back into the waiting arms of the Americans who have longed to be reunited for sixteen years. But despite the fact that only one team will emerge triumphant over the lot of 24, this World Cup has already boasted some pretty incredible victories for the game and the women playing it.
The 2015 WWC has been a tournament of first for several nations. Seven different teams have made their Women’s World Cup debut; Spain, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Cameroon, Ecuador, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. Switzerland and Cameroon advancing out of their group to compete in the elimination round of 16. Though none of the newcomers advanced beyond the round of 16, the expansion of the tournament from 16 teams in 2011 to 24 in 2015 has diversified the competition. In the future these additional teams are likely to shake up the group stage brackets, dismantling a common complaint that the Women’s competition is too predictable, and making the entire tournament more legitimate. That sounds like a win to me.
Other World Cup victories can be seen off the pitch this year. Even during group stage, very early in the tournament, television ratings began to set records. The 2015 WWC has drawn in more viewers than any women’s tournament in history and the two biggest matches have yet to be played. FOX Sports reported that the audience for the USA-Germany semifinal match peaked at over 12 million, making USAvGER the most watched semifinal match, male or female, of all time in the US.
Though global television ratings for the Women’s Cup have not caught up with the numbers posted by the men’s tournament, the gap is narrowing. The rating prove that viewer perspective is changing, and the negative stigma that has stifled growth of women’s athletics is at the very least headed in the right direction. That alone is a huge win for the beautiful game and all athletes, male or female, that play it.
It's hard to believe that the first ever Women's World Cup was 24 years ago. It seems like only yesterday that the USA raised the inaugural trophy. Personally I was five years old and actually remember bits and pieces, but even for a huge soccer fan such as myself, it's easy to forget what happened after that inaugural tournament and who else in the world ended up challenging the USA in the years following.
Let's start with 1991 in China, the first time the tournament was held. The USA was lead by Michelle Akers, a player who many of the youngsters these days don't know a whole lot about, but one thing is for sure...Akers was a beast. That year she led the team with a whopping 39 goals (including non-World Cup play) and won Athlete of the Year honors. The USWNT would end up facing Norway in the World Cup Final and as mentioned before, they went on to win the inaugural Women's World Cup with a 2-1 final score. Sweden rounded out the top three that year after beating Germany 4-0 in the third place match.
Four years later the tournament was held in Sweden. Although Sweden had a decent outing in the previous World Cup, they would find themselves completely off the podium in their home country. Instead, their Scandinavian neighbors from Norway would get to the final once again where they would win their first championship in a 2-0 match against Germany. The USA finished third that year as they beat China 2-0 in their conciliation match.
The third Women's World Cup in 1999 was held in the USA and would be the first in back to back tournaments held in the USA. 1999 would be the year when the women of Brazil would finally make some waves in the World Cup, although they did fall just short of the final, settling for a third place finish over reigning champs, Norway. The USA made full use of their home field advantage and found themselves once again in the final, but this time against China. In an absolutely thrilling final that went to penalties, the USA would be triumphant thanks to goalkeeper, Brianna Scurry who managed to save a penalty from Liu Ying. Pretty sure most of you who follow soccer also remember a certain celebration that year from Brandi Chastain.
In 2003 the World Cup was once again held in the USA due to a SARS outbreak in China (who was originally picked to host again), but this time the Americans were unable to make the final, falling to Germany 3-0 in the semifinals. The USA were forced to once again play for third, but this time to a surging Canadian team. The USA would win that match 3-1 and make the podium for the fourth time in as many tournaments. Sweden returned to the championship match in 2003, but it would be the Germans who finally claimed the ultimate prize with a 2-1 win.
Four years later, China was able to get the SARS virus mostly under control and were finally able to hold the tournament once again. Despite their previous success though, the Chinese wouldn't even make the semifinals, instead making way for the Americans, Germans, Norwegians and Brazilians. The USA faced Brazil in the semis, while the Germans faced the Norwegians. The US would end up being decimated by the Brazilians, losing their semifinal match 4-0, while the Germans would have a similar result against the Norwegians beating them 3-0. For the fifth time in a row, the Americans still managed a podium finish with a 4-1 win over the Norwegians, but it would be the Germans who would become the first country in Women's World Cup history to win back to back World Cups.
And so that brings us to the most recent tournament in 2011 held in Germany. Call it a curse, but the back to back champs from Germany were kept from the semifinals in their homeland after losing to a Japanese squad in the quarterfinals who had their eyes firmly on the prize. Japan would end up going all the way to the finals to face...who else? The Americans. In what was one of the most exciting finals, not just in Women's World Cup, but in soccer history, the Americans and the Japanese would end up tied 2-2 after regulation and needed extra time to decide the champion. The score remained 2-2 at the end of extra time and would head to penalties. After a crazy seesaw battle, the Americans would eventually fall to the Japanese who would lift their first Women's World Cup.
Now here we are in 2015 and we get to see our neighbors to the north give hosting a try. After an exciting and controversial (to some) 2012 Olympic semifinal match between the Canadians and Americans, it would certainly be exciting to see a rematch. That said, there are plenty of other story lines that will make this tournament special, I am certain of that.
Here's to an amazing 2015 Women's World Cup! May the best team win.
It seems like it was just yesterday that we were cheering on Clint Dempsey and the gang as they took on the Group of Death in Brazil. Fast forward a year later and it's World Cup time once again...only this time we'll be cheering on Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and company.
Obviously you know where to get your Team USA gear (nudge nudge wink wink, you're kind of here already) and so now that we got that plug taken care of....how about some predictions?
Alright, so let's just stick with the group stages for this blog entry, no reason to get ahead of ourselves right?
GROUP A: Canada, China PR, New Zealand, Netherlands
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Canada is my favorite to win this group. With memories of the last Olympics still fresh in their minds, they are going to be chomping at the bit for another go at their neighbors to the South. The question is.....who joins them? This group is actually a pretty decent group when it all comes down to it, so I think it's a bit of a tossup considering New Zealand's grittiness and China's history in the tournament, but at the end of the day, I am taking the Netherlands to move on with the Canadians.
Advancing: Canada and Netherlands
Group B: Germany, Ivory Coast, Norway, Thailand
Although Thailand is in shouting distance....mind you a very LOUD shout of Germany and Norway, I don't think Thailand or Ivory Coast will pose much of a threat at all to Germany and Norway advancing. If it went any other way, I personally feel it would be a HUGE upset.
Advancing: Germany and Norway
Group C: Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador
Once again there are two EASY favorites in this group, as Japan and Switzerland seem to be light years ahead of Cameroon and Ecuador. However, although Japan are certainly the favorites in this group, I am actually going with Switzerland to win the group. I feel like the Japanese may struggle a little early and the Swiss will have a chance to capitalize on that.
Advancing: Switzerland and Japan
Group D: USA, Australia, Sweden, Nigeria
Here is where I call my first upset. This could actually be one of the more entertaining groups and not just because the USA is in it. All of these teams could cause some trouble, even the Nigerians who are definitely the underdogs. Sweden and the USA are both ranked in the Top 5 in the world, but I am actually going to pick the Aussies to move on with the Americans in what could be a crazy group. The Americans haven't been quite as dominant as of late, much of this has to do with the rest of the world catching up. The Australians have a load of talent and I feel like they could really turn some heads.
Advancing: USA and Australia
Group E: Brazil, Korea Republic, Spain, Costa Rica
Group E proves to be interesting as well. Brazil and Spain are the favorites, but I am kind of liking the Koreans as well. I think they'll make it interesting, but in the end, I am going to stick with the favorites.
Advancing: Brazil and Spain
Group F:France, England, Colombia, Mexico
F is for France and I believe they will easily win this Group. England won't have much trouble beating Colombia and Mexico, but I still feel they'll get killed by the French. Looking into the future of the tournament, I actually see France going pretty far. Definitely one of my favorite teams.
Advancing: France and England
Well there you have it, my predictions for the Group Stages of the 2015 Women's World Cup. I have to say, I am extremely excited for it to start and I hope all of you are as well. Please comment with your predictions below!
Can you believe it everyone? This week will feature the last Premier League matches of the 2014-15 season. Although we already know who the champions are, there is still something to be said for the fact that every match of Week 38 will be televised here in the USA. We've come quite a long way huh? Obviously, it would be a little more exciting if we had last minute championship drama, but there are still UEFA Champions League spots to be decided, as well as who's to be relegated.
Since this is the final week of play, I decided to hand out some awards, superlatives, whatever you want to call them, honoring the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 2014-15 season.
Most Improved Side: Southampton
Although they only may manage to finish one place above where they were last year, I don't think there is any denying how incredible Southampton's 2014-15 season was. Consistency obviously killed them in the end, but for a team that doesn't have the bank account that the usual contenders do, the fact that they hung in there all season and even upset some of the biggest teams in the league is extraordinary.
An argument could be made for other teams, especially Manchester United, but the Saints take home the title in my opinion. I can't wait to see what they bring next season.
Biggest Letdown: Everton FC
This was a tough one to decide on, since both Newcastle United FC and Aston Villa could fit the description as well. Even Liverpool was expected to be so much better than they actually were this season. However, the hopes for Everton going into this season were pretty high and whether they finish 10th or lower, it really doesn't matter, fans needed much more.
I am sure that during the off-season, Everton will do everything they can to make it right come 2015-16, but as the current season comes to a close, the Toffees will be left with nothing, but shaking heads.
Most Likely To Succeed Next Season: Arsenal FC
We've all been burned by getting to excited about Arsenal's potential, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that I do believe Arsenal will still be in contention for the title going down to Week 38 next season. I think both Manchester United and obviously Chelsea will be there as well, but Arsenal will be just a little more explosive..... Let's see if this prediction holds true when I am making predictions in August.
Best Players of the 2014-15 Premier League Season:
Eden Hazard and David De Gea
Not like these picks are really out of the box or exciting and there is that added dark cloud looming over both of them regarding where they will be playing next season. As for this season though, Eden Hazard and David De Gea stood out in my opinion as the best in the league.
"Promoted" Team Who Will Make The Biggest Impact Next Season: Norwich City
Ok, so I know this is going out on a limb, since Middlesbrough could beat them this week and then this prediction will have completely gone to trash, but I don't care, I am making it anyway.
Truth is, AFC Bournemouth actually look like they could make some news as well after a brilliant Championship season, but Norwich's recent history with the Premier League leads me to believe they will be prepared this time around.
Most Impressive Moment This Season: Chelsea FC Securing the Title Early
Pretty obvious right? When it all comes down to it, there may only be a few teams who are legitimate title contenders in a league that doesn't just make it rain, but makes it monsoon if a team thinks it will help them lift the trophy. However, it's tight among the elite and yet Chelsea got out and front and very, VERY rarely looked back.
Securing their Championship with a few weeks to spare was just the cherry on top for the Blues. "Boring" has never tasted so good.
Over here in the states we don't get to see nearly enough German soccer and when we do, it usually involves Champions League. The truth is though that we're missing out on not only some awesome football, but also some of the best fans around the globe.
In honor of our three new German inspired designs pictured below now available at the store, I thought I would feature the three clubs and their amazing fans in this blog post.
FC St. Pauli
FC St. Pauli is a phenomenon. It doesn't matter which division they are in or how the club is playing, their fans are die hard and the club itself has been called by such monikers as "Freibeuter der Liga" (Buccaneers of the League), as well as other nicknames celebrating their free spirited ways.
During the 80's, the club made the transition from a traditional club into a "Kult Club" which opened the doors for a new type of fan base. Not only a football loving fan base, but fans who brought the party before, during and after every match and were also very active in the political and social scenes around Reeperbahn.
To this day, the fan support stays rabid and although St. Pauli could face being relegated from 2. Bundesliga after a disappointing 2014/15 season so far, there is little doubt that their fans will continue to follow them regardless of which division they end up.
Easily the most recognizable German club outside of the country itself, Bayern Munich has enjoyed international success for quite some time now and have established themselves as THE team to beat in Bundesliga.
The FC Bayern Ultras travel well and are represented around the globe and even consider the aforementioned FC St. Pauli Ultras "friends" of the theirs. That doesn't mean that they still don't know how to rub it in when either team wins though. An upset win for FC St. Pauli over Bayern Munich in 2001/02 did lead to St. Pauli's faithful creating "Weltpokalsiegerbesieger" shirts which translates to "World Champion Beaters" as Bayern Munich were reigning World Club Cup Champions at the time.
Perhaps the second most recognizable German club around the world, Borussia Dortmund also happens to be one of the most exciting teams to watch with their "Never Say Die" attitudes in recent German Cup and Champions League tournaments.
No doubt that it has stung the club and their fans watching some of their best players like Robert Lewandowski and Mario Goetze leave for the powerhouse that is Bayern Munich, but the resilient team continues to fight and even after a rough start to their 2014-15 season, Dortmund has managed to climb back into the Top 10 in Bundesliga and worked their way into a German Cup Final against Wolfsburg after defeating the current Bundesliga Champs, Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
Borussia Dortmund's fans are pretty special as well. They play their home games at Westfalenstadion which happens to be the biggest stadium in Germany and their average attendance is the highest of any association football club in the world.
These are just three of the special clubs and their amazing fans that you will find in Germany. Here's to hoping we get to see a little more of them here across the pond in the future!
A few weeks ago I featured my Dark Side FC Starting XI and since then have also included lineups for both the heroes and villains of Gotham. It only seemed right that on National Star Wars Day, I would give you my Rebel Alliance Starting XI.
So many characters to choose from, but obviously I only have 11 spots, so I am sure you guys will have differing opinions on who they should be and I welcome those opinions in the comment section below!
Rebel Alliance FC, Starting XI:
Obviously Yoda is a tad bit smaller than the average Goalkeeper, but we've all seen his moves and for a guy pushing 1,000 years old, he can definitely compete with the best and more than likely be better than most of them.
The Dagoba resident will also possess the wisdom to keep his back line running like a well oiled machine.
Defenders: Wedge Antillies, Jar Jar Binks, Lando Calrissian, Han Solo
Yoda's going to have a bit of a mix bag in front of him, but they should make up a decent back four. Defending is in Wedge Antilles blood, but can bring on the offense as needed as well, so Right Back is the perfect position for him.
I know, I know, this will by far be the most controversial decision, but I just had to. Jar Jar Binks is over 7' tall and although he might be a little on the clumsy side, most of the time it works to his advantage. With a little bit of practice, nobody will be able to beat him in the air on both sides of the ball.
Lando is crafty and tough as nails, although he probably won't be thrilled working with Jar Jar to start, he'll slowly get used to it and having his pal, Han Solo by his side at Left Back will help as well.
Nothing beats a blaster by your side. It's going to be tough for any other team in the galaxy to deal with Han Solo who is as blue collar as they come.
Midfielders:Obi Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, Mace Windu
Two Jedis and a Princess who breaks down all the stereotypes that title comes with...not to mention she's also strong with the force. Obi Wan is a no brainer as a holding mid, while Leia will be in a perfect area to link up with her husband and get the ball to the forwards. Mace Windu's size and skill will make him a nightmare for other teams, I definitely see him as someone who is going to move the ball up field quick and effectively.
Forwards: Luke Skywalker, Padme Amidala, Chewbacca
The possibilities are endless with this trio. Can you imagine a buildup starting with Han Solo in the back to his wife at midfield and then finally a pass to her brother up top who finds the back of the net? Of course Luke Skywalker won't be the only one making waves though. After Padme Amidala lost the Queen's garb she proved to be quite the badass and there is no doubt she'll be breaking hearts and ankles when she gets the ball.
As for Chewy? Sure he might seem like a more natural center back, but I love how hard he'll be to knock off the ball, not to mention the absolute fear he will strike into any back line. This team could go undefeated.
So there you have it! Like I said, leave your opinions below, we'd love to hear them! May The Force Be With You, Always!
Once again the UEFA Champion's League has given us some great action and although the final four isn't entirely surprising, their paths to the penultimate round have all had their fair share of drama and surprises.
As we approach the start of the semifinals, I decided that I would give me predictions for both matches and both legs. Please chime in with your predictions as well in the comment section below!
Juventus vs. Real Madrid
It could be argued that the one surprise for the final four this year is the presence of Juventus. Although Juventus has been dominant in Serie A as of late, they haven't won a European Championship since 1996 and the last time they were in the final was in 2003. This UEFA Champions League season though, "The Old Lady" has pragmatically worked it's way through the tournament and now finds themselves in a showdown with the reigning champs.
I do see Juventus getting a first half goal against Real Madrid in Leg 1 and I see them holding onto that lead and defending for most of the match. However, my prediction is that Real Madrid will get that all important away goal late in the match and will head back to Madrid with an away goal advantage.
But how much will that away goal matter? I actually don't think it will matter at all, because once again in Leg 2, I see Juventus hitting Real Madrid early and negating Real Madrid's away goal. Once again Juventus will fall into a defensive shell and finally Real Madrid will break through with a late goal that will send the match into extra time. Much like Real Madrid's final last season against Atletico Madrid, I predict that they will score not just once, but twice and will send the Italian side home.
My final prediction: Juventus 2 - 4 Real Madrid on Aggregate
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
This series is intriguing given Bayern Munich's latest battle with FC Porto. It seemed as though Porto awoke a sleeping giant after going ahead in Leg 1 and well....we all know what happened after that.
Barcelona on the other hand didn't get quite the wake up call that Bayern Munich did, but they seem to be slowly rising out of a slumber as well and are looking more and more like the dominant Barcelona side of old.
Bayern will benefit from Leg 2 being in Germany, but I do see Barcelona taking a 2-0 lead at home. Once in Munich, Barcelona will stumble a bit out of the gates and give up an early goal to Bayern Munich, but after a coming up with a few more chances to tie the match, the German side will give up an away goal to Barcelona. Bayern Munich will get a late goal that will make things interesting, but ultimately Barcelona will move on to face Real Madrid for another all La Liga final.
Final Prediction: Barcelona 3 - 2 Bayern Munich on Aggregate