The initial trickle for me was in 1995 when the call went out for Major League Soccer tryouts. Along with seven teammates from Chivas de Denver, I joined 180 other guys for a Denver-based talent search to field teams for the inaugural season. None of us made it, and when I handed in my bib to Kelvin Norman, he explained all he knew about the looming league. I wrote a 1,000-word description of the weekend and didn’t stop writing about MLS until the Colorado Rapids took the championship in 2010.

This blog begins following Colorado’s first victory of the 2013 season, a 1-0 home win over Real Salt Lake on April 6, 2013. My posts display in reverse-chronological order.

Note for Colorado ODP 1998 guys: Jump to this link to access useful links: http://patrickshea374.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/bumper-stickers-vs-filibusters/. The rest of this blog is pretty scattered.

In his final game as head coach, Tom Sermanni guided the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 2-0 victory over the People’s Republic of China.

PATRICK SHEA | APRIL 6, 2014

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In the first of two friendlies between the U.S. Women’s National Team and the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. dominated but left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a misleading 2-0 victory margin.

The Americans outshot China 23-1, maintained possession, and never let the visitors find a rhythm. But fans took double-takes at the scoreboard showing 1-0 with less than 15 minutes to play. The Chinese were maintaining the one-goal limit they enforced in all four games at the Algarve Cup last month.

In the 78th minute, Megan Rapinoe finally cut the tension when she curled in a free kick for the two-goal cushion. Whitney Engen made a run through the box before Rapinoe took the kick, and the ball dipped over Engen’s head before curling off the ground and the far post into the net.

Rapinoe replaced Lauren Holiday in the 67th minute, surprisingly adding zip to what was already a full-throttle performance from the U.S. team. Holiday scored the first goal in the 39th minute when she finished off a long flurry of shots, saves, and deflections with a low strike in the left corner.

Although he was relieved of his duties as head coach, Tom Sermanni had nothing but praise for his players.

“I’m impressed with the way we played for most of the game,” Sermanni said. “We put them under pressure for 90 minutes. We kept the ball, and we had really good, incisive play. We could have won by three or four more goals. Our strength is to be an attacking team. That’s the culture and the skillset of the team.”

Playing game number 201 for the U.S., Heather O’Reilly wore the captain’s armband and displayed the attack-first mentality from the start of the game. She battled to keep the ball in the box on the play leading up to Holiday’s goal. O’Reilly looked to skin defenders when she had space, most notably a nutmeg to get into the box right before halftime.

Three of Sermanni’s starters against China are in a unique position with Tyresö FF in Sweden. Before they return for the start of the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Engen, forward Christen Press, and defender Meghan Klingenberg will continue with the UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinals. On April 19, Tyresö FF will travel to face Birmingham City LFC, playing the second leg at Tyresövallen arena just outside Stockholm on April 27.

“Firstly, they’ve been playing regularly,” Sermanni said of the trio. “And secondly I think playing over there with that competition really helps them, not just with sharpness and soccer fitness. I think it helps the soccer brain, the football thinking,” he said, pointing to his head. “They really benefit from it overall.”

Interim head coach Jill Ellis will take over for Sermanni, starting with the rematch against China PR in San Diego on April 10.

###

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In the first of two friendlies between the U.S. Women’s National Team and the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. dominated but left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a misleading 2-0 victory margin.

The Americans outshot China 23-1, maintained possession, and never let the visitors find a rhythm. But fans took double-takes at the scoreboard showing 1-0 with less than 15 minutes to play. The Chinese were maintaining the one-goal limit they enforced in all four games at the Algarve Cup last month.

In the 78th minute, Megan Rapinoe finally cut the tension when she curled in a free kick for the two-goal cushion. Whitney Engen made a run through the box before Rapinoe took the kick, and the ball dipped over Engen’s head before curling off the ground and the far post into the net.

This is the first of eight paragraphs sent on spec to a soccer startup. The original story I wrote had a ton of optimistic quotes from former head coach Tom Sermanni. “Looking forward… bright future…” that sentiment. But then I learned that interim head coach Jill Ellis will take over for Sermanni, starting with the rematch against China PR in San Diego on April 10. Sermanni must have received the news after our interview. Or perhaps that was the thunder and lightning that concluded our interview with Abby too.

Coaching change aside, this team looks excellent to me. I noticed Morgan Brian first. She won balls in the middle of the field, and every time she touched it to someone, she attacked to get it back. Even when she had to move into a conservative supporting position to get the ball back, she was still attacking somehow. I don’t think I saw her get beat all afternoon, and I’ve never seen a center midfielder attack so relentlessly, on the counter or really whenever she got the ball.

Actually, all 10 field players showed the same intensity on every play. They closed down immediately to get the ball back, and with a lot of success in the final third. The first goal came from Sydney Leroux’s pressure on goalkeeper Zhang Yue. Leroux tackled the ball, and it popped to a defender, but Heather O’Reilly ran onto it. O’Reilly got it back again after having her shot blocked. She attacked for another shot, but calmly cut it back and laid it off for Ali Krieger because she was closed down. Krieger’s shot was also blocked, and Lauren Holiday buried the rebound in the lower left corner.

But of all the attacking and counterattacking from every field player, Carli Lloyd gets top prize. When she lost the ball while dribbling, her body language looked like no one told her she didn’t have possession. She just kept moving and got it back, often pushing forward in the process. On one play in the first half, she lost the ball and was seated on the ground, but she got up and stole it back as if it was her plan all along. She also attacks like a striker, scoring 48 goals in 169 games.

This team is simply good. China doesn’t let people score, and they knocked it around pretty efficiently, even though they didn’t have much of an attacking presence. I’d like to see a rematch with Sweden or Denmark to avenge the Algarve Cup losses. When WC qualifiers start this fall, we’ll see where the team is headed. The smart money says they’re headed to goal.

U.S. Women’s National Team sharpens competitive edge for friendly with People’s Republic of China

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The day before facing the women from the People’s Republic of China at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, veteran defender Christie Rampone painted the competitive picture of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

“Some of the girls were playing four-square in the locker room before we came out today,” Rampone explained after training in the stadium. “It was fun. We were laughing. But still,” Rampone elaborated, “you walk away going ‘aww, I didn’t do as well as I wanted. I could have had that one. Maybe next time.’ That’s who we are.”

The U.S. team is 4-2-1 in 2014. The two losses came during the 2014 Algarve Cup, an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish for the Americans.

“We didn’t do as well as we wanted in Portugal,” Rampone said. “But it’s a process. You need to look at the big picture and develop what it’s going to take to get to the World Cup.”

Facing China PR so soon after the Algarve Cup looks like a sequel because the rosters for both teams include most of the players from the tournament. China finished fifth with low-scoring contests. They defeated Norway 1-0, but lost 1-0 to Germany and Iceland. At the end of regulation in the fifth-place consolation game, they were tied 1-1 with Denmark. But China prevailed in spot kicks, 5-4.

Rampone noted how the Americans are on track for the start of qualifiers in a few months because their competitiveness is infectious, ultimately leading to more understanding among teammates.

“Soccer is all about relationships on the field,” the 38-year-old defender said. “It’s about who’s in front of you, who’s beside you, how that connection works, and how you communicate. You learn that through drills with training partners. You learn their strengths and weaknesses, and it helps instill that competitive edge so you can figure out a way to win together in games.

“If you look at a 90-minute game,” Rampone continued, “you can get overwhelmed. But if there are two 10-minute segments that you can take away, you can say ‘this is how we want to play.’ Those 10-minute clips will ultimately lead to 45 minutes and 90 minutes on the way to the World Cup.”

With 291 caps, Rampone has taken many trips down the road of World Cup qualification. The competitive friendly with China PR at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is part of the long journey starting this year.

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Intermittent freezing snow added a degree of difficulty for players and fans during the Rapids’ 2-0 win over the Timbers at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday night.

Announced Crowd of 15,135 (9): The TIFO was enormous and emotive. And a year after Snow Classico, the crowd showed its Colorado colors throughout the nasty, wet shiverfest.

John Berner (6): JB saved all three shots on goal and distributed decently. He had a harmless slip on the goal line in the first half (backing up to collect a ball).

Shane O’Neill (5): To be fair, Shane had to stay home because Steve Zakuani was pushing virtually every attack for the first 65 minutes. Zakuani was offsides twice, and he was timing his runs with Gaston Fernandez, who had four of the Timbers’ total eight offsides infractions. Shane pushed forward for an early cross in the first half, and he found more time on the ball near the corner during game-management time in the end. But Futty Danso beat him to the header off a corner in the 32nd minute, missing wide left with minimal pressure from Shane.

Marvell Wynne (6): Marv had to clean up for Jose Mari, fellow defenders, and himself. He suffered a boot to the leg on one play in the 53rd minute, but he retreated immediately to prevent a goal.

Drew Moor (6): Steady in the air and on the ground, the captain also forced a save from Ricketts in the 67th minute.

Marc Burch (6): Like Shane, Marc had to stay back for most of the game. He covered and recovered well, although he needed help from Berner to cover a back-door ball for the second week in a row.

Nick LaBrocca (6): Nicky did the right things box-to-box. He had a number of clears from Zone 14, kept possession in transition, and took two shots too.

Dillon Powers (6, 85 minutes): Powers took a thumping early in the game, but he soldiered on with a lot of deep midfield action, perhaps scrambling too much when Jose Mari lost possession. Since Edson chased down all the long outlets from JB, Powers worked behind and often ended up farther forward than Vicente and Deshorn too. Or Powers would be the first to attack the ball and ended up in that spot up front of the defensive shape.

Kamani Hill (NR, 10-ish minutes): Kamani had to chase the ball and the play during his short spell on the field.

Jose Mari (3, 90-ish minutes): Long before his second yellow card at the end of the game, Mari lost possession, missed a pair of tackles, and sent one pass to Portland when Vicente was wide open. To be fair, he pulled back on the collision that ultimately sent him off, a soft infraction that may open the door for Nathan Sturgis or Marlon Hairston next week when Sporting KC comes to town.

Deshorn Brown (7): He put four of his five shots on goal, two to force saves in the first six minutes. Deshorn came ready to play, and although he didn’t hit the greatest pk, he followed up fast enough to secure the second goal.

Edson Buddle (7, 79 minutes): Buddle made the most of every play, hurrying to get under most of the long-balls sent forward. He was calm on the ball early in the first half and snaked dangerously into the box, but the play didn’t produce a shot.

Gabriel Torres (NR, 20-ish minutes): Although he was out there for more than 20 minutes, it’s not fair to rate Gabby at all. He didn’t get his first touch until the game was long over and the corner-flag cat-and-mouse began.

Vicente Sanchez (8, 80 minutes): Vicente hit the game-winning penalty kick in the 73rd minute, but he earned his high rating from the opening whistle. Knifing through in attack, he had two runs off the ball into dangerous space in the first half. But Deshorn didn’t see him for one of the runs, and Futty futtied up another chance.

Marvin Chavez (NR, 20-ish minutes): Like Gabby, it’s not fair to give Marvin a rating at all because he didn’t get much opportunity. Of course, if Weber had not saved Marvin’s stoppage time shot on goal, the 2012 MLS All-star would have received a worthy rating.

Kickoff at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is less than five hours away, the calm before the MLS Western Conference storm between the Rapids and Timbers. 

Portland’s head coach Caleb Porter praised his players for overcoming “slow starts” to equalize in their first two games of the season. Indignant fans equate “slow start” with a lack of preparation and passion. But according to Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, it’s a matter of misperception.

“You’re no fresher than you are when the whistle blows,” Mastroeni explained. “As a player, the game is going 100 miles an hour. There’s nothing slow about the first five minutes of a game, at all.”

As a coach off the field, Mastroeni recognizes a different view.

“If possession is bad or guys can’t get near a ball to win a tackle, then it’s perceived from the coach’s perspective as a ‘slow start,’” Mastroeni said. “But if you zip a few passes together and you win a couple tackles, then all of a sudden it’s a ‘fast start.’ The difference is probably a couple inches or a couple connected passes. So that’s the way it’s perceived.”

Without missing a beat, he described the beginning of the Red Bulls game last Saturday. “It was a ‘slow start.’ If we would have connected a few passes and been better with our positioning, it probably would have been a fast start. But since our possession was really poor, we kept feeding into their momentum.

“More important,” Mastroeni noted, “they overcame that and started taking control of the middle part of the first half, getting off shots. To me, that’s the most important part because that’s the mentality. That’s something you can’t coach. That comes from the spirit of the group.”

Making the most of his first MLS start, Dillon Serna looped a drumbeat of chances in the first half, shots on-goal and dangerous corners following the saves.

“He’s a go-getter,” Mastroeni said. “He’s always looking for a shot. That’s the mentality you want.”

So, what dictates the start of a game?

“It’s the battle of wills,” Mastroeni said. “It’s one team being more persuasive in the way they’re playing, in their demeanor.”

It’s a fight for momentum. The whistle will blow at 4:00 to start the game (slow, fast, or otherwise).

I’m lucky to cover the Rapids again in 2014, this year through the Colorado Soccer Association (CSA.Weebly.com and CSA.Youth.org). By attending practices and interviewing players, trainers, and coaches, I hope to uncover interesting gems about the craft of soccer. For games, I’ll compile player ratings for both teams, and I hope they’ll let me slip in a few palindromes, drawings, and other reports. Now in my 47th year studying, living, and breathing soccer, I still hear myself asking out loud, “How did he do that?” and “How are they doing that?”

I respect atheists and believers equally because everyone gets one vote apiece, and this election never ends. Ultimately, your vote counts only for yourself. Although I went to church as a kid, I got my god lessons above timberline and on the soccer field.

To me, “god” is a typo. It’s actually “good.” It’s not a guy or gal or individual being of any kind. It’s a commonwealth of goodness like a bank. If you do good stuff for others, good stuff will likely come your way. It’s not a perfectly fair system, but that’s what I’ve seen over the years.

I’ve had two distinct experiences with divine intervention (1977 and 1983). These experiences echo a permanent lesson in nonviolence that I’ll abide by for the rest of my life — cross my heart and all that.

My first brush with Good was on a backpack trip up Pikes Peak with my friends Rick and Gino a few weeks before starting ninth grade. We left our heavy gear below timberline early Sunday morning and ambitiously cut switchbacks through the fog. All sound was misty and muffled, and my visual range was less than a dozen yards. I climbed faster than Rick and Gino, so when I cut above the long switchback from one side of the peak to the other, I entered the cliffs alone until I reached a vertical dead end and could climb no higher. The cliff above me tilted steeper and faded into a dirty, white cloud. Turning my head to the north, I saw nothing by impassable cliff. My ledge was about as wide as the space between grocery checkout counter aisles (not the self-serve, the other ones). Facing south, I saw more cliff, but a fin of crumbly rock jutted out about nine feet away. Beyond the thin fin, I saw a solid block of white. The rising sun added a faint glow, but I couldn’t see any details. I assumed it was more cliff.

So I started to down-climb to get a better angle, only to learn that I had severely overachieved on my ascent. It’s much easier to climb up than down. I hung onto another ledge and craned my neck to peer into the cloudy void. My canteen slipped over my head and bounced with sick-sounding echoes for a lot longer than my falling body would survive alive. Trembling, I climbed back up to my little ledge and put all my hopes on a nine-foot leap that must be executed perfectly or I die. If I fall short, I plummet head-first down a long cliff. If I lose my balance when I land, I might tumble into the distant void, presumably down another cliff. So I had to nail the landing and hope it provides an escape route. Returning to my current ledge was not an option.

The temperature was dropping, and the mist started to coat all the slippery granite. I would die of hypothermia if I didn’t make my jump soon. I was too far from the beaten path to expect to be rescued.

But first I needed to make an appeal to every god I ever heard of during my short 14 years on the planet. I started with the Catholic guy because that’s where I usually went on Sundays (not a ledge above 13,000 feet). But then I tried the Jewish and Islamic powers-that-be, offering the same set of promises. My face was covered with tears and mist, and I was sincerely asking for help. I didn’t get Santa Claus greedy. All I wanted was safe passage to the other ledge.

The leap itself was a common diving-board footing sequence. Left, right, left leaps… got it? Let’s run through this again. Step left, step right, load left, and explode right knee and foot before landing to stabilize. Left, right, left, land, stabilize…

I nailed the landing and ecstatically thanked the team of deities. The slope below the tiny fin was passable, and when I hit the trail I ran all the way to the summit to join Gino and Rick.

Six years later, one of the gods came calling. Apparently, I broke one of my promises. It was a preseason soccer game against Indiana University, and they were far superior — faster, stronger, more skillful. We lost the ball near midfield, and for the first and last time in my life, I told myself to take him out. I dove in, he plowed through my thigh, and I spun to fall head-first like falling short on my cliff jump. I had been served notice. The guy continued dribbling, and I had a massive hematoma that forced me to spend the next two weeks checking into the training room before 6:00 a.m. every day.

This thing hit me like lightning. I broke a divine code. Never, ever try to hurt another player. Why stop there? Never hurt anyone. You can still be a tough, strong champion. But you don’t need to hurt anyone.

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