The big brains behind the Freakonomics franchise have taught us a couple of important lessons about life. One is this: sometimes the events in our world can be reduced to simple math.
That’s why I’m a bit skittish about the U.S. chances today against France today at Borussia Park. It’s math.
There was a huge emotional and physical drain to Sunday’s amazing events in Dresden. Not only did Pia Sundhage’s team play a woman down for almost an hour, they trailed for close to half of that time. That means pressure, and working to overcome the pressure and the deficit exacts a tremendous emotional toll.
And clearly, there is a physical bill coming due, as well.
I trust that Sundhage’s team is fit. That’s never been a concern, and the U.S. athletes can more than compete with France today in physical stature. But that extra day of rest is huge. (France also endured an extra 30 minutes of quarterfinal soccer, but its win over England was on Saturday.)
So, here’s the math: Depending on how you look at it, France had either 33 percent or 50 percent more rest. That is, if you count match day as “rest,” then you could argue that the United States had a three-day break while France’s break was four days. In the more realistic look at it, the United States had two full days of rest while France had three, or 50 percent more.
That’s one big gorilla of a number.
For more on what I think about Wednesday’s contest and the rest deficit, read on …
Even a fit side will have a harder time closing space, making the extra runs or hopping around in supporting roles on attack and defense if the legs simply don’t contain the requisite spring. The bravest soldier in the world must fold in a fight if he runs out of ammunition.
There are also problems in the U.S. defense. Amy LePeilbet looks stretched too often, as if she’s straining the limits of her abilities. She did look slightly better Sunday against Brazil, but she got a lot of help from her center backs of from midfield. Speaking of center backs, Rachel Buehler won’t play in this one, of course. Previously, she was up and down – but was always adjudged a better option than what Sundhage had on the bench. So … where does that leave the United States now?
LePeilbet might move inside, where she feels more comfortable. Or Sundhage could give Becky Sauerbrunn her first start of the tournament.
Either way, will Shannon Boxx be able to screen the defense as well as she did on Sunday? She’s 34, the oldest U.S. player, coming off Sunday’s extraordinary effort. It’s a tough ask.
I remember a very good Dutch team at the 1998 World Cup that fell to Brazil in the semifinals under similar circumstances. The Netherlands downed Argentina in a memorable July 4 quarterfinal. Brazil had an extra day of rest, having turned away Denmark on July 3.
So, just three nights after an emotional win over Argentina, the Netherlands fell to Brazil. That game went into overtime, and eventually to penalty kicks.
Yes, consider that for a second: what if today’s Women’s World Cup semifinal needs an extra 30 minutes? Yikes.
All that said, the United States has plenty of reason for hope – no pun intended. Hope Solo is brimming with confidence, and the defense is confident in her. There is amazing resolve within the entire side, and that goes a long way.
Not to drag out old stereotypes, but I wonder about the French mentality compared to the Americans. If the United States can somehow grab a lead, the old French proclivity for pessimism might kick in.
And if it does, even a heavy-legged U.S. side could probably did deep enough to grind out a result against the highly technical, highly skilled and fluid French team.