- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

I was so taken with the games at the FIFA Women’s World Cup that my regular viewing of the English Premier League took a back seat. I even passed up the classic North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur after catching a couple of World Cup games earlier in the morning last Saturday.

That may sound like heresy to some soccer loyalists (I remember a famous U.S. men’s team star warning me not to go over to the dark side after I told him I enjoyed the women’s games). But those of us who been crawling out of bed to watch the games beamed in from China at 5 and 8 a.m. have not been disappointed.

We’ve seen the dazzling skills of Brazilian striker Marta, the mature play of England’s Kelly Smith and some utterly dreadful goal-keeping that could fill a whole blooper reel. And, yes, that was former Washington Freedom star Pretinha, 32, scoring Brazil’s injury-time goal against Denmark on Thursday.

Then there’s the American team’s own bionic woman, striker Abby Wambach, who has been pummeled to the ground, bloodied, and left with 11 stitches in her head, but there’s no stopping her. Wambach’s stunning volley against Sweden was magical. She now has a phenomenal 80 goals in 99 games. If anyone can catch Mia Hamm’s 18-year record total of 158 goals, maybe it’s Wambach, now in her seventh year with the team at age 27.

Those who dismiss the Women’s World Cup are really missing out.

Man that’s too early for me to watch, one D.C. United player said this week. I wouldn’t get up for that.

The women’s games have produced plenty of goals and so far no Zinedine Zidane-style head-butts. Even the scoreless tie between England and Germany was a fascinating chess match. But the top-ranked Americans, who face an improving England team today in the quarterfinals, have looked a little sluggish and lacked cohesion.

The U.S. team started with a messy 2-2 tie with North Korea and looked unconvincing in a 1-0 win over Nigeria during which it sat on the slim lead from the opening minute. American veteran Kristine Lilly has had a quiet finals so far, but her assist on Wambach’s goal was perfect. Still, the Americans, who haven’t been beaten in regulation time in 50 games, should be able to get past the English, who are in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1995. However, the U.S. team will have to keep a close eye on the brilliant and bold play of Smith, a former Seton College star who knows a number of American players from having played in the WUSA with the Philadelphia Charge. Smith already has four goals in the event.

As a British expatriate, I’m conflicted over this game. As the Ione Western reporter covering the 2006 Peace Cup in South Korea, I spent an enjoyable week following the American team and found the players to be the nicest group of folks anyone could ever meet.

That said, my English blood still runs deep. Still, I can’t lose, because I admire both teams.

Toronto woes It’s hard to believe, but expansion club Toronto FC has not scored a goal in 11 games. That’s an MLS record and one likely to stand for a long time.

Toronto played host to struggling Real Salt Lake last week, and although Toronto outshot Salt Lake 12-3, it could not get the ball past former D.C. United keeper Nick Rimando, extending its scoreless streak to an embarrassing 822 minutes.

Corner kicks Radar magazine lists Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham and his wife, Victoria Adams, at the top of its Overrated 100 mainly, it says, because ESPN used 19 cameras to film his July soccer debut. …

Freddy Adu still hasn’t made his league debut for Benfica in the Portuguese league and was not on Benfica’s squad that lost at European Champion AC Milan 2-1 on Tuesday in the Champions League. …

The U.S. men”s team will make its first trip to South Africa to play the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts on Nov. 17 in Johannesburg as part of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup.

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