TO THE VICTORS GO THE SPOILS, A TRUISM BORNE OUT BY THE NOMINATIONS OF FOUR MEMBERS OF THE USWNT 2012 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALISTS, FOR THE FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD.
The dynamic United States strike force of Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan lead the U.S. contingent, and are joined by goal scoring midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, as the Yanks claimed four of the 10 nominations.
Defending World Cup Champions and Olympic Silver Medalists Japan, secured three nods, 2011 Player of the Year Homare Sawa, goalkeeper
Miho Fukumoto and attack minded midfielder, Aya Miyama. The final three are highlighted by Brazil legend Marta, who has won this award a staggering five times. French star Camille Abily, and Canada’s Christine Sinclair, whose hat trick in the Olympic semifinal, almost eliminated the U.S., round out the group.
Let’s have a look at each of the finalists for this prestigious award.
Who do you think will be the 2012 Women’s World Player of the Year? Can Sawa win two years in a row, or will Marta re-claim the award? Can Christine Sinclair get revenge on the U.S. by taking home the big prize, or in an Olympic year, will the judges have gold in their eyes?
My feeling is that the final three will be Sinclair and two Americans, Wambach and Morgan. The Americans could split the vote and allow Sinclair, who would be a very worthy
winner, to claim the honor. I don’t, however, see it happening that way. I believe it will come down to the two Americans. Which one?
Both were great in the Olympics, both scored important goals, and each made their teammates better, always a sign of greatness. Wambach could be the sentimental favorite. At 31, and with a lot of miles on her, voters could lean her way. It might be seen as a lifetime achievement for a veteran player who
has given so much of herself to the sport.
In that scenario, voters could imagine that Morgan, only 23 and on the rise, will have plenty of time to win this award. The flaw there is that this the player of the year award. And while Wambach was great this year, Morgan was just a little bit better. Her assist total was almost as impressive as her number of goals, and the panic she inspires in opposing defenses creates space for her teammates.
The attacking midfielder is known to fans of women’s soccer in the United States from her stint in the WPS in 2009-2010, as well as her international exploits. Abily split her time stateside playing for the Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride. Abily had her best moments playing for the Sol, scoring 8 goals in 18 matches, and earning All-Star accolades for her efforts. After leaving the Pride Abily headed home to France, where she has racked up an outstanding total of 23 goals in just 34 games.
Abily has been a key member of her national team since her debut in 2001, and played a leading role in France’s run to the semifinals of 2012 Olympics in London. France came up just short against Japan in that semi, losing 2-1, before losing out on the bronze, in a 1-0 loss to Canada.
Fukumoto is to many a surprise choice for this nomination, with American Hope Solo generally regarded as the top netminder in the women’s game. But Fukumoto has backstopped Japan to a dramatic World Cup victory in 2011, and to the silver medal in London, so she is legit. Fukumoto may have clinched her nomination for this award with her performance against France in the Olympic semifinal. France, not Japan, may have been the U.S. opponent in the Gold medal game if not for the 5’5” goalkeeper, who saved 26 shots in Japan’s 2-1 defeat of France.
Carli Lloyd does not shy away from the big moment. Lloyd scored both of the U.S. goals in the finals of the London Olympics, allowing the Americans to beat Japan and claim the Gold Medal. Remarkably, Lloyd also scored the Gold Medal winning goal four years earlier in Beijing, when the Yanks edged Brazil 1-0.
Lloyd only got the opportunity for her London heroics because Shannon Boxx was injured, 17 minutes into the American’s opening match. Coach Pia
Sundhage preferred a center midfield combination of Boxx and Lauren Cheney, leaving Lloyd on the outside looking in. Lloyd’s long range blast proved to be the game winner in that 4-2 comeback victory over France, and there was no getting her out of the lineup after that.
Lloyd’s tally of 13 goals in 27 games for the year is very impressive for a midfielder, and her knack for big goals helped land Lloyd on this list.
In the tradition of Brazilian soccer greats like Pele, Ronaldo, Neymar, and the like, Marta needs only one name to identify her. Unlike many of those greats however, ultimate glory has eluded Marta, who has so far been unable to win a World Cup or Olympic Gold.
Marta has claimed club championships in her career, including two WPS titles in 2010, for FC Gold Pride, and in 2011, for the Western New York Flash. And she has of course racked up the individual honors, including this award in five consecutive years. Starting in 2006, and running through 2010, Marta Vieira da Silva was voted the outstanding women’s soccer player in the world in every year.
Marta finished second last year to Japan’s Homare Sawa, she may not make the podium this time out.
Aya Miyama captained Japan to a silver medal in the London Olympics this summer. The diminutive midfielder may have earned that honor, at least in part, for the sportsmanship she displayed after winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup. At the final whistle, rather than celebrate with her teammates, Miyama was seen congratulating U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. Miyama was widely hailed for her sporting example, but it would be wrong to overlook her talents on the field.
Miyama plays a key role in Japan’s, at times dizzying passing attack that often had the U.S. defending desperately in the two major finals between these rivals. Miyama is another former WPS player, having suited up for the Sol, St. Louis Athletica, and the Atlanta Beat.
The “It Girl” of women’s soccer, Morgan went from super sub in 2011, to possibly the best player in the world in 2012. With her blazing speed and nose for the goal, it may surprise some that Morgan leads the U.S. with 18 assists on the year, eight more than Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Cheney. But it is the goals that make Morgan’s special. Her three Olympic goals were just part of her tally of 24 in just 26 games. So many times defenders seem to have the angle on Morgan, only to suddenly find themselves trailing in her wake, as the goalkeeper picks the ball out of the net. Morgan and Wambach have become a nightmare for any back line in the women’s game, and this may be the year that an American wins this award for the first time since Mia Hamm in 2002. Hamm also won in 2001, the first year women were honored.
Christine Sinclair broke into the wider sporting consciousness with a brilliant 2012 London Olympics, highlighted by a hat trick that almost took down the favored Americans. In a game in which the U.S. knew that stopping Sinclair would likely lead to victory, the U.S. simply could not deal with the prolific Canadian striker.
It would be a shame if Christine Sinclair’s memorable performance was overshadowed by her petulant behavior during and after that epic
4-3 Olympic semifinal loss to the United States last summer. Sinclair was handed a four game suspension for her behavior towards the officials, after the Yanks controversially tied the game at 3-3, before going on to eliminate Canada on very late goal from Alex Morgan. The suspension was assessed after the Olympic Bronze medal game that Canada won, and perhaps this nomination is FIFA’s way of moving past the controversy, and celebrating a great player.
With her platinum blonde hair Rapinoe is hard to miss on the pitch. Her pinpoint passes, from both play and dead ball situations, and her knack for big goals are well worth noticing too. Voters for this year’s Ballon d’Or, as this honor is also known, certainly noticed the U.S. winger. Former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage repeatedly cited Rapinoe as one the American sides most skilled players, even while ruing Rapinoe’s sometimes-mercurial game.
Rapinoe finished level with Morgan with three Olympic goals, behind only Lloyd and Wambach, who had four each in the Gold medal run. 2012 has been a breakthrough year for Rapinoe, and this nomination caps a year that has seen Rapinoe firmly establish herself as a core member of this team, now and in the coming seasons.
Sawa claimed this honor last year, as she led Japan to the World Cup triumph her country so desperately needed in the wake of the tsunami that devastated their nation. Sawa won both the Golden Boot, as top goal scorer and the Golden Ball, as the tournament’s best player.
Sawa hasn’t quite scaled those heights in 2012, but she remains a top class player, and with Miyama, a key component of that intricate Japanese passing attack.
A casual observer of women’s soccer might find it hard to believe that an American hasn’t won this award since 2002, when Mia Hamm took home the honors. They would likely say, hasn’t Abby Wambach won that a couple of times? In fact, Wambach has never finished higher than the third place nod she received last year.
Of course Marta winning five in a row didn’t help Wambach’s cause, and when the U.S. won the 2008 Olympics, Wambach was out injured. Will this be Wambach’s year? Wambach certainly made a case for herself, scoring four World Cup goals as she played a captain’s role, as the undisputed leader of the number one team on the planet.
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