Women's soccer advances in stunning fashion

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Women's soccer advances in stunning fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
MANCHESTER, England (AP) -- The U.S. women's soccer team has another come-from-behind, last-minute thriller to add to its legacy. The Americans won't have much time to celebrate it: It's time to focus on winning it all. This is the moment the U.S. players have been eyeing for more than a year, a rematch with Japan on Thursday at Wembley Stadium with gold on the line. The top-ranked Americans lost to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last summer, a stunning blow that became a source of motivation as the players prepared for the Olympics. "This is redemption for us," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "We know how hard it was for us after that game. It hurt us for a really long time." The U.S. team was ten minutes away from another devastating loss in the Olympic semifinals Monday night when it caught a break. Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was whistled for holding the ball too long, a violation often committed but rarely enforced. The dominoes fell in quick succession: an indirect kick, a hand ball, a penalty kick. Score tied. "We feel like it was taken away from us," Canada forward Christine Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started." The Americans then put together a final winning surge. In the third and final minute of injury time that had been added on to extra time -- with goalkeeper Hope Solo mentally preparing for a penalty kick shootout -- Alex Morgan looped in a 6-yard header on a long cross from Heather O'Reilly, giving the U.S. a 4-3 win in the Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford. "I don't have much to say because I need to wrap my head around what just happened," Solo said. "And that's the truth of the matter. We tend to keep things interesting." Canada, seeking the country's first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since 1936, will play France for the bronze on Thursday at Coventry, but it will take a while to get over this one. Canada's coach felt cheated, and lashed out with criticism of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. "The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays," said Canada coach John Herdman, who also felt that Pedersen missed a hand ball in front of the U.S. goal. "She's gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to." Pedersen cited McLeod was for holding the ball more than six seconds. McLeod said she did not receive the customary warning from the referee beforehand, although she did say the linesman had told her at the start of the second half not to slow down play. The violation gave the Americans an indirect free kick inside the area. Rapinoe took the kick and rammed it into the Canadian wall, the ball glancing off the arm of Marie-Eve Nault. Pedersen then awarded the U.S. a penalty kick, which co-captain Abby Wambach converted off the left post. "I think the referee was very one-sided," McLeod said. "It was an interesting sequence of events. I think we outplayed the Americans the entire game. I think it's unfortunate the calls went the way that they did. Of course, the Americans are a great soccer team, and today we were better, and the luck went their way." The Americans had little sympathy for McLeod's complaints. "There were a few other times throughout the game that she held it for 18 seconds, for 10 seconds," Wambach said. "You can't blame something on the referee." The Americans overcame three one-goal deficits, all due to goals from Sinclair in the 22nd, 67th and 73rd minutes. Megan Rapinoe scored in the 54th and 70th minutes, and Wambach converted the penalty kick in the 80th for the U.S. Sinclair and Wambach are now tied for second all-time with 143 international goals apiece, both chasing Mia Hamm's world record of 158. In many ways this match was reminiscent of the comeback against Brazil in last year's World Cup, when Wambach scored in the waning seconds of extra time in a shootout win in the quarterfinals. The result maintains the Americans' dominance of their neighbor to the north, extending their unbeaten streak against Canada to 27 games (23-0-4). The U.S. leads the series 44-3-5, the last loss coming at the Algarve Cup in 2001. Herdman said before the game that the run of futility against the Americans was on the minds of his players, and he addressed it with them in the run-up to the match. He also injected some pregame intrigue by accusing the Americans of using "highly illegal," overly physical tactics on free kicks and corner kicks. "Their coach prepared them very well," Wambach said. "He had a very good tactic yesterday, by making it a media (event) to say that we do illegal stuff. I give him credit for that because it's something that he was trying to do to rally his team around him." But the Americans had the final word, with Morgan's goal avoiding the penalty kick shootout no one wanted to see. "The team refuses to lose," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "There is something where they have an extra gear."

First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

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First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hit impressions from Sunday's matchup between the Patriots and Rams . . . 

* How will the Patriots offense look without Rob Gronkowski? With a week to prepare for life post-Gronk, the Patriots leaned heavily on their three-receiver sets. That meant plenty of work for rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who saw a season-high in targets with 10. Tom Brady seemed more than happy to throw to Mitchell at the line of scrimmage with the Rams playing off-coverage, leading to relatively short-but-productive gains. 

* Brady seemed to take exception with something he saw from Mitchell during a drive mid-way through the fourth quarter. On the sideline, Brady looked heated while looking over pictures of the drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady was later caught on the Fox broadcast speaking to Mitchell on the bench. As well as Brady's young lockermate has performed, it was a moment that indicated he isn't doing everything perfectly just yet. 

* McDaniels got creative early with Gronkowski gone. He used the two-back pony set to start the game and handed off to Dion Lewis for four yards. He also found success with LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots running game, using four running plays on the first five snaps of the game. McDaniels then had his offense go five-wide and he sent Julian Edelman in motion. On the subsequent drive, McDaniels turned to the screen game to try to catch Los Angeles' aggressive front off-guard. 

* The Patriots offense stalled at points thanks in part to the Rams' front: Aaron Donald blew up a run play in the second quarter and on the same drive Brady was pressured on back-to-back snaps, leading to a punt. It wasn't an immaculate day from the Patriots offense, but against a talented defensive line, and without their most dynamic offensive player, they'll take it. 

* The Patriots locked things down defensively in what was an all-around dominant performance. Malcolm Butler bounced back after a difficult game versus the Jets, allowing just two catches for 12 yards on five targets until allowing a 66-yarder to Kenny Britt. He broke up two passes and picked off a gift when tight end Lance Kendricks let a pass bounce off of his hands and into the air. Devin McCourty was sound in coverage, breaking up two passes to Britt, a fellow Rutgers product. Britt later got him back for a one-yard garbage-time touchdown. Eric Rowe appeared to play well until suffering a hamstring injury that knocked him from the game. 

* Up front, Alan Branch played with abandon fresh off of finding out that he will not be suspended four games this weekend. He had three hurries, a quarterback hit and a stuffed run to continue his strong season. Rob Ninkovich (two hurries, a hit and a sack), Trey Flowers (four hurries and a hit) and Chris Long (one hurry, three hits and a sack) were pains for rookie quarterback Jared Goff. 

* Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect four-for-four on his field goals, knocking down a 48-yarder and a 45-yarder from the right hash mark and a 45-yarder from the left hash on consecutive drives. He also made both of his extra-point attempts. 

* Some special teams notes . . . Cyrus Jones muffed a punt from "weapon," as Bill Belichick called him this week, Johnny Hekker. The punt-return job was Danny Amendola's until Amendola suffered an ankle injury that knocked him from the game. That could be a critical injury to the Patriots in the kicking game. Amendola has also been a key part of the offense on third downs and in red-zone situations. Jonathan Jones was flagged twice on special teams.