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WIC11 Preview – USA Freedom returns

  • Wednesday, August 03 2011 @ 04:00 pm ACST
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International Cup 2011

The USA Freedom was formed in 2007 and has played in international matches against Canada’s Northern Lights, most recently in the 2010 49th Parallel Cup. The team also toured Australia in 2009 and played against women’s teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Country Victoria and Cairns.

The first ever International Cup Women’s Division will be the first time the team will compete against teams from Ireland and Papua New Guinea.

The Country

The United States of America is comprised of 48 states in central North America, Alaska to the north west of Canada, and the islands of Hawaii in the mid Pacific. Though the majority population are European descent and English is the official language, the USA is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations.

The area of the USA is 9.83 million square kilometres and with a population of 308,745,000 it is the world’s third largest country by size and population. The population density of the USA is 33.7 per square kilometre, which when compared to Canada’s 3.41 per square kilometre, explains why minority sports such as Australian football are much more popular and widespread in the USA. However, popularity does not always transfer talent, as the USA Freedom was defeated in last year’s 4th Parallel cup by Canadian rivals the Northern Lights. The men’s team, USA Revolution plays against Canada’s Northwind every year in the 49th Parallel Cup, but the women’s teams only played each other in 2007, and again in 2010. With women’s football increasing in popularity across both countries, it is sure to become a permanent fixture in the future.

Prominent symbols of the USA include the Bald Eagle, the Liberty Bell, and the Statue of Liberty- the design used on the USA Freedom’s geurnsey. The Statue of Liberty was gifted to the Americans by the French to celebrate the Declaration of Independence. The statue is of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas. The USA declared independence from the British on the 4th of July, 1776, and that date is celebrated every year as “Independence Day”, a major national holiday.

The USA’s national sport is baseball, though the most popular sport is American Football. Basketball and ice hockey are also leading professional sports. Soccer is also played widely at youth and amateur level. Eight summer and winter Olympic Games have taken place in the USA and the country has won the most summer Olympic medals and the second most winter Olympic medals.

The Story of Women’s Football in the USA

Women’s football in the USA dates back to 2003 when a group of female players got together for an exhibition match at the USAFL National Championships in Kansas City. Following the exhibition match, the Orange County Bombers formed a women’s team nicknamed the Bombshells and they played their first match in 2004 against an “All-Corners” team put together by US Footy kids director, Denis Ryan.

Later on that year, after the Arizona Hawks formed their own women’s team, the Lady Hawks, another exhibition match was played at the 2004 USAFL National Championships in Atlanta. The publicity attracted enough players for the Atlanta Kookaburras to form the Lady Kookaburras team, and with the beginnings of women’s football spreading nationwide, in 2005 the first ever USAFL Women’s National Championships was held, between the Arizona Lady Hawks, the Atlanta Lady Kookaburras, and a “Fusion” team of players from Milwaukee, Florida, Washington DC, Seattle, Nashville and Toronto, Canada. After a hard fought final between the Kookaburras and the Fusion team, the Kookaburras managed to win the first ever Women’s National Championships.

Over 2006 with the number of female players increasing, a new team was formed in Milwaukee, the Lady Bombers. The women’s game adopted a new slogan - “Chicks play footy too” and the rules of the women’s game were also changed from the “wrap up” rule to full tackling, the same as in the men’s game. The Atlanta Kookaburras once again won the Women’s National Championships, and remained champions of the USAFL Women’s Division until their defeat in the 2011 Denver National Championships at the hands of Canadian invitees, Calgary Kookaburras.

The first women’s national team was formed in 2007 for an exhibition match at the 49th Parallel Cup between the men’s teams USA Revolution and Canadian Northwind. The women’s national team was called the Freedom, and they defeated their opponents, the Canadian Northern Lights in the first ever international women’s football match.

The number of women’s teams has grown steadily since then, with teams from New York, Denver, Sacramento, Minnesota, Baltimore, Columbus, Boston, and Florida joining the Women’s Division to form today’s USAFL Women’s Division. The teams travel long distances across America to play in matches alongside their counterparts in the men’s teams. Though the number of female players is increasing, some of the teams are unable to field full squads so often a couple of teams will get together to form two sides.

The USA teams typically play a modified game of Aussie Rules called “Metro Footy”. This is played on rugby or soccer fields as there were few grounds suitable for traditional Australian Football, and the smaller ground allows the smaller sized teams (typically 9-a-side) to enjoy competitive and exciting games. Full 18-a-side games are played at the USAFL National Championships.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The USA Freedom will be led by an experienced coaching team. Head Coach Leigh Barnes has played and coached football in Brisbane for 15 years, and his assistant, Milli Bruce, played in the VWFL from 2005 until her move to San Francisco in 2010.

Women’s football has been around for 8 years now and many of the women in the Freedom squad are seasoned players with international experience from both the 49th Parallel Cup games against Canada’s Northern Lights, and the 2009 Freedom tour around Australia. However, despite the length of time some team members have been playing football, the lack of inter-club games they get to play means they are comparatively inexperienced. The defeat to the Northern Lights suggests that there is still room for improvement in the Freedom squad.

Though the popularity of women’s football is increasing across the USA, the huge travelling distances involved make it difficult for teams to play each other on a regular basis. The American girls have good skills and are used to playing alongside women from different teams in the Metro Footy games which may help them to settle into the squad more quickly than their opponents, but conversely, playing 9-a-side Metro Footy might leave the girls feeling the heat when faced with 18 opposition players, equally hungry to bring home the first Women’s International Cup.

Players to watch

Judith Stein (Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles) is an experienced player and her leadership skills are exceptional. The unanimous votes of her Lady Eagles teammates, choosing her as captain, were echoed by the Freedom in their decision to let her lead the team onto the field. She has been with the Freedom since their first game against the Canadian Northern Lights in 2007 and her knowledge and talent will be a great example for the less experienced players.

Helen Spink (Milwaukee Lady Bombers) in an experienced back-liner who started playing football in 2007 with the Lady Eagles, before joining the Lady Bombers. She was vice-captain of the Freedom in 2009 during their tour of Australia and will take on the same role for in IC11 Freedom squad.

Drea Casillas (New York Lady Magpies) is another experienced player who took up football with the Arizona Lady Hawks in 2005 before becoming the co-founder and captain of the Lady Magpies in 2008. She toured with the Freedom in 2009 and also took part in the 49th Parallel Cup in 2010 and has played a total of 6 games with them. She will also play an important role off the field assisting the coaching staff as the USAFL liaison. She has managed the USAFL’s women’s football program since 2010.

Kathryn Hogg (Minnesota Freeze) has been playing football since 2003, has played in every single Freedom game, and is a key member of the Freedom’s leadership group. She founded both the Minnesota Freeze men’s and women’s teams, and also runs the Women’s Australian Football Association http://womensfooty.com website. She has been the USAFL women’s director for 5 years.

Eileen Geoghegan (Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles) is a formidable player in the ruck. Coming from soccer background, she is particularly strong at kicking, but her competitive nature makes her a fierce opponent in every aspect of the game. As ruckman for the Lady Eagles, she is known for her efficiency in getting the ball out to her rovers and will be key to the Freedom’s strength in the centre. She was also joint winner of the 2010 USAFL National Championships best and fairest.

Form Guide and Bottom Line

The last international game the Freedom played was in 2010 against Canada’s Northern Lights, and despite their superior experience going into the game, the Northern Lights’ determination won them the match. This year the Freedom will be out to regain their image as the top footballers in North America, and they’re definitely out to take a few more scalps along the way. These women are tall, tough players and despite their shock loss to the Northern Lights last year, they will be a difficult team to get past.

Unlike the Canadian team, the Freedom have experience at playing in Australia against Australian players, and the experienced leadership group will show no fear in front of the Australian Multicultural/Indigenous team, though the young PNG Flame, who also have experience playing in Australia, might have the pace and skills to burn through their strong defence.