Lucas at Large: Wilkins watches as 'confident' pupil hits winner for U.S.

| 1 Comment
WSCR_110711_Wilkins_Paula.jpgWatching Ali Krieger line up the penalty kick that could seal Team USA's improbable win over Brazil on Sunday, UW women's soccer coach Paula Wilkins was convinced that Krieger was ready for the moment.

Wilkins, after all, had coached Krieger at Penn State.

"I was confident,'' Wilkins said, "because I know Ali is always confident.''

When Krieger's kick landed in the netting, it capped one of the most dramatic comebacks in U.S. soccer history as the Americans overcame controversy and adversity to advance in the World Cup.

"It showed their resiliency,'' Wilkins said.

Despite playing shorthanded after losing Rachel Buehler to a red card, Team USA persevered and tied the match on Abby Wambach's header in the 122nd minute of the marathon quarterfinal.

"When the ball was hit, I thought it was a little desperate with what they were trying to do,'' Wilkins said of Megan Rapinoe's crossing pass from the left wing that Wambach converted in the box.

"But it was spot-on with what they needed.''

Wilkins watched the final minutes and penalty kicks Sunday with a bunch of young players, ages 12-17, who were attending the Girls Soccer Academy on the UW campus.

"You should have heard the roar,'' Wilkins said of their spontaneous reaction to the spellbinding finish. "The way it happened might create more excitement for women's soccer.''

Team USA will advance to the semifinals to play France.

"The challenging part right now -- with how it ended and the emotion running so high -- is getting grounded again,'' she said. "It was fantastic but they need to get their legs back under them.''

Wilkins has all the confidence in the world that Team USA coach Pia Sundhage will have her players focused for their next challenge. "Pia will prepare them to do that,'' she said.

Preparation is at the core of Krieger's game, too, Wilkins acknowledged.

"She was one of the mainstays of our Penn State program,'' she said of Krieger, a two-time All-American with the Nittany Lions. "When you put in all that work you know it's going to pay off.''

Krieger's resiliency mirrors that of her teammates; even more so, in fact.

"She has an amazing story,'' Wilkins allowed.

Krieger's junior season at Penn State ended short of the NCAA tournament when she broke her leg during practice. A metal plate was inserted to stabilize the injury.

A few months later, she was battling for her life; the result of blood clots that had developed in her lungs and caused a pulmonary embolism. Immediate recognition and treatment saved her.

Although the recovery process sidelined her for six months, Krieger returned to play her senior year for Wilkins. The Nittany Lions won four straight Big Ten championships during Krieger's career.

Wilkins admitted to experiencing some tenseness while Krieger was getting ready for that PK against Brazil. "It's like any mother would feel -- you're a little anxious for them,'' she said.

But that anxiety soon morphed into exhilaration. "As a team,'' Wilkins said, "they showed their emotional courage to get through it and that has to build their confidence.''

1 Comment

With all due respect Mr. Lucas, it's hard to read a soccer story from you, especially after seeing you absolutely bash the sport on your TV show. I respect your analysis of football and basketball, but when I listened to you hackneyed and ignorant criticism of soccer, i was dumbfounded.
As exciting as the Packers and Badgers are on the football field, I wager that the US-Brazil match was one of the most entertaining sporting events of year. But you should really stay off the bandwagon on this one - your credibility is zero. And soccer fans don't need the support - certainly not in Madison.
respectfully,
kkonzak

ON WISCONSIN