Griffs left off final roster at U.S. Olympic tryouts

Olympic dreams for three Canisius College synchronized swimmers came to an end Tuesday night, when USA Synchro announced the final cuts it made following this weekend’s tryout.

Senior Jessica Grogan, junior Missy Andrews and sophomore Jessica Mancini had advanced all the way to the final round of 15 swimmers before the last six cuts were made on the roster that USA Synchro will submit to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Being left off the roster did not come as a surprise to swimmers, who were exciting to make it as far as they did. Sunday night, Andrews said they were “sure” they weren’t going to make the team.

“We weren’t horribly far off, but enough that it’s clear,” the junior said from her hotel room in North Carolina. The three flew back to Buffalo Monday morning, a full day and a half before the roster was announced.

Michelle Moore, a native a Tonawanda, N.Y. who has since moved to California to train more extensively, made the team. The official release from USA Synchro can be found here.

Canisius synchronized swimmers advance to Olympic tryout finals

All three Canisius College synchronized swimmers at U.S. Olympic tryouts have advanced to the final round of cuts, where nine swimmers will be selected from the remaining 15 for the team that will compete in London this summer.

Senior Jessica Grogan, junior Missy Andrews and sophomore Jessica Mancini have swam for 9 to 10 hours each of the last three days in Greensboro, N.C., showing coaches and judges what they can do. They survived the first cut, which narrowed the field to 30, and the second cut, which left only the country’s top 15 swimmers.

From left to right: Grogan, Andrews, Mancini.

With only duet tryouts left, the three are done swimming. The Olympic team will be announced at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“We knew it was Olympic trials, but it seemed way more serious once we got there,” Andrews said from her hotel room in North Carolina. “We did video interviews and meet and greets and stuff. There was a surprising amount of spectators, too. I didn’t think a lot of people would come to watch us. There were little kids asking for our autographs. It was crazy.”

Though the Canisius athletes comprise one-fifth of the remaining swimmers (three of 15), Andrews said they don’t plan on making the final cut. They’re leaving for Buffalo Monday morning.

“We’re sure,” Andrews said. “There’s like 10 girls that were really close. We weren’t horribly far off but enough that it’s clear.

“We know the girls who are going to make the team so it seems weird to compare ourselves to them, but we didn’t realize how close we are to them score-wise. That was cool.”

The recognition and the autographs are what Andrews will remember most.

“It was the weirdest thing. I almost asked if they were sure they wanted my autograph,” Andrews said with a laugh.

Olympic candidates or not, there’s no break for Grogan, Andrews and Mancini. As soon as their plane lands, they’re headed right back for Canisius; they have practice.

Canisius athletes to try out for U.S. Olympic team

Three members of the Canisius synchronized swimming team will try out for the U.S. Olympic team in early November. From left to right: senior Jessica Grogan, junior Missy Andrews and sophomore Jessica Mancini.

It’s a weekday afternoon in mid October when an ambulance turns down Hughes Avenue and pulls up at the not-so off-campus residence of a Canisius athlete. The faint wee-ooh of a siren must belong to some other ambulance on the streets around campus. This one remains silent, with its lights on but not flashing.

This isn’t a real emergency. The paramedic behind the wheel is a friend of the roommate of the athlete who’s just having a little bit of difficulty.

Synchronized swimmer Jessica Grogan was rushing to an interview yesterday when she put her national finalist ring on the wrong hand. It’s stuck, and today her finger is swollen and turning purple. She’s tried everything from soap to butter to oil to get it off but hasn’t had any luck. When hot water didn’t work, she tried cold water. Nothing. Now it’s time for the paramedics to give it a shot.

Teammates Missy Andrews and Jessica Mancini haven’t heard every detail of this story yet, only pieces, but none of it surprises them. That’s just Grogan being Grogan, they say. She laughs at this because she knows it’s true; she’s the first to admit it. Grogan’s better in the water than she is on land, they tease.

But they’re only half kidding. It’s partially true because she can be a bit clumsy at times, but mostly because she’s so incredibly good in the water. They all are.

The paramedics end up having to cut the ring and then pry it off her finger. It’s slightly embarrassing, yes, but aside from a little blood loss and the mark Grogan will have on her left hand for the next few days, this incident won’t cramp her style too much. The Canisius senior can always put on her other national finalist ring.

Canisius synchronized swimmers are good, perhaps better than any other Canisius athletes relative to the talent that’s out there. Swimming for the Griffs means they were good enough to make one of the four Division I synchro teams in the country. Wearing those rings means they were good enough to place at nationals, and for Grogan, Andrews and Mancini, placing as high as they did means they are good enough to earn an invitation to United States Olympic tryouts.

“When I was little, when I first started, I was like, ‘I’m going to be an Olympian. I’m going to be the Olympic soloist,’ ” Mancini said. “Everyone thinks that when you’re little and you first start out – ‘I’m going to be the best of the best.’ Then you get a little older and you go to more elite competitions and reality starts to set in. There’s these girls who move to California, get homeschooled and train eight hours a day. I don’t. I go to a normal school, I live on the east coast, I don’t have that kind of pool time or money to train or [that kind of] coaching staff, so you think it’s not possible. So this is never something I thought would actually happen.”

“I didn’t think it was even a possibility,” Andrews added. “It was kind of mentioned last year – if you get a certain score, you can qualify for Olympic trials – but I didn’t think we were going to qualify… When I started synchro, I didn’t think that would ever happen.”

Synchronized swimming isn’t the easiest sport to get in to. For starters, you have to be a strong swimmer, something most children are not. After that, it takes a little bit of luck. None of the three girls had mothers or sisters who pushed them into the water.

Andrews’ story is the simplest: bored with being miles ahead of all the other swimmers, she jumped at the chance to try something new. After attending a meet with her sister, she was sold.

Jess Mancini’s babysitter was one of the top swimmers on her club team back home. When your babysitter is your neighbor and her mom is the coach, things have a way of falling into place.

Then, of course, there’s Grogan, who remembers every detail: “I was in Old Navy and I remember standing on the big – remember how they used to have the big world? I was standing on that and I saw one of my friends at that mall and she was telling me about how she did it and I told my mom I wanted to try it. She quit maybe two weeks later, but here I am.”

Twelve years and two rings later, here she is, qualifying for Olympic trials by way of her performance in the solo competition. While collegiate synchronized swimming has four events – team (eight members), solo, duet and trio – the only way to qualify for the Olympic tryouts is through a solo performance or duet, like Andrews (a junior) and Mancini (a sophomore) teamed up to do. There is no Olympic trio.

Approximately 50 women will compete for nine roster spots when the tryout commences Nov. 10 in Greensboro, N.C. At 1 p.m. on Nov. 12, cuts will be made and only the top 30 will advance. By 10 p.m. that night, more cuts will be made and only the top 14 swimmers will remain. The third tryout phase will last until Nov. 15, when the final roster will be announced at 7 p.m.

How much has Canisius helped the girls get where they are now? They answer almost in unison.

“A ton.”

“A ton.”

“So much.”

“I’ve gotten so much better in the past three years than I ever imagined I could,” Andrews said. “Going to any other school would have been four more years of the same stuff and this has really taken it to another level… Going to Olympic trials is more than I could have ever expected from myself. I don’t think I could have done it through another school.”

When Mancini was in middle school and high school, her coaches suggested she check out collegiate nationals if they were anywhere around where she lived. They wanted her to see this level of competition and how incredible it was.

“My coach and my entire team would go together and we’d watch Canisius swim and that’s what really made me come here. [My coach] made me come to a meet and I watched them swim and I was in complete awe of how amazing they were. And I ended up thinking to myself, ‘Well I have to come here now. I have to be a part of that.’ ”

Wild success stories or not, the team still isn’t sure it fits in on campus, but this opportunity will help.

“Synchro’s obviously not the most popular sport here… we’re kind of used to hearing it’s not a sport, it’s like cheerleading in the pool,” Andrews said. “It’s really nice to know even though people say what they want about synchro, you’re not going to Olympic trials.”

All three girls say they’re long shots at making the team, but then again, none of them thought getting invited to try out was possible, either. This experience is something they will keep with them forever. Mrs. Andrews passed on the story of her time at U.S. Olympic gymnastics tryouts to Missy, and Missy is sure she’ll pass this story on to her children when that time comes.

The synchronized swimming team’s unofficial motto this year is to get rings. But with the Olympic event kicking off Aug. 5 in London, here’s one better: get medals.

Bradley’s firing gives hope to U.S. national team

The first post in a multi-part series on how American soccer can improve.
The firing of head coach Bob Bradley from Team USA can only mean there are good things to come American soccer.

A few inches one way or the other may have saved Bob Bradley's job as coach of the U.S. Men's National Team, but such is life in soccer. Onto the next.

The development of our national team and our professional league will happen eventually. Simply based on resources that build winning soccer, namely population and money, America can’t stay down for long. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s best for a country’s domestic league may not always be best for its national team, and vice versa. The success of one is not always interrelated with the other. Countries with very poor leagues have had success internationally, such as South Korea (2002 World Cup semifinalist), Russia and Turkey (both semifinalists in Euro 2008). Even Brazil‘s national league isn’t great. Conversely, the country with the best league, England, has had very little success in worldwide competition (last major win: 1966 World Cup).

The best way for Major League Soccer to get better is to have its players get experience with national teams, thereby improving the quality and reputation of the league, yet the best way for the national team to get better is to have its players play where the competition is greatest — anywhere but the MLS.

It’s good for American soccer to have American players playing in the American professional league. But that means country-wide feelings on the sport — TV ratings, youth involvement, general acceptance of game — not the U.S. national team.

We want our players playing in their leagues. It’s as simple as that. The competition is so much better. Is it good for soccer in this country — is it good for kids growing up on the game — to have Landon Donovan to be playing at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy? Of course. But would it be better for the national team if he played solely in one of the big three leagues (the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A), or even in Germany or France? You bet.

One of the most important features of a national team is the coach, the glue who brings it all together. If we want the best coach, where does it appear he needs to come from?

I liked Bob Bradley as coach of U.S. soccer, but the team would have more success with a foreigner. Bradley is from New Jersey and Bruce Arena before him was from New York. We need to broaden the scope. Western Europeans dominate soccer in all aspects, from players to coaching to tactics. Nowhere else in the world is not only quality soccer, but also ideas and ultimately, knowledge, so readily available across borders than in Western Europe. Not even Brazil can compare in that metric.

The best build off each other and become that much better that much quicker. Even small countries can learn quickly due to the excess of available information; take for example Greece, which won Euro 2004. In America, we only have ourselves to go up against, and we aren’t really that good.

Even the English, who continue to hold the belief they rule international soccer despite going winless in major tournaments in the last half-century, have swallowed their pride and hired an Italian manager for the national team in Fabio Capello. The big four clubs combine for a grand total of zero coaches who were born in England. Two at least are from the U.K., Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish (both from Glasgow, Scotland). The others come from abroad: Chelsea’s new head man André Villas-Boas is from Portugal and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is French. Even in a local example, the U.S. women’s team, best in the world, is coached by Pia Sundhage, a Swed.

I don’t know if I like the idea from a theoretical standpoint because I think a national team should have to have all of its coaches, trainers, et cetera from that country, but if it helps the USA and it’s within the rules, there’s no reason not to do it. The only coach in the last three World Cup finals not from Europe was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his native Brazil to a second-place finish in 2002. A non-European coach hasn’t won the World Cup since 1994.

The Europeans have the experience, the contacts and know-how. They’ve dealt with more talented players than any coach in the American system and might finally be able to whip the Yanks into a winning formation, not Bradley’s midfield mush.

Some players need to be developed as much as they need to be taught. “Mold 21-year-old Jozy Altidore into a star” should be the first bullet on the job description after “play winning soccer.” Here’s hoping the U.S. can get out of its own way and find the right western European coach, a Spaniard, perhaps, for the job. I’d welcome him with open arms.

USMNT vs. Argentina recap

Landon Donovan plays a nice ball off of a set piece, which was eventually finished by 18-year-old Juan Agudelo for his second international goal.

Argentina came into New Meadowlands Stadium last night as winners of three straight under new coach Sergio Batista, who took over as head man after former Argentinean superstar Diego Maradona’s contract was not renewed following a disappointing World Cup performance.

The Argentineans had been playing well under Batista, defeating Brazil, Spain and Portugal by a combined score of 7-2. After dominating the first half and taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, Argentina did well to hold off the U.S. late and escape with a 1-1 draw.

Even without international superstars Carlos Tevez, Gonzaolo Higuain and Diego Milito, Argentina came out and controlled play in the first half. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, put on a clinic of close control as he expertly used teammates and shifty moves to slice and dice the USA’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Desperation defense, most notably from Jonathan Spector, and superb play from goalkeeper Tim Howard kept Argentina off the scoreboard for most of the first half. Messi and Angel Di Maria both had good looks at goal but shot wide; however, even when they got through, Howard was equal to the task.

In the 42nd minute, the left-footed Messi worked a series a one-touch passes in the box before finding Di Maria right in front of goal. Howard sprawled to make the save, but Esteban Cambiasso came through unmarked and put the rebound into the top of the net from the 6-yard box.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley subbed out Jermaine Jones — who had a shaky first half — and Spector at halftime in favor of two up-and-coming players, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo (third international appearance) and 20-year-old Timmy Chandler (first), as the States switched to a 4-4-2 formation out of intermission.

The extra man up front seemed to disrupt to Argentina’s possession play that was so relaxed and controlling in the first half. The Americans had much more success when attacking as a unit, opposed to Jozy Altidore’s get-it-and-go style he tried as the lone striker in the first half.

A foul in the attacking third awarded the U.S. a free kick in the 59th minute. Several red jerseys moved forward as Landon Donovan lined up a set piece, which were so futile for the States in the World Cup.

Donovan lofted a nice ball over the line Argentina defenders held just inside the 18-yard box. Several players went up to win the head ball and a shot was directed on net. Mariano Andujar made the first save, but Agudelo was waiting on the doorstep and knocked the rebound into the goal to level the score at one.

Both teams went back and forth over the final 30 minutes as play really started to open up. The Americans were much more threatening in the 4-4-2, but neither side could capitalize the remainder of the night. The best chance belonged to Argentina when Di Maria got through in the 73rd minute, but Onyewu and Jay DeMerit combined to close off the attack.

Onyewu had another rough night on the back line and frequently looked flustered with the ball at his feet, but his size is almost always an advantage he has over attacking players. He got the better of Messi when the two went up for a head ball in the 24th minute, and Messi stayed on the ground after, holding his head. He went off briefly to be examined, but came back and played the rest of the game.

The next match for the USMNT is this Tuesday, March 29, when the men take on Paraguay in Nashville, Tenn. Game time is 8 p.m. EST (7 CST) and can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel and TeleFutura.

USA (4-2-3-1) — Bob Bradley, coach

Altidore
Dempsey-Edu-Donovan
Bradley-Jones
Bocanegra-Onyewu-DeMerit-Spector
Howard

Substitutions
IN: Agudelo, Chandler (halftime); OUT: Spector, Jones. USA switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half.

Argentina (4-3-3) — Sergio Batista, coach

Lavezzi-Messi-Di Maria
Mascherano-Cambiasso-Banega
Rojo-G. Milito-Burdisso-Zanetti
Andujar

Substitutions
IN: Biglia (73); OUT: Cambiasso.

Shots/on target: ARG 13/6, USA 7/4.
Corners: ARG 6, USA 2.
Fouls: ARG 9, USA 12.
Offside: ARG 1, USA 0.
Yellow cards: ARG none, USA 4 (Edu, 35; Chandler, 48; Donovan, 79; Bocanegra, 90+1).
Referee: Roberto Garcia (MEX).
Attendance: 78,936.

FIFA world rankings: ARG 4, USA 19.