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Women’s World Cup: Handicapping the USWNT Against Netherlands in Sunday’s Final

USA vs Netherlands Logos
Music industry old-timers will tell you that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were always careful not to release albums at the same time. That was a good rule to follow, since the 2 rock & roll acts shared so many fans in youth and teenage demographics. Never oversaturate and split the fan base!

We’re not sure if the soccer community has ever considered the same issue.

In fact, it’s almost as if officials from FIFA, CONCACAF, and CONBEMOL consider themselves blood rivals and are waging war to see which genre more supporters will pay attention to this Sunday.

United States Women’s National Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe is making headlines again (imagine that) with damning criticism of Gold Cup and FIFA organizers over the conceit of scheduling the final of each tournament on the same day. Rapinoe calls the scenario “ridiculous and disappointing.”

Planners had no way to know that the United States would reach the gold-medal match of both competitions. Or didn’t they? The USWNT is a staple in World Cup and Olympic finals. The Yanks are also the defending Gold Cup winners. It didn’t take much to imagine both teams returning to their familiar roles in marquee events.

Reporters may be misrepresenting Rapinoe’s remarks as a direct shot at CONCACAF instead of world soccer scheduling as a whole. The Copa América is holding its 3rd-place and 1st-place matches on Saturday and Sunday, mirroring the North American men’s event. We wait a long time for these things. World Cups happen once every 4 years, and the continental tourneys happen every 2 years. Why the matching schedules?

CONCACAF probably looks the worst of any party. An official from the Federation told reporters this week that the Sunday-final scheduling was due to a clerk’s error. That’s the worst excuse for such a monumental mistake that anyone has heard in a long time.

At least gamblers will know how to plan out a Super-Soccer Sunday. They’re used to wagering and watching multiple NCAA and NFL contests within hours of each other. It pays to plan ahead and put your bets “in the bank” ahead of time – then the only challenge is making sure the entire day is free for TV.

First things first – let’s look at how Las Vegas is treating the 1st match of an epic day, an AM (American time) kickoff between the favored USWNT and an upstart Netherlands side for FIFA gold in Lyon.

Women’s World Cup Final Betting Odds and Over/Under Totals

I’ve been noticing a trend of matching odds at various sportsbooks for major events, with the popular Bovada Sportsbook presumably informing the bookmakers at other online betting sites.

This time, 3 of the sites in our purview – BetOnline, MyBookie, and Bovada Sportsbook – have all decided to go with standard goal-spreads and Over/Under totals for the USA-Netherlands final on Sunday. No Asian Handicaps to be found anywhere.

*Blogger does a brief celebratory dance, then continues onward*

But beyond that lovely fact, the current lines differ significantly across the trio of websites.

Bovada bettors really like Rapinoe and the USWNT to prevail over the Dutch, giving the Yankee squad a (-260) line-to-win the old-fashioned way and (-600) to lift the trophy. Bovada’s O/U total for the kickoff is (2 ½) with the housekeeping a few more dollars-per-payoff on the Over, and the site’s spread is just (-1) for the Americans but with a (-150) potential payoff while underdog ATS gamblers can collect (+125) if the match is drawn and headed for penalties.

BetOnline, meanwhile, is offering (-133) on the same (-1) favorites’ spread and (-118) on the Over (2 ½). The Stars & Stripes is only a (-227) favorite at the book.

MyBookie’s odds on Over (2 ½) are even better at (-123). The Costa Rican bookmaker also offers the shortest moneyline on the Americans to win at (-277). MyBookie’s spread is also interesting – the Americans are a (+106) payoff market to win by at least 2 goals, but a 1-goal victory for the USWNT loses the wager.

Bovada Sportsbook is offering the longest line on the Dutch women at (+700) while MyBookie has the best “Draw” market at (+330).

The markets on USA-to-cover and the Over/Under total are tricky – Netherlands just won its semifinal 1-0 in extra time and is unlikely to win by a big score over the powerful Americans. Not only is the sweet-payoff option ATS contingent on the Yanks dominating at least the 2nd half against a stubborn defending lineup, but the Over is really a bet on whether America will go over yet again. The Dutch would be thrilled to win 1-0 or even head to penalties with a near-coin flip’s chance at a World Cup.

So the so-called “Over” is weirdly correlated with the moneyline – the chances of the 7-to-1 underdog winning in a shoot-out are almost negligible. Meanwhile the Bovada line on the Under (2 ½) is an even (+100) or straight-up 1-to-1 payoff.

What are the Americans’ chances to win going away and blow-out the O/U total?

Maybe not as likely as some of the media coverage would have us think.

USWNT Takes the Weirdest “Criticism” Ever

It’s been a successful World Cup for the Stars & Stripes so far, but not an easy ride by any stretch of the imagination. Skipper Jill Ellis’ unbeaten side ran into trouble as early as the Round-of-16, needing a pair of Rapinoe penalty tallies to get past Spain in a grudging physical war.

Then came the quarterfinals – and a match against the host French squad that also resulted in drama.

How about a 3rd monumental challenge? A fierce rivalry match-up with England awaited Alex Morgan and the Americans in the semifinals. English women’s coach Phil Neville is an expert at distracting his opponents, and it was Morgan’s poise and determination that helped see the Yanks through to a 2-1 win in a fixture where possession favored Three Lionesses 58% to 42%.

Of course, with July 4th right around the corner, Morgan couldn’t resist rubbing it in with her own version of the Boston Tea Party.

The close-shave victory led to 2 more USWNT “controversies” over the days to follow. Morgan’s celebration was panned in parts of England as somehow tasteless (Lipton not Earl Grey I suppose) or over-the-top.

It led to the Yankee co-captain giving 1 of the most poignant and funny quotes I’ve ever read from a footballer:

Using a phrase like “grabbing their sacks” is more than just funny. It sounds British…and illustrates how media-savvy the USWNT actually is. Morgan wanted there to be no mistaking her total lack of regret for the classic celebration…on either side of the pond.

Then came another round of criticism – that the USA is just too good at women’s soccer, and is essentially killing the division.

Talk about your double standards.

Is anyone surprised that the Brazil National Team has reached the Copa América final in 2019? No, the Brazilians are a dominant side and a perpetual favorite regardless of the Neymar’s status on the roster.

Are the USMNT footballers “division killers” because they keep going for gold at the Gold Cup?

It’s strange that such an absurd editorial angle would make it out of a slimy tabloid, let alone be splattered across the front of CBS and ESPN sports pages. Whoever thinks that the United States is simply waltzing through the Women’s World Cup hasn’t been paying attention.

For instance, the aging veteran Rapinoe sat out of the semifinal, leading journos to claim that the Yanks are playing a “B-team” and still prevailing. As if older players in men’s tournaments are expected to play 90+ minutes on the pitch in every elimination match.

Not only is Ellis’ careful strategy being overlooked (unlike Coach K’s exploits with stacked USA rosters in FIBA and the Olympic Games) but the stat lines from France are being ignored altogether.

Division-killing teams don’t possess the ball for 42% of a semifinal.

Victory is far from assured for the Americans on Sunday. Furthermore, it’s not as if the Yanks are trying to blow anyone out (except for Thailand in the round-robin). The team is using a conservative, precise style in a 4-3-3 formation that protects young GK Alyssa Naeher while producing all kinds of turnovers in midfield for the squad to capitalize on.

We know that the Yanks’ opponent won’t score a ton of goals in the final. The question is whether Netherlands can produce another gem of a defending effort such as the semifinal outing in which the team held Sweden to just 3 on-target shots in 120+ minutes of action. That’s the kind of backline play that could frustrate the favorites just long enough to make an upset possible.

Going Dutch

Don’t sleep on Vivianne Miedema, the forward who has scored over 50 goals for the Netherlands National Women’s Team. Miedema scored a pair of historic tallies to help defeat a pesky (and dirty) Cameroon side on Matchday 2 of WWC ’19.

With any luck, though, the formations of the 2 squads will match each other on Sunday. Miedema is unlikely to find a simple gap in the American formation to run and collect a long ball. Netherlands will have to play carefully and cautiously out from the back.

The Dutch have improved their defending as the tournament wears on. Dominique Bloodworth, who also scored in the fixture against Cameroon, is proving her mettle as a 24-year-old center back.

Ultimately, though, the underdogs cannot win (or cover ATS without a fantastic effort from goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. It’s a little hard to get a handle on the 29 year old’s overall skill level relative to Naeher or the American team, and I always have to laugh that “Goals” is somehow the standard stat line for keepers (!) when glancing at their career statistics.

Veenendaal’s “0” goals scored ranks her tied with names like Hope Solo, Allison, and Jordan Pickford of Three Lions and Everton FC. Heck, I think I’m going to become a soccer goalie sometime. My “stats” would definitely tie Hope Solo’s, 0 to 0!

It’s as if quarterbacks in the NFL were all listed with “0 interceptions made” next to their names.

But look beyond Wikipedia absurdities and Veenendaal looks like a player who is capable of holding-off the Americans for at least a half…provided that Bloodworth and the backline continues to play as well as it did against Sweden on Wednesday. She’s made about 50 appearances for Arsenal and led Netherlands – a program of tremendous potential which has often disappointed on the world stage – to a European Championship in 2017.

Most importantly the Dutch are comfortable and confident in physical, foul-filled matches. The United States won’t go out of its way to produce fouls – Morgan and the Yanks are hoping for a wide-open fixture in which the squad’s superior skills can take over.

Netherlands skipper Sarina Wiegman must know that the best way to keep the favorites out of the box is with ragged, choppy play that doesn’t flow from attack to counterattack to counter-counterattack.

While that might hold Morgan and Rapinoe at bay for a while, it might also prevent Miedema from getting into the flow of the match early and producing enough chances to bother the USWNT.

Handicapping the Best Bet on Sunday

The likely outcome is a tight win for the Stars & Stripes. Though it’s not exactly a “sexy” pick or anything unorthodox, my handicap is for the match to remain cautious and contested for about 50-60 minutes until the favorites score 1 or maybe 2 goals to prevail.

While it’s tempting to pick the shortest moneyline on USA-to-win and gamble a bundle, remember that Ellis also knows her lineup of world-renowned strikers would have a slight advantage in a penalty-kick tiebreaker situation. If the Yanks are unlucky enough not to score the winning goal in the 2nd half, they won’t overreact and go all-out with risky numbers forward in the final minutes of regulation.

That puts more gambling value on the Under (2 ½) – an (Even) wager at Bovada Sportsbook.

Remember, betting against the public is a good idea sometimes – but betting against an idiotic media narrative is almost always a big winner.

ODDSEVEN

MY PICK:
Take the Americans and Dutch to go Under (2 ½) on Sunday.