Wambach’s game-winning goal advances U.S. to 2011 Women’s World Cup finals on Sunday

Minutes away from elimination on Sunday, former Florida Gators soccer star Abby Wambach saved the day by tying the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team’s match against Brazil and forcing a penalty kick finish. With her team looking for another boost Wednesday during 2011 Women’s World Cup semifinal action against France, Wambach came through again with a deft header from the far post to give her team a 2-1 lead and propel the United States to a 3-1 victory that will place them in the finals of the world’s biggest soccer event for the first time since 1999.

Leading 1-0 after Lauren Chaney deflected a goal into the net in the ninth minute, the U.S. coughed up the lead just minutes into the second half. USA goalkeeper Hope Solo, keeping an eye on Gaetane Thiney in the box, was fooled as a beautiful floater from Sonia Bompastor got past her and into the net at 55’.

The Americans made a number of runs trying to get their lead back but were unsuccessful until the 79th minute when Wambach converted Cheney’s corner kick into a dagger header that became the game-winning goal.

Alex Morgan would tack on some insurance just three minutes later, lofting a goal into the net from the left side 82 minutes into the match.

With 12 World Cup goals in her career, Wambach is now tied for the United States record with Michelle Akers. The duo are knotted at third on the all-time World Cup scoring list, and Wambach has at least one more game to play on Sunday before hanging up her international cleats.

The U.S. will face the victor of Japan-Sweden in the World Cup finals on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. The match will air live on ESPN.

Photo Credit: Martin Meissner/Associated Press

FOUR BITS: Beal, Donovan, Kruger at Florida

1 » Named the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year for men’s basketball on April 4, Florida Gators five-star freshman guard Brad Beal accepted his award on Tuesday in Los Angeles, CA. Beal will be recognized at the 2011 ESPYS Wednesday evening, as will former Florida forward Chandler Parsons, who will be accepting the 2010-11 Capitol One Cup for the University of Florida’s men’s athletic program.

2 » ESPN senior college basketball writer Andy Katz mentioned the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan on his blog Tuesday as he discussed how the team will be backcourt heavy for 2011-12. Donovan told Katz that he is excited about the depth on the perimeter (something Florida has lacked for the last few years) but that he will not task all of his guards with scoring the way they might want to. “We want everyone to understand a good shot,” he said. “I’m excited with the challenges of dealing with the guards.” One of those challenges will be reigning in senior point guard Erving Walker, who Katz says Donovan has challenged to “lead the SEC in assists since there will be more than enough offense on the wings this season.”

3 » Excited that former Gators head coach Lon Kruger has been hired to head up their local Oklahoma Sooners, The Oklahoman printed a pair of stories about Kruger’s time at Florida on Wednesday. The first was focused on his decision to send the 1994 UF basketball team to Australia for two weeks of exhibition games before the season began and how that resulted in solid team chemistry. “We didn’t have any superstars or McDonald’s All-Americans,” former guard Craig Brown told the paper. “We were just a bunch of guys committed to playing tough, hard defense. We believed in the coaching staff. After we got back (from Australia), we knew we had a chance to have a special season.”

4 » The second piece centered on Kruger’s penchant for making student-athletes enjoy playing for him while resurrecting a program recovering from two years of NCAA probation. “When Coach Kruger arrived the program was in disarray,” said former student manager Jeff Guin. “It wasn’t just wins and losses. It was NCAA issues. Few people came to games. No one really cared.” Also included in the latter piece is an interesting statement from Gators basketball historian Bill Koss. “(Rick) Pitino told Billy, ‘Absolutely do not take that job. It’s a football school,'” Koss told the paper. “Billy has told me several times he would not have taken the job if Lon hadn’t accomplished what he accomplished.”

Wuerffel’s recovery from Guillain-Barre continues

A few weeks ago, Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with and hospitalized for Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which, as the Mayo Clinc puts it, “your body’s immune system attacks your nerves.” Though he is not forced to stay in the hospital overnight, Wuerffel has been undergoing extensive treatment for the disease in an effort to recover from it as quickly as possible.

He continues to receive outpatient treatment and is on the road to recovery. Wednesday morning, Wuerffel released the following message to friends and fans through Desire Street Ministries, of which he is the executive director.

Dear Friends,

My wife and I continue to be blessed by your consistent love and prayers. Yesterday we spent hours going through all the wonderful cards and expressions of love we have received. We feel very loved and blessed. Thank you.

[…]

My physical body continues to make progress and I’m getting stronger. Jessica and I went for a short walk this morning (although it was followed by a 2 hour nap), and I’m doing more and more pushups each day (not too many, but probably more than my friend Hampton). I even left the house last night and went to dinner.

I have experienced incredible physical healing—God is good!

Danny

Wuerffel has requested that any gifts, donations or letters of support be made to DSM rather than him personally. Should you wish to send any of the aforementioned, please direct them to adam@onlygators.com, and I will forward them to the appropriate contact.

TWO BITS: Noah to France, Jenkins moving on

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah has decided to play for Team France in the FIBA European Championships in Lithuania, ESPNChicago.com reported on Monday. Noah, who has dual citizenship due to his father being French, will participate in the event from Aug. 31 to as late as Sept. 18. With the NBA lockout in effect, Noah’s is certainly a candidate to play overseas until the 2011 season begins.

2 » Asked why he chose not to enter the NFL Supplemental Draft rather than play his final collegiate season, former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins told The Florence Times-Daily that striking it rich is not his main concern right now. “It’s not all about the money,” he said. “I went three years without money at the University of Florida, so why can’t I do it another year. I’m not in a rush to get the money. I just wanted to come back and rebuild my image.” Attending North Alabama for a year will also likely provide Jenkins with a larger payday when he eventually gets selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, even if there is a rookie wage scale.

He also said that he realizes he was in the wrong and does not harbor any hard feelings for his head coach of just a few months, Will Muschamp. “Everybody makes mistakes; at the end of the day it’s how you rebuild off that mistake,” Jenkins told the paper. “I made a mistake and got kicked out at Florida, but that’s all behind me. There is no issue between me and Coach Muschamp. I texted him like two weeks ago and asked how he was doing and he texted me back. He did what he had to do and I’m not mad at him. I respect him as a man and as a coach.”

Extra BIT » Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam was named to the watch list for the 2011 Jim Thorpe Award on Monday. Handed out to the nation’s best defensive back, the Thorpe Award’s preseason watch list features 37 players, 10 of whom represent the SEC. Former Florida safety Lawrence Wright won the award in 1996.

Florida Gators grab No. 1 spot on Rivals’ Top 10 recruiting classes since 2002

Celebrating a decade of presenting high school recruiting rankings, Rivals.com released a special feature on Tuesday detailing the 10 best recruiting classes since 2002. The Florida Gators, under former head coach Urban Meyer, earned two spots on the list including the No. 1 overall ranking.

Florida’s 2006 recruiting class, which featured five-stars quarterback Tim Tebow, wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes, came away as the clear leader even after being ranked as the second-best class that year.

“What makes this group stand out above the rest was the number of prospects who panned out: 16 members of the class were starters at one time,” writes Rivals. “Beyond Tebow and Harvin, there were guys such as LBs Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe and A.J. Jones, DE Jermaine Cunningham, T/G Marcus Gilbert, DTs Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders and WR Riley Cooper. The group helped Florida win two national championships, and Tebow won the 2007 Heisman as a sophomore and was a finalist as a junior and senior.”

Two of those players (Tebow and Harvin) wound up being first-round picks in the NFL Draft; three more (Spikes, Cunningham and Gilbert) were selected in the second-round and one other (Cooper) was a fifth-round pick. Other prominent names in the 2006 class include kick returner Brandon James and offensive lineman Carl Johnson.

The Gators’ 2007 recruiting class, ranked No. 1 the year it was signed, closes out the list at No. 10. One of the reasons it is lower on the list is the fact that three of its most prominent members – five-stars quarterback Cameron Newton and defensive tackle Torrey Davis as well as four-star DT John Brown – had off-the-field issues that did not allow them to conclude their careers in Gainesville, FL.

However, Florida’s 2007 signings also included a trio of first-round picks (cornerback Joe Haden and centers Maurkice and Mike Pouncey), safeties Ahmad Black and Major Wright, DE Carlos Dunlap, tight end Aaron Hernandez and punter Chas Henry. Players remaining on the Gators include redshirt seniors QB John Brantley, DT Jaye Howard, running back Chris Rainey and WR Deonte Thompson.

Check out Rivals at 10: Ten best recruiting classes for the rest of the rankings.

The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (69-60)

With the 2010-11 athletic season now in the books and the 2011-12 season about to begin, the focus has shifted from some of the school’s smaller sports to, of course, Florida Gators football. In this new series, OGGOA will take a look at every player of substance on the roster, counting down by jersey number, until the season begins.

68 – Leon Orr (New Port Richey, FL)
Redshirt freshman defensive tackle
6’4” 299 lbs.

Quick Bio: A social & behavioral sciences major, Orr was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who was rated as the No. 8 player in the nation at his position.

2010 Season: Dressed for four games but did not play and took a redshirt. Orr practiced a bit as a tight end and offensive lineman but transitioned back to his natural position as the season went on.

2011 Outlook: Now playing defensive tackle once again, Orr has a shot to see the field in 2011. Head coach Will Muschamp described him as “a bigger body guy that can hold the point inside” and had him listed as the back-up to sophomore DT Dominique Easley on the spring depth chart. However, two veterans were unable to participate in spring practice, and Orr will likely have limited opportunities to make an impact.

67 – Jon Halapio (St. Petersburg, FL)
Redshirt sophomore guard
6’3” 315 lbs.

Quick Bio: Though the mane poking out the back of his helmet makes him easy to spot, Halapio is quickly becoming a lineman that defenders hope to avoid when lining up. A social & behavioral sciences major, he played in three games as a freshman in 2009 but ended up receiving a medical redshirt. Halapio saw time at all five positions on the offensive line in high school.

2010 Season: The Gators’ starting right guard for seven games last year (including four of the final five), he played in 12 games in total and graded out as a Champion against both Kentucky and Georgia. Halapio was named to the 2010 Sporting News All-Freshman Team for his efforts.

2011 Outlook: Unless something changes, Halapio will start at right guard for Florida when the season begins. He has added a few pounds to his frame and was praised by sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell for his work during the spring. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough.” He also received high acclaim from Muschamp, who said he is also thoroughly impressed with Halapio.

66 – James Wilson (St. Augustine, FL)
Redshirt senior guard
6’3” 325 lbs.

Quick Bio: The No. 2 overall prospect according to Rivals in his recruiting class, Wilson was a five-star recruit who redshirted as a freshman and played in 24 of the Gators’ 28 games from 2008-09, starting four contests. He is a social & behavioral sciences major who is looking to take his talents to the next level in his final collegiate season.

2010 Season: Wilson started at left guard against Miami (OH) but was unable to play in Florida’s final 10 games of 2010 due to a left knee injury.

2011 Outlook: Left off the spring depth chart and called “very limited” by Muschamp while continuing to recover from his knee injury, Wilson’s role in 2011 remains up in the air. With redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison moving to center, the left guard job is available for him to claim but there is plenty of competition he must beat out first.

65 – Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT)
Freshman guard
6’5” 297 lbs.

Quick Bio: A three-star recruit, Jordan was the No. 2 prospect coming out of Connecticut and enrolled during the summer.

2011 Outlook: With plenty of depth at the position, he is a candidate for a redshirt.

64 – Kyle Koehne (Indianapolis, IN)
Redshirt sophomore tackle
6’5” 300 lbs.

Quick Bio: A social & behavioral sciences major like his linemates, Koehne was a three-year starter in high school who left as a three-star recruit. He dressed six times in 2009 but did not see the field.

2010 Season: Though he played in all 13 games, Koehne did so mostly as a member of the field goal unit. He lined up at both tackle and guard on occasion in a reserve role.

2011 Outlook: Slotted as the back-up left tackle on the initial spring depth chart, Koehne will move down to third string once redshirt junior Matt Patchan is declared healthy. He will likely reprise his 2010 role in 2011 unless he can impress enough to move up in the depth chart on the right side.

63 – Trip Thurman (Dover, DE)
Freshman guard
6’6” 302 lbs.

Quick Bio: The top recruit in his state, Thurman was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who also chose to enroll in the summer.

2011 Outlook: Another candidate for a redshirt as a freshman.

60 – William Steinmann (Daytona Beach, FL)
Senior tackle
6’5” 265 lbs.

Quick Bio: A scout player most of his freshman season, the unheralded Steinmann ended up playing against the Citadel in 2008 and saw action in five games in 2009 after suiting up for nearly every contest. He is a political science major who earned a spot on the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2009 and 2010.

2010 Season: Steinmann participated in 12 of the 13 games, mostly on special teams as a part of the field goal unit.

2011 Outlook: He was listed as the second-team left guard during the spring but will likely only see the field for special teams downs this year.

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

TWO BITS: Murphy deferred, Young in Latvia

1 » Florida Gators junior forward Erik Murphy has agreed to deferred prosecution for misdemeanor criminal trespassing, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Murphy, who will as part of the deal pay $440 in restitution and court costs while also performing 50 hours of community service and completing a substance abuse evaluation, was previously facing more serious charges before prosecutors agreed to reduce them. He will be on probation for alcohol and controlled substances for 12 months and must send a “meaningful” apology letter to the victim as well, the Sentinel reports. Murphy and redshirt freshman F Cody Larson, who also pled not guilty and will face the same charges on July 19, are currently indefinitely suspended from the basketball team. Head coach Billy Donovan said he would evaluate their statuses after their legal situations were settled. Receiving deferred prosecution and probation will likely allow Murphy and Larson (if he signs the same agreement) to return to the team for the 2011-12 season.

2 » Having lost twice during the event, the 2011 USA Basketball U19 Team finished in an uninspiring fifth place at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Latvia. In his final game over the weekend, Florida sophomore center Patric Young turned in another efficient performance, going 4-for-5 from the field for nine points with five rebounds in 13 minutes. Team USA defeated Australia 78-77 in the contest, yet another close finish in an event filled with disappointment for the Americans.

Wambach’s game-tying goal propels U.S. to penalty kick victory over Brazil in 2011 World Cup

On the brink of the earliest elimination from a World Cup in their country’s history, the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team was saved as former Florida Gators soccer star Abby Wambach directed a sharp header into the net two minutes into injury time during extra time to tie the match 2-2 and force a penalty kick finish.

Leading 1-0 for most of the match after being on the positive end of an own goal by Brazil just minutes into the contest, the USWNT found themselves the victim of atrocious officiating. Following a questionable red card that took USA down to 10 women, Brazil was awarded a penalty kick as the foul occurred inside the box. After missing the try, Brazil was given a second chance after the referee noted that either USWNT goaltender Hope Solo moved off the line prior to the kick (she didn’t) or an American player encroached into the box before the kick.

Brazil took advantage and tied the match 1-1, forcing two 15-minute extra time periods. Marta, the five-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, scored quickly for Brazil during the first extra time, putting USA at a distinct disadvantage as the clock was running down.

Failing to connect on attempt after attempt, the USWNT finally found their equalizer as Megan Rapinoe rocketed a cross in to the far post, allowing Wambach to propel herself forward and tie the match by heading the ball home.

Penalty kicks followed with USA making all five of theirs to complete an incredible come-from-behind victory and remain alive in the World Cup. The USWNT will square off against France on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. (ESPN) in semifinal action.

Wambach’s teammate, fellow former Florida soccer star Heather Mitts, celebrated USA’s thrilling penalty kick victory with a post-match Gator Chomp:

Wambach’s post-match comments:

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