(WFI) The group stage for the 2015 Women’s World Cup is complete.

A fan wearing the number 20 jersey of U.S. captain Abby Wambach said she was denied entry to B.C. Place Stadium with the handmade sign. The hashtag matches that of a pro-grass campaign by Scotts Miracle-Gro, whose offer to pay for grass fields in Canada 2015 venues was rejected by FIFA. (Bob Mackin photo)

As the first round of play wraps up in Canada, INSIDER Bob Mackin writes from the next to last day of play in Vancouver.

Wambach on the Field

U.S. captain Abby Wambach’s 45th minute goal off a corner kick stood as the 1-0 winner June 16 against Nigeria in Vancouver to finish atop Group B with a 2-1-0 record.

Wambach led the unsuccessful campaign to force Canada 2015 to use natural grass instead of artificial turf at the six venues. Wambach was critical of the B.C. Place Stadium Polytan LigaTurf when the U.S. won the CONCACAF London 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament. How does the new $1.32 million Polytan LigaTurf measure up?

“This stadium is awesome, so loud, the fans were incredible,” Wambach said. “Our goal is to get back here [for the July 5 final]. The surface played fast because it was wet, still a little weird bounces here or there, and I think you can see those moments as they happen on the pitch. But those are going to happen. It’s the way it is.”

The new field was installed in late May and given FIFA’s 2 Star rating on June 6, despite the application of additional sand infill, steamrolling and even blocks of ice to harden the surface. FIFA has not released the Sports Labs test results or named the person who signed-off on the field.

“The turf does make the ball bounce differently, it makes you think differently about the game and that’s just the reality,” Wambach said.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo registered the shutout. She did not, however, stop to talk to media at the mixed zone. Earlier this week, ESPN reported more details of last year’s domestic violence allegations against Solo involving a family member.

Nigeria’s Sarah Nnodim was ejected for her second yellow card of the match at the 69th minute and her team played the remainder with 10 women. The team was already missing Ugo Njoku, who was serving the first of a three-game suspension for elbowing an Australian player on June 12, the first such ban of Canada 2015.

Njoku was also fined 3,000 Swiss francs and issued a warning by FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee for a gross foul that escaped the match officials’ attention.

Big Crowd

The announced 52,193 crowd at B.C. Place Stadium was the second biggest women’s soccer crowd in Canadian history, only eclipsed by the 53,058 at the June 6 Canada 2015 kickoff match featuring Canada and China.

The last time B.C. Place Stadium had a crowd in excess of 40,000 was Nov. 7, 2007 when David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy played a friendly against the then-United Soccer Leagues’ Vancouver Whitecaps.

The last 50,000-plus crowd was Oct. 1, 1983 when the Tulsa Roughnecks beat the Toronto Blizzard before 53,236 for the North American Soccer League’s Soccer Bowl.

As many as two-thirds of the June 16 crowd was supporting the United States team. Lengthy waits were reported at border crossings in the morning and midday as Californians, Oregonians and Washingtonians came north to support their team.

Canada hosts a round of 16 match against the third place team in Group C, D or E on June 21, which is expected to be another 40,000-plus crowd.

On the eve of the U.S. match, the American Outlaws supporters’ club hosted a pep rally at the Commodore Ballroom. Among the featured guests was women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm.

Missed Connection

The day began with news that the Nobel Peace Center withdrew from its Handshake for Peace partnership over FIFA’s deepening corruption scandal.

“This action does not embody the spirit of fair play especially as it obstructs promotion of the key values of peace-building and anti-discrimination,” according to a terse FIFA statement.

The pre- and post-game show of goodwill, a pet project since 2012 of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, went ahead anyway in Vancouver where public address announcer Drew Snider’s script was unchanged from previous matches.

The day ended with controversy, as Nigerian coach Edwin Okon didn’t shake United States coach Jill Ellis’s hand after the U.S. eliminated the African squad 1-0.

Asked at the post-game news conference, Okon would only say “we exchanged greetings.”

Later, Ellis said “I typically always go and shake the coach’s hand. The bench person shook my hand. And the coach, I said will you shake my hand? He said no, and kinda put his hand out a little bit. That’s his call, not mine.”

Leroux Back

Canadians had something to cheer or jeer when Sydney Leroux replaced Alex Morgan in the 66th minute. 

The forward was born in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey and played for Canada’s under-19 team at Thailand 2004 before using her dual citizenship to switch to the U.S. four years later.

Leroux’s mother Sandi was a Canadian national team softball player while her father Ray Chadwick played for Major League Baseball’s California Angels in the mid-1980s.

Leroux’s allegiance to the U.S. prompted widespread booing when Canada hosted the U.S. in Toronto and Vancouver.

“It was awesome to see my family and friends out there,” Leroux said after the match against Nigeria. “It was great. No boos. I actually heard that someone said, ‘Oh, they were saying boo,’ but I was taking it that they were saying Leroux. It really doesn’t matter. But, really it was positive and awesome.”

By INSIDER writer Bob Mackin

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