AFL International Cup 2017 – USA Freedom v European Crusaders

12:00 PM Sunday August 13th

University of Melbourne, Melbourne

Jarrod Landells


Setting out to watch a second match day of the 2017 International Cup, I picked up a couple of sushi rolls and jumped on a tram to the University of Melbourne. The day had a warm, familiar feel. I was heading to the den of the Mugars, a field where I’d seen some classic contests between the home team and their incredible rivals, Daisy Pearce’s Darebin Falcons – a women’s footy side akin to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.


I was under little illusion that these sides would provide such an even match-up; perhaps to stretch the basketball analogies further, USA might well have played Harlem Globetrotters to the Europeans’ Washington Generals. But perhaps the Generals were due: if not to upset the Freedom, at least to break their unfortunate duck in the competition.


Team USA would have some handy support in the stands with members of the Revolution hollering for their compatriots before the game had even started. AFLW superstar Mo Hope was also on hand to cast a keen eye over proceedings before her own hitout later in the afternoon.


Both sides looked fresh and sounded fired up as the game got underway. The Freedom showed they were the fresher and/or more fired up of the two sides with two rapid fire goals to open their account almost before the Crusaders could blink. From the get go, it was clear that the Europeans didn’t lack significantly for size against their trans-Atlantic foes, but were finding it difficult to keep up with them between contests. Rubbing salt into the Crusaders’ wounds, the US forwards had come to play with their kicking boots on; a third goal for the team was kicked by Kim Hemenway from a set shot, followed by another a minute or two later.


“Shake and Bake, Katie!” came a call from an enthusiastic American barracker whom I imagine is either a big fan of fictional NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby or polarising AFL commentator Dwayne Russell.


A late call up to perform ruck duties for the US due injury, Brette Brower was easily winning taps to advantage of her fellow followers, this a major reason for the surfeit of opportunities coming the Freedom’s way.


After never looking like missing from the first four attempts, the first blemish on the scoreboard for the US was a behind kicked from deep in the forward line. Reestablishing normality, Hemenway kicked another goal in the next passage of play as the Crusaders tried and failed to clear the ball from their defensive arc.


The first positive string of possession for the Europeans stopped just short of their forward fifty after meeting a solid wall of American defenders. They duly passed to Hemenway just forward of the wing and she dished off an exquisite one-two handpass to and from Catherine Hoha, running in to slot her third major.


Rosemary Kloh would kick the seventh goal of the quarter for the Freedom, whose delivery to the forward line continued to build, while panic crept into the Crusaders game who often kicked in hope from the backline only to result in turnovers as the quarter closed.


Quarter time scores: USA Freedom 8.4.52 led European Crusaders 0.0.0


At the European huddle during quarter time, lithe on-baller Mathilde Combes was impressively addressing teammates confidently in both English and French, the language barrier clearly not a problem for a team made up of members from nine countries, all with different native tongues. However, with their coach stressing team-aiding fundamentals such as sheppherding, tackling and positional play, perhaps the combination side lacked the cohesion to construct the type of performance players of their skill level would be capable of had they played and trained together pre-tournament.


Spectators were treated to more of the same from the US forwards as the second quarter got underway, Hemenway kicking a nice goal on the run to open the stanza. At this stage, lively crumbing forward Jessica Estrada began to display her class and leg speed, not at all troubled by the congestion in the area around goal.


It had been one way traffic for the Freedom, the score had jumped out to 66-0 and the Crusaders had quite a crusade ahead of them to simply stem the flow. To their credit, the European women put their heads over the ball and were rewarded with a couple of free kicks on the wing, displaying plenty of ferocity.


That would be the best they could muster as just a short while later the Freedom would regain control from the middle and set up Estrada for another goal.


After yet another six-pointer, USA’s Carly Smolak took a great contested mark at half forward that drew adulation from the entire crowd in a spectacular end to the first half.


Half time scores: USA Freedom 12.7.79 led European Crusaders 0.0.0


The Freedom were first out of the rooms and still had a mighty spring in their step as they found their positions on the ground. An equally as enthusiastic Crusaders followed, flanked by the vociferous and European colour coordinated Cranbourne team, scheduled to play their VFLW match against Melbourne Uni in the afternoon.


Brower’s excellent ruck work took another step up as she found herself roving her own taps on more than one occasion.


Croatian Crusader Ana Barisic had been playing superb football deep in the backline, harassing and tackling several Freedom forwards in one passage of play to prevent a certain goal. Unfortunately for Barisic, she was somewhat of a lone ranger at times and her saved goal was replaced by a conceded one shortly thereafter.


European defensive efforts ramped up in the third, making goals far more difficult for the Freedom to earn. Lara Gauss personified this increased effort by laying a wonderful tackle on the dangerous Estrada.


However the US would not be held back completely. The ball rarely left their forward line, but fortunately for the Crusaders several attempts by the Freedom peppered the goal mouth for only a handful of minor scores in return.


As the term closed, the Americans regained their composure and kicked truly to add their second major.


Three quarter time scores: USA Freedom 14.11.95 led European Crusaders 0.0.0


The huddle for the Freedom was a study in contrast with the Crusaders’ version. Each positional coach had feedback tailored toward individuals, along with an overarching theme of muted praise and a desire for a return to the ruthless and domineering edge that had characterised the opening half. When the team came together to listen to the head coach, the specific target of a maiden 20-goal-game was announced and subsequently accepted by each woman with gusto.


From their high water mark of the previous quarter, the Crusaders found the game a lot tougher in the last. Estrada again bobbed up from a pack to put on a trademarked burst of speed and goal. She was a revelation amongst small players in this game, truly unmatched by teammates or opponents alike.


Smolak kicked another to boost the total goals closer to the magical number twenty. More admirable stopping play from Barisic was overshadowed by the Freedom’s manic attacking pressure as Hemenway banged another major home. With a lot of time left to play, team USA had already surpassed their goals kicked in the third term and looked well on their way to surpassing their coach’s desired output too.


A sloppy high tackle gifted the Europeans their first inside 50 in a proverbial month of Sundays. Rachel Urquhart took the ball in hand, offering the briefest of glimmers that the Crusaders would get a score on the board, but unfortunately she couldn’t maintain possession and the ball flew back out almost as quickly as it had come in.


There was another astounding mark to the Freedom as Scherer flew at a pack and came down clutching the pill.


Scherer’s mark provided the Freedom with a last gasp chance to post their 20th goal, but the kick would sail wide and instead register their 13th minor score.


Final scores: USA Freedom 19.13.127 defeated European Crusaders 0.0.0



USA Freedom               8.4   12.7   14.11  19.13 (127)

European Crusaders   0.0   0.0     0.0     0.0 (0)



USA: Estrada, Smolak, Brower, Hemenway, Wolff, L.Kastanek

Crusaders: Barisic, Duquet, Gauss




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A classic jack of all trades & master of a couple, Jarrod started his footy career as a gangly ruck after a growth spurt catapulted him to the lofty heights of 177cm as a 12-year-old. Forward pocket off the bench was where he ended up as he topped out at 178cm eight years later. The trajectory of a career in health fortunately didn't peak during the pre-teen years & a keen interest in footy has turned from playing to coaching, volunteering and writing.


  1. Update on one of the players: Coline Duquet of France has been picked up by VFLW powerhouse, Darebin Falcons! There’s been a lot of (worthy) praise for Mason Cox this week, hopefully Coline can have similar success.

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