USWNT: Six Thoughts from the Women’s World Cup

July 19, 2011

As the World Cup has now been put to bed and our players have returned to American soil, I wanted to share six thoughts I had from the tournament.

I’m extremely proud of our team

Who wouldn’t be, right? Our women battled through some tremendously difficult circumstances to make it to the finals and if not for some very unfortunate luck, could have easily been hoisting the trophy yesterday afternoon. The Brazil game in particular still amazes me. How many people could come back after the adversity our team faced? The iffy penalty call, the red card, the retaken penalty, the Brazilian theatrics and coming back to tie the game with no time left on the clock despite being down a man. If I had been on the field, or coaching on the sidelines, I would have been sent off for sure. At some point, I would have had enough of the Brazilian theatrics and poor officiating and run my mouth a little too much or gone flying into a cleats up tackle. Not only did our women stay remarkably composed during the game, but they managed to come back and win despite almost everything going against them. They provided a great example to all of us who play the game and all of us who coach about how to persevere.

The rest of the world has made drastic strides forward in the women’s game

This World Cup showed how quickly the rest of the world has closed the gap, not only on the United States, but all of the top women’s teams. In past World Cups it was not uncommon for the elite teams to dispatch lower competitors by 5, 6, 7, or as Germany did to Argentina in 2007, 11 goals. Other than two games which finished 4-0, most games were decided by 1 or 2 goals and almost every game in the tournament was competitive and exciting to the end. The individual technical skill in this World Cup also showed a new evolution. There were dozens of remarkable strikes, brilliant individual efforts, flicks, headers and highlight goals we have come to expect from the men’s Champions League competition.

Sundhage got it right… for the most part

American coach Pia Sundhage seemed to have the American women in a great frame of mind throughout the tournament. She made it ok for the players to have fun and at the same time they knew when to get focused. Although they didn’t samba dance down the tunnel like the Brazilians, the American team looked very relaxed in the final as well, putting together beautiful combinations to break down the Japanese defense. I suppose, if you wanted to be uber critical, you could blame that relaxed attitude for our poor finishing in the final, but most of Pia’s decisions paid off. Her moving Cheney up top for the final game was brilliant as Cheney looked sharp from the opening whistle and Megan Rapinoe, who came in at Cheney’s left midfield spot, terrorized the Japanese defense for much of the game. Our defense looked well organized for most of the tournament and we have obviously added a possession element to our game that was lacking prior to Pia’s tenure. After missing the semifinal through suspension, Pia also went back to Rachel Buehler in the back instead of Becky Sauerbrunn. Although Buehler was at fault for both of Japan’s goals, it is hard to fault Pia for putting Buehler back in the lineup as she had looked very solid in the American’s other games. Pia also looked like a genius for using Alex Morgan instead of Amy Rodriguez to replace Cheney when Cheney went off injured at halftime of the final. Morgan’s pace troubled the Japanese line multiple times and Morgan’s left footed strike from just inside the 18 to open the scoring was a beautiful goal.

My only criticism of Pia would be that Lori Lindsey, after a solid display in the group stage, should have been used in the final instead of Tobin Heath, who produced flat play in her appearances in the tournament. I think Lindsey’s possession play would have taken some of the pressure off of our backline in the closing minutes and help us ride out our lead to the world title.

We still have a great team for the Olympics in 2012 and the 2015 World Cup

For London 2012, we should have almost our entire lineup back. And that should be a formidable force, especially when you consider that our young up-and-coming stars like Cheney, Morgan and Rapinoe, all 25 and younger, will be a year more experienced.

For 2015, we should be very good as well. Although Rampone and Shannon Boxx will almost certainly be gone, and Abby Wambach will be 35, most of our current team will still be around, including 11 players who started regularly or saw significant time in this last World Cup cycle.

Our luck simply ran out

The comeback against Brazil was a once in a lifetime game. Beating France despite being out-possessed, out-shot and out-played was a bit lucky. Losing Lauren Cheney, who was having a remarkable tournament during the final hurt our team badly. And we simply missed too many chances and had one too many defensive slip-ups to continue riding our luck. I think a big part of American’s fans disappoint, at least my disappointment, is that it doesn’t feel like Japan won the World Cup. It feels like we lost it.

It certainly feels like a higher power was involved

After the game, American keeper Hope Solo said, “I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for this [Japan’s] team.” Considering the fact that the United States was 23-0-2 against Japan heading in to the final and that we doubled Japan’s shot count, she may be right. The Americans looked crisp throughout much of the game, but couldn’t find the net on chance after chance. As a friend of mine remarked that it looked like the Japanese had cellophane over their net. And for Japan to equalize on such a freak goal with just 10 minutes remaining, and then do it again with just 4 minutes remaining in extra time, was just too much to believe we were meant to win. Especially when you consider the fact that Japan’s final goal came off a corner kick. Set pieces have long been considered to be both one of America’s greatest strengths and Japan’s greatest weakness. In fact, throughout much of the tournament, Japan took short corners because they thought the odds of scoring on one was so low. In the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

John D. Halloran

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3 Responses to USWNT: Six Thoughts from the Women’s World Cup

  1. DE Dupuis on July 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Agreed, our team was wonderful, the tournament was wonderful. Pia gets credit for the team culture of hustle, grit, and class. Much less credit for soccer acumen. Pia often got it wrong. As for a higher power; great keepers save games – to lose a otherwise great game on two soft goals is painful. Everyone deserves a break for an occasional bad game – but not in the WC finals. The future for our team looks very bright. When we become a modern soccer team an play a 4-3-3 variant Cheney, Morgan and Rapinoe look like a super front 3, all three move well, can find the net, and have an attacking mindset. Finding someone with Rampone’s pace at the back along with playmaking midfielders will be the real challenge. As luck would have it, the soccer pitches of America are full of young women who are well on their way to being even better than our current team, developing and getting them to find their way to the national team is the tough part; and I think you may know why that will probably not go so well given your letter to Sunil. The problem the USSF is not so much with the national teams (although that is a problem too) but much more so with development – its clubby, its closed, many of the best kids go unnoticed – go to some ODP or DA tryouts and you’ll see what I mean.

    • John Halloran on July 20, 2011 at 5:23 pm

      I’ve often thought a 4-3-3 would suit us well. O’Reilly can also play up top in a wide role as she did with much success at UNC and I still think A-Rod has a lot to offer once she refines the technical aspects of her game. However, Alex Morgan has showed she has both pace and technical sophistication. I’m not sure about finding attacking outside backs. In the women’s game, I’m always worried if they go too far forward, they won’t be able to recover quickly enough to support the center backs. However, Stanford has a right-back, Rachel Quon, who gets forward quite well. She also plays on our U-23 team. I also agree that much of our best talent gets missed out on with both our men and women. At the youth level if kids aren’t with the right club they might as well not even exist, and with ODP kids who were on the team the year before are heavily favored over new blood which dimishes the competition factor which would help push the game to a new level in our country. It is sad. I have personally coached so many kids who are hands down better players than many ODP kids, but don’t have the right club pedigree or connections to get good looks from elite colleges. Our country will continue to stagnate until we tap ALL of our resources.

      • DE Dupuis on July 27, 2011 at 11:13 am

        Amen to that!!!!!!

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