THE US WNT: ENGLANDITIS?
Once again, Hope Solo is apologizing to her teammates, and anyone else who will listen, for her very personal diatribe against Greg Ryan and Briana Scurry, following the US WNT’s disappointing semi-final loss to Brazil in the 2007 World Cup.
But if you ask me, every single one of them ought to be sending her a gift-basket this Christmas with a microphone and tape recorder. Despite her teammates castigation' of her for her tirade, and grotesque display of selfishness and self-aggrandizement, the truth is she did them an enormous favor by focusing all the attention paid to their failure on the issue of goal-keeping…as if that alone was the problem.
Each time I watch the US Women’s national team I am more and more disappointed in their performances. From a technical standpoint, there has never been a more clear indication that this team, like the men’s national team of England, is suffering from a false sense of entitlement and superiority (what I call "Englanditis"), and although qualification for the Beijing Olympics is probably on the cards, medals will, in my opinion be much harder to come by.
The improvement in the technical level of the women teams in the World Cup from many countries, particularly the Brazilians, Germans and North Koreans, was phenomenal. It pains me, however, to have to exclude from that list, the Americans – but if I’m honest, I must.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the simple test of how many passes a team can string together as a good indication of their technical level – that is not the only indicator of a team’s quality, but it’s a good start. Because at it’s core, soccer is a very simple game, and all tactical and strategic approaches stem from a simple maxim with two sides to it:
(1) If you have the ball you can score, and if you can score, you can win. (2) If you have the ball, your opponent can’t score, and if they can’t score, they can’t win.
In other words, it’s the possession, stupid.
Much has been made of Ryan’s decision to bench Solo in favor of Scurry, and the hullabaloo surrounding Solo’s personal criticisms of both thereafter. No matter how many press conferences she does, now matter how hard she tries to qualify her statements, it’s clear she meant two things on that day:
1. I’m better than Briana Scurry
2. Ryan doesn’t know what he doing
What she didn’t say, but ironically and unwittingly implied that day, was that the full responsibility for their loss was on weak goal-keeping.
Excuse me? The last time I checked, soccer is not a shooting contest, except for the rare case of a penalty shoot-out – but that didn’t happen on that terrible night in September. Highlights of a match can often be manufactured to leave you with the impression that the balance of the match was not as lopsided as the score would have you believe.
This was not one of those matches. You can probably count on one hand the number of times the Americans were able to string together more than ten passes in a row. In fact, you don't need the help of your hand, because how hard is it to count to zero? Ten passes may seem like a tall order, but it didn’t seem to be a problem for the Brazilians.
Technically, the Brazilian women were head and shoulders above the Americans. They kept better possession, particularly in attacking positions. They created more 1 v 1 opportunities and finished the chances they created. That, my friends, is just a better team, putting a beat down on a (much) worse team. If you had replaced the American flag with a Canadian one, and watched the same game, the result would have come as no surprise. But somehow, the US team was supposed to be more competitive, and even win?
Take a look at anyone of these clips of Marta and the Brazilian women:
There isn’t a single woman in America with half her technique, pace and least importantly, will and determination. Please note the ass-whipping she handed the American U-20’s at the Pan American games this year – in retrospect, should the World Cup semi-final result have come as any surprise?
I know that Solo was castigated by her own teammates for making her self to be more important than the team, and nowhere is the concept of team unity more important than in the WNT – but to be honest, her mouth has allowed each of them to duck responsibility for their inadequacy.
Nobody said a word about the atrocious own goal by Leslie Osborne – a defensive diving header in her own box somehow redirected into her own net – why on earth didn’t she just kick it back the way it came?
Nothing about the dearth of possession or combinations from the Americans, nor the route 1 tactics of booting the ball up to Wambach and hoping for collateral damage...and goals.
Not a peep about Shannon Boxx, probably suffering from quadruple vision chasing all the Brazlians dribbling and passing around her, committing two very stupid fouls inside 45 minutes and getting sent off.
A player getting sent off for that kind of foul, is almost always a symptom of having little to no possession of the ball. Because a player's energy and focus is limited, and if she spends it all chasing her opponents around the field because she and her teammates can’t keep the ball, eventually she'll to crack. And boy, did she ever crack.
The game against North Korea should have been a wake-up call. There’s no way you can tell me that the Americans were physically inferior to the North Koreans – they were not. They were technically inferior. Running circles around us, showing tactical acumen with possession and combinations in attacking postions, the North Korean women gave us a lesson, and we were fortunate to come away from that game with a point.
At the end of the day, you can’t fake what you don’t have and something has quietly happened to the WNT that nobody is talking about.
For years, the WNT was superior to the world in every facet of the game – technique, athletic ability and competitiveness. Later, as the world began to develop equal or in some cases superior technique, the sheer athleticism and competitiveness of our women was often (but not always) the deciding factor. Our women are well accustomed to developing all kinds of physical skills and competitiveness through many sports growing up (Boxx herself was a 4-letter athlete in high school), and in the past, it showed.
But today we are no longer more skillful than many of these countries, and we’re not even more athletic – some of these Brazilian women charging up and down the field were supremely athletic, and much more so than the Americans. They showed a balance and an ease on the ball far superior to the Americans who, by comparison, appeared to struggle with the most basic of skills both on the ball and otherwise.
It may be time to start considering that girl’s soccer in the US needs a redesign, just as boy's football in the UK does, because the technique is just not there. We can no longer rely on those faithful mirages of grit, determination and competitiveness as the key to victory on the big stage. We can no longer pretend that we're the best in the world, because we're not. Those days are long gone, and I, for one, am not expecting much from them in Beijing. This is a project that could take years.
Maybe, they’ll have Solo and Scurry around to distract us while they figure that out.