Sept. 30, 2007
By Charles Cuttone
When the best team underachieves, who should pay?
We’re number three—again.
While there’s no shame in finishing third in the Women’s World Cup, behind Germany and Brazil, there was so much more expected of the United States team going into the tournament.
Nike kept calling it the best team you never heard of. In reality, what they turned out to be is the best team that didn’t achieve what everyone thought they were capable of.
After 50 straight games without a loss, the United States was a heavy favorite to re-capture the World Championship title that they have not held since that magical 1999 event.
This team had something to prove. After all, it was the first big tournament without the quartet of 91ers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain. And they came up short.
Over the past few days, a lot has been made of Hope Solo’s comments following the astonishing, embarassing semifinal loss to Brazil.
This tournament should not be about Solo’s comments, no matter how wrong she was in making them. She was right in what she said.
Whatever credit Greg Ryan deserved for shepherding this team through a three-year unbeaten streak, the full blame for the disappointing performance falls squarely at his feet. And his continued refusal to acknowledge that his decision to change starting the team’s starting goalkeeper at such a critical juncture was flawed – even to the point of saying after the fact that he should have been platooning Solo and Brianna Scurry all along – only made a bad situation worse.
Should this team have beaten Brazil? Probably. Could they have beaten Brazil with Solo in goal? We’ll never really know.
What we do know is that, despite the third-place win, this team appears to be heading in the wrong direction. They did not show the joy and the swagger that has been the hallmark of the U.S. Women’s National team for the past two decades. They also did not play the U.S. game. Ryan worried too much about tactics and who the opponent was, rather than instilling in the team the confidence that they went into the tournament as the number one ranked team in the world, the reigning Olympic Gold medalists, and it was everyone else’s place to worry about them.
I’ve been watching and covering this team since long before most soccer fans knew anything about women’s soccer. In fact, I was the only reporter to cover the USA playing Norway before the 1991 World Cup when they faced each other in Horsham, Pa.
Like traditional men’s powers Brazil, Germany, and Italy, we expect our women’s team to win the World Championship.
And I think, like those traditional powers, when they don’t perform, the reaction from the federation should be the same. A coaching change needs to be made and a fresh start and new approach needs to be looked at.
In this case, that approach, really should be an old approach. This team, Kristine Lilly not withstanding, needs to reconnect with its tradition and legacy. The next coach needs to be a woman. One who has been there before, and not necessarily one with a lot of coaching experience. I know the April Heinrichs era was not necessarily a rousing success, but look at how well Jurgen Klinsmann did in guiding the German National team in the last World Cup. The bar is high for this team. It needs to be just as high for its coach.