Talent at Cup reminder of players missing NCAAs

November, 19, 2008
I can't decide if Wednesday's Under-20 World Cup opener for the United States left me more eager than ever to see what unfolds in the final three weekends of the NCAA tournament or more wary of being disappointed.

On one hand, the American side's 3-0 win against France in Chillan, Chile, displayed how much individual skill in the college ranks continues to grow.

The goals were fabulous -- Sydney Leroux's two finishes took a backseat only to the goal she set up by sending a cross on a rope from near the end line that fellow Pac-10 standout Alex Morgan, without a hint of hesitation, volleyed past the helpless keeper. But even some of the misses were jaw-droppers, such as Morgan's blast off the post from several steps beyond the 18-yard box in the opening minutes. And Alyssa Naeher's work in goal in the second half was spectacular in its own right, including a full-extension save on a ripped shot slicing toward the far post from Melissa Plaza that was as good as anything I've seen all fall (even though it's almost summer in Chile).

It's not that the game was perfect from either an American perspective or from an execution standpoint. On the latter front, it looked at times like a typical tournament opener, especially in the number of overly hopeful passes scuttling possession.

And while Tony DiCicco's team showed the kind of quick-strike firepower that will keep opposing coaches awake late into the night, it split possession nearly 50-50 with a French side that isn't among the tournament favorites. There are no complaints about the result in this one, but it will be interesting to see if players such as Ingrid Wells and Becky Edwards become more visible factors in the middle of the field in the games to come.

At the same time, watching all of it unfold made it difficult not to think about the talent that won't be on the field stateside this weekend in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Eight of the Americans who saw the field against France left college teams in the United States that are still in action (and watching Cal's Morgan rip shot after shot and Penn State's Naeher make big save after big save, who knows how many other college teams might still be active had they been at full strength in the first two rounds).

If the United States manages to advance to the championship match at the U-20 World Cup, there's going to be a remarkable amount of talent on the field in Chile on Dec. 7. Hopefully there's enough talent left over for the college game to put its best foot forward on the same day at its championship match in Cary, N.C.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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