Ryan benches Solo for Scurry in World Cup semifinal vs. crafty Brazil
HANGZHOU, China -- Greg Ryan will be seen as a savvy strategist if it works.
If it fails, he'll be blamed for benching goalkeeper Hope Solo -- she hasn't yielded a goal in almost 300 minutes in the women's World Cup -- and switching 24 hours before the match to veteran Briana Scurry for Thursday's semifinal against Brazil.
The U.S. coach surprised almost everyone on Wednesday, going with the 36-year-old Scurry because her quick reflexes could frustrate the tricky, fast-paced Brazilians led by strikers Marta and Cristiane.
Ryan shrugged off any criticism.
"That's not important to me at all," he said. "From Day 1 I've just tried to make decisions that will help us win the next game."
Unbeaten in 51 straight games, the No. 1-ranked United States is seeking its third World Cup title, but Brazil figures to be its toughest test. A victory puts the U.S. squad into Sunday's final against defending champion Germany in Shanghai. Germany reached the final on Wednesday in Tianjin, overwhelming Norway 3-0. Germany defeated the Americans 3-0 in the World Cup semifinals four years ago.
Solo, 25, has been excellent defending crosses and high balls, but Ryan wants Scurry for her scrambling.
"The way the Brazilians play in terms of creating off the dribble in the penalty box and making a goalkeeper make reaction-type saves, I think Bri is the best goalkeeper in the world in those situations," Ryan said.
The move split opinions.
Scurry is a longtime star. Her decisive penalty-kick save against China in the '99 final in the Rose Bowl captivated the nation. But this switch could be disruptive to a young, close-knit group. The game is expected to be tight, although the United States has lost only once to Brazil in 22 games.
Ryan broke the news to Solo on Tuesday, but she sensed what was coming.
"The moment I got tapped on the shoulder saying I need to meet with you, I had a pit in my stomach and I knew what it was," said Solo, who's given up only two goals in four games -- both against North Korea in a 2-2 opening draw.
"I was very taken back, but that's the nature of sports and it happens," Solo said. "He has his reasons."
Ryan said he talked with Scurry several months ago about playing in the World Cup if Brazil were the opponent.
"She (Solo) knew there were certain types of games that I felt like Bri would be the keeper," Ryan said.
Asked if Solo would return in the final if the United States defeats Brazil, Ryan replied: "I don't know."
Scurry acknowledged the move caught many off-guard.
"I think some people might find it to be unusual, but I'm getting my opportunity now and I'm not really concerned about what has happened in the past."
Scurry caught Ryan's eye in practice.
"I have been playing incredibly well," she said. "I kept myself in shape, kept myself on my toes and sharp. So he just decided it was going to be me."
Former U.S. captain Julie Foudy, a soccer analyst on ESPN, was skeptical of the change after hearing Ryan explain it.
"I think Bri will be fine, and the move will be fine," Foudy said. "But I just think it becomes a distraction when you're too focused on that rather than the game. To me it's a sign of worrying too much about the opponent."
She couldn't recall a similar move in a high-profile tournament -- men or women.
"I just think sometimes you can overthink things," she said. "Maybe that was the case, but if he pulls it off maybe it's hailed as a great move.
"I think Bri is fine. But it's more the team chemistry issue and how Hope rebounds if you want her, and the fact that Bri hasn't been playing that much."
Ryan was asked if benching Solo, who has played 52 times internationally for the United States, would hurt her long-term confidence.
"That's not our concern," Ryan said. "We came here trying to win a world championship; put the players on the field that we thought could win each game."
Scurry has played 163 times for the United State, but has been the No. 2 recently, and she hasn't played a full game in three months.
She's been in goal in the last two games against Brazil: a 2-0 victory in June in New York, and the 2004 Olympic final, which the Americans won 2-1 in extra time. It was Scurry's goalkeeping that allowed the U.S. team, outplayed in the game, to take the gold.
"She'll be ready, wait and see," Ryan said.
In Germany's 3-0 victory, an own-goal by Trine Ronning just before halftime set Germany on its way, and it dominated the second half with goals from Kerstin Stegemann and Martina Mueller. Germamy has not been scored on in 529 minutes, dating back to the 2003 tournament. That broke the record of 442 minutes in 1999 and 2003.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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