U.S. must contain emotions

Updated: July 12, 2011, 4:05 PM ET
By Ian Darke |

The near-miracle of Dresden will live forever in the folklore of U.S. soccer. As I said in my commentary following the Americans' late comeback against Brazil and eventual advancement on penalty kicks, I cannot recall a more dramatic finale in all my time covering the game.

The U.S. players rightly enjoyed the moment at a party with friends and family on a rain-lashed night in eastern Germany. But it's time to refocus quickly; there is a World Cup to be won here -- and the Americans are now favorites to win it with host Germany and Brazil knocked out.

Yesterday, we took a six-hour train ride down to Moenchengladbach (easy for you to say!) for the U.S. semifinal against France, while the team decided to fly in for the contest to be played on Wednesday (you can watch it on ESPN and ESPN3 at noon ET).

[+] EnlargeChristie Rampone
Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter a solid performance against Marta and Brazil, Christie Rampone and the U.S. defense face another strong attack in France's offense.

Beating France will not be easy, especially as it has had an extra day to recover from its own tense penalty shootout win over England. The French, who arrived at this tournament with a subpar record, have been a revelation.

The French squad features 10 players from the European champion club side Lyon, including world-class operators such as Sonia Bompastor, Camille Abily and Louisa Necib. Forward Marie-Laure Delie averages a goal a game in attack and will be a major threat to the U.S. back line.

But the biggest job for U.S. coach Pia Sundhage may be to get her players back down after the emotional triumph over Brazil. For all those players, Sunday's triumph would have been the greatest game of their lives. Suddenly they are living in the glare of publicity -- something that proved too much for host Germany. And now the Americans have an even more important game, and I am sure that is exactly the message the coaching staff has been hammering home.

The big selection decision is how to replace central defender Rachel Buehler, who is suspended after her red card in Dresden. One solution would have been to move left back Amy LePielbet into her old position in the center and drafting in the experienced Stephanie Cox on the left. But Sundhage has decided to give Becky Sauerbrunn her World Cup debut in the center of defense.

For me, this is no great gamble, as the 26-year-old Sauerbrunn was excellent deputizing for an injured Christie Rampone in pre-tournament exhibition games against Japan and deserves her chance.

France commands total respect and may even have the lion's share of possession in Wednesday's semifinal, but I think its defense is liable to crack. Germany put four past France last week in a group game, and I have a feeling the U.S. can exploit that vulnerability.

The Americans' previously shaky defense was much improved against Brazil, with the captain Rampone immense. A repeat of that solidarity in the back will be essential if the U.S. is to advance to the final and an opportunity for the nation's third Women's World Cup title.

These players, who have lived in the shadow of previous great U.S. title-winning teams, have at last found some love. So, stop whatever you are doing at noon on Wednesday to watch the team's next installment with us on ESPN.

Ian Darke is a commentator for ESPN. You can reach him on Twitter at

Ian Darke writer
Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world's most recognizable soccer voices.