Ryan's decisions hurt the U.S.

September, 27, 2007
So after watching the Brazilian women dismantle the U.S. 4-0 in the World Cup semifinals, here's what I think, and it can be summed up in one sentence: Greg Ryan choked on the job. In fact, I'd argue that he's been making errors all tournament long, and today it all finally caught up to the U.S. Still, let's not take anything away from Brazil, which was by far the better team, and its star, Marta, who was incredible today.

1. The goalkeeper controversy: This has been dissected over and over again the past few days, and rightly so. Veteran Briana Scurry was brought in based on Ryan's belief that her career record against Brazil (12-0, 0.41 GAA) meant that she was some kind of Brazil stopper. Even leaving out the fact that starter Hope Solo was working on a tournament shutout streak (three games and counting), I don't know what Ryan was thinking.

This is not "Moneyball" -- soccer doesn't work like that, at least not for goalkeepers. You don't bring in a goalie because you believe she matches up better against a particular team. This is not a case when you bring in a left-handed pitcher against a cleanup hitter who hits .182 against lefties. Yes, you can bring in specific field position players to play specific roles on the field, but a goalkeeper?

And let's say you buy into Ryan's theory about Scurry's being better-suited to face Brazil -- what about the emotional cost and damage to the team's overall psyche, not to mention the players close to Solo and the media circus that ensued the past two days? Obviously, it damaged the team's preparation. The choice of starting Scurry was just an all-around horrible decision that backfired, as many predicted it would.

One last point on the Scurry situation: Scurry was clearly the world's finest goalkeeper in her prime -- possibly even the greatest ever -- but that prime is gone. She's 36, and today she didn't look like an elite keeper. She whiffed early on a cross that almost gave Brazil an early goal. You also could argue that she had communication issues with Leslie Osborne on Osborne's own goal that gave Brazil a 1-0 lead; Scurry presumably could have alerted Osborne to the fact that there were no Brazilian players near her and claimed the ball herself. Likewise, Scurry failed to stop both of Marta's low shots, the type of shots she'd been brought in to save.

Could Solo have stopped them? Who knows? You can't blame Scurry for this -- she was placed in an impossible position by a coach who should have known better.

2. Further evidence of mismanagement: The U.S. body language on the field from the onset of the game was vastly different from previous games. Part of that, I suspect, was from the emotional toll of the Scurry/Solo decision. The other part might have been that the U.S. simply was tired, and that might just be a result of the heavy minutes logged by the starters all tournament long. Ryan showed a reluctance to trust his bench, even with his team leading comfortably against both England and Nigeria.

Against Brazil, Ryan finally did make some subs, but they were baffling. With the U.S. three goals down, instead of making an offensive substitution, he pulls off one of the team's lone goal threats in Heather O'Reilly to bring on Tina Ellertson, a defender? I don't see the purpose of this move -- was it damage control at this point? A fear of losing by even more goals? If you're going to play Ellertson to mark Marta, that's the kind of matchup decision you make before the game and implement from the onset. But being down in the semifinal and needing goals and not using any offensive subs such as Lindsay Tarpley and Natasha Kai is simply inexplicable.

3. The Shannon Boxx red card: Boxx deserved her first yellow, no doubt -- but the second yellow ended any hope, albeit faint, of the U.S.'s coming back in this game. And the sad thing was that it was, frankly, a ridiculous call. Replays showed Boxx running straight ahead and completely oblivious to Brazil's Cristiane, who ran up behind her and tripped over her own feet and knocked Boxx down. The referee had already missed a call earlier when Brazil was denied a clear penalty as Cristiane was taken down by Christie Rampone; the Boxx decision just confirmed a bad day at the office for Nicole Petignat.

4. Brazil was simply just too good: Even before Boxx was sent off, the game appeared over with the Brazilians up 2-0. At that point, Brazil was dominating possession and soaking up what little pressure the U.S. offense could throw at it (punting long balls up to Abby Wambach will only take you so far). Brazil's offense is such that when the Brazilians are feeling it, they have the capacity to take apart any defense in the world. The reality is that regardless of the coaching decisions Ryan made, the U.S. would have struggled to beat Brazil anyway.

5. Marta was unstoppable: At 21, she's already the best player in the world, but are we witnessing the emergence of the greatest player in women's soccer history? Her on-the-ball skills are superlative and something the women's game has never seen before. Aside from her two stunning individual goals, the second of which might be the greatest goal in Women's World Cup history, witness her Zidane-esque circle-turn dribble to elude Ellertson in the U.S. penalty box that almost led to yet another goal. Simply sensational.

Jen Chang is the U.S. Soccer editor for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes regularly and is a contributer to Soccernet podcasts. He joined ESPN Studio Production in 2004 and earned a Sports Emmy award, before making the move to ESPN.com in 2005.


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