Women's World Cup musings

September, 30, 2007
So the 2007 Women's World Cup draws to a close with Germany making history in its 2-0 win over Brazil, becoming the first women's team to defend its title. I'll admit that I was rooting for Marta and Co. in the final since a win would have given the women's sport some much-needed impetus and attention back in Brazil. However, the fact that Germany (easily the best team in this tourney) won comes as no surprise and it's no shock that Brazil's long-time weak spots, a shaky goalkeeper and a phobic aversion to man-marking on set pieces were largely to blame for the German goals.

Anyway here's my All-Tournament Team:

GK: Nadine Angerer, Germany -- A no-brainer considering her record shutout streak and several huge saves in the final. Early on Angerer looked suspect but grew immensely game to game. England's Rachel Brown was in contention until she imploded against the U.S.

D: Faye White, England -- The anchor of a tough English team that were the only team to blank eventual champions Germany. In her matchup with Abby Wambach in the quarterfinals, she rendered Wambach ineffective until an inadvertent elbow to the face from Wambach left her dazed for much of the second half.

D: Ariane Hingst, Germany -- A key member of the airtight German defense that shut down every opponent it faced and made Marta look almost ordinary in the final.

D: Cat Whitehill. U.S. -- A standout performer for a U.S. back line that carried the team for most of the tournament until the meltdown against Brazil.

M: Daniela, Brazil -- The driving force and midfield engine for the Brazilian offensive machine.

M: Renate Lingor, Germany -- The do-it-all Lingor might have been the best midfielder in the tournament.

M: Lotta Schelin, Sweden -- The veteran duo of Victoria Svensson and Hana Ljungberg have passed the torch to the dynamic Schelin.

M: Kelly Smith, England -- I'm going to cheat slightly and place Smith at midfield just to get her in the lineup, even though she should never have been used in midfield against the U.S. in the quarterfinals. The heart and soul of the English team. Honorable mention Fara Williams.

F: Marta, Brazil -- the best player in the world, she does things no other female player can do.

F: Birgit Prinz, Germany -- She's not as flashy as Marta but she's almost as devastating.

F: Lisa De Vanna, Australia -- The revelation of the tournament for me with her speed and ability to break down defenses. Not to mention her amazing ability in the clutch.

Coach: Silvia Neid, Germany -- Australia's Tom Sermanni gets plaudits for his sterling job with an overachieving Australian team. However, the coach of the tournament is Neid. For everything that U.S. coach Greg Ryan did wrong, Neid was a startling contrast in how things should be done. First of all her emphasis on technical possession soccer. Secondly, her emphasis on a winning mentality, that the Germans had "not come to defend the title, but to win it." Thirdly, Neid made sterling use of her bench and substitutions all tournament long, with every move seeming to pay off. Finally, she rode the hot hand of a young goalkeeper (Angerer) on a shutout streak and resisted the temptation to put in a veteran backup goalkeeper (Silkke Rottenberg) with a legendary resumé. Sound vaguely familiar?

The U.S. and Greg Ryan

As for the U.S. here's what I think:

The Hope Solo situation has been dissected to death the last few days, but regardless of where one stands on the issue of whether she was right or wrong in her postgame criticism, one simple fact remains. The whole episode has taken the heat off the one person who needs to be heavily scrutinized in the wake of the U.S. team's failure to win the title and that person is Greg Ryan.

It's not just his poor in-tournament management, which includes the various bone-headed moves as follows:

1. Poor preparation for the opener -- Lining up in a seldom-used formation (3-4-3) against North Korea and using a World Cup rookie (Stephanie Lopez) at an unnatural position of right mid was hardly the way to start the World Cup campaign and it almost cost the U.S. from the onset.

2. Mind-boggling substitution patterns or lack thereof. Throughout the tournament, Ryan didn't seem to have a clue about managing his bench -- not subbing when subs were needed to give starters a breather, and bringing on defenders in the place of attackers in the semifinal against Brazil with his team trailing (no doubt throwing in the towel and trying to limit the margin of defeat).

3. The much-discussed goalkeeper switch. Here's more fuel to the fire. If Ryan's logic behind the switch to Briana Scurry was based on her past performance against Brazil (specifically the 2004 Olympic final) -- then why was Lindsay Tarpley on the bench against Brazil? This of course would be the same Lindsay Tarpley that scored in that very same game.

4. Accountability. Is it just me or am I the only one that finds it inherently contradictory when I see Ryan talking about how "it's your losses in life, and your defeats that reveal your character." Wait a minute, is this the same coach who has refused to accept any iota of blame for the U.S. failure? The same coach who hid behind the term "team leaders" in announcing the decision to suspend Solo, the same coach who pinned the blame for the Brazil loss on Leslie Osborne's own goal? And the same coach who says in hindsight now that he actually should have implemented a dual-goalkeeper policy the whole time and that he doesn't regret the goalie switch for a second?

Outside of the tournament, for the past two years while building up the bogus unbeaten game streak (do people just somehow conveniently forget that the U.S. lost the Algarve Cup final to Germany last year?), it's been obvious that the U.S. team has morphed from a team that once played the same type of attractive technical possession soccer that Germany employs, to one that uses a stone-age offensive philosophy that Ryan advocates -- an emphasis on the long ball and scoring from set pieces.

His justification for this? Ryan believes that in today's game, trying to play possession soccer will get you killed. Funny that, isn't that what Germany and Brazil play? Isn't that what most of the best teams in the men's game play? I must have missed the memo that said route one soccer was the way to world domination.

Isn't it also ironic that the one game the U.S. played in the World Cup where it showed any semblance of offensive flow came on the insertion into the starting lineup of Aly Wagner (and only due to Shannon Boxx's suspension) in the third-place game against Norway? Wagner is -- wait for it, a technical creative offensive midfielder who enables you to play a midfield possession game.

Ryan's lack of offensive nuance is further highlighted by his personal pet projects where he takes prolific college forwards (e.g. Tina Ellertson, Osborne) and converts them to the defensive side of the ball. Here's a radical thought -- why not use players with a track record of scoring goals on offense and see if they can stem the overdependency on Wambach and stick to using pure defensive players as defenders?

And don't just take my word for it. Here's what Germany's coach Silvia Neid had to say after witnessing the U.S. loss to Brazil, "I was surprised by the United States," Neid said. "I have never seen them play like that before."

I'll say this, if Ryan is still coach after his contract expires this year, I think it's unlikely that the U.S. wins the 2008 Olympic title.

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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