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Archive for November 28, 2006

Nov. 28, 2006 — Being “on form” when it really counts

The U.S. women’s national soccer team qualified for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China last week.

No big surprise. Not only is the United States the unquestioned pioneer of the sport of women’s soccer worldwide, it also only had to win a single game to guarantee itself a spot in the World Cup.

Compare that with the men’s team, which started its road to Germany with a tougher-than-it-looked series against Grenada, a four-team semifinal round, and the “hexagonal” final round, which involves home and away matches in some of the most unforgiving environments.

All the American women had to do, in comparison, was win one game in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a competition the U.S. had dominated by beating teams by margins of up to 10 goals.

Thing is, it wasn’t all that easy this time around; the clincher was just a 2-0 win over a Mexican team which featured a few players who had participated in varsity programs at U.S. colleges, WUSA veteran Maribel Dominguez, Telefutura television commentator Fatima Leyva, and two teenagers: Monica Ocampo (19) and Charlyn Corral (15).

Even when the World Cup trip was secure, the United States needed an extremely fortunate referee’s decision in stoppage time at the end of overtime to earn Kristine Lilly’s penalty kick in a 2-1 win over Canada in the Gold Cup final.

The United States is therefore going into the Women’s World Cup ranked second in the world, as Olympic gold medalists, and with a claimed unbeaten streak of some 31 matches under head coach Greg Ryan (we use the term “claimed” because there was a loss: a penalty kick shootout loss to Germany after a goalless draw in the 2006 Algarve Cup final).

Despite all of this, there are numerous problems to be addressed in the next 10 months. This American team is not the high-flying, charismatic, skilled team which steamrolled opponents, made them look silly, and ran all day long without seeming to tire.

Defensive shortcomings need to be addressed. Shannon Boxx will be coming back from knee surgery, and it is anyone guess if Danielle Slaton will ever lace up the boots again. Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf, both coming off of maternity leave, need to round into shape again.

Too, the allure and awe that surrounded the American team has vanished with the loss of names such as Hamm, Chastain, MacMillan, Foudy, and Fawcett. And the team has also seen the departure of good players such as Siri Mullinix and Tiffeny Milbrett from the national team pool.

That has left an extremely young team to carry forward a very burdensome legacy. The players would be wise not to fumble it.