TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Jan. 1, 2015 — The biggest story of 2015

There are going to be a lot of stories this site is going to be keeping track of in 2015, but I think that by the end of the year, all people are going to be talking about is the selection of the 2015 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team.

The plain fact is that the U.S. women’s national team, in 2014, was not the dominant force that it used to be. In 2014, the team won 16 games, drew five, and lost just three. It is an envious record, but for a team that has won two World Cups and four Olympic Games, it wasn’t acceptable. The team’s dismal performance at the early-season Algarve Cup — including a 5-3 loss to Denmark — cost Tom Sermanni his job.

Jill Ellis, who has been an assistant for Team USA off and on since 2008, was able to focus the team in a series of friendlies around the world leading to the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Given the fact that Canada, as host, had already qualified, the CONCACAF tournament was barely a formality, and the American side would not only be judged by the goals on the scoreboard, but on style points.

There were plenty of both in October as the Americans rolled to the championship without conceding a single goal.

However, there have been concerns about the team as it gets ready for its first training camp. Veterans like Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone, and Hope Solo are being pushed for their positions on the roster by younger and faster players. With the development of U.S.-born soccer players in the National Women’s Soccer League, there are bound to be a number of roster controversies that will make the Landon Donovan-Jurgen Klinsmann spat look like a competition for a parking space at the local mall.

I think the biggest roster controversy will surround Wambach’s inclusion in the side. Wambach is the leading goal-scorer in the history of international women’s soccer, with 177 goals to her credit. But she had just seven in 2014 — four in the gold-medal match for the CONCACAF qualifying tournament.

I don’t think Wambach, after such a tremendous career, can have forgotten how to play soccer in just one year. It is troubling, but in the context of preparation for 2015, it is understandable. Wambach, who has had numerous concussions in her career, was held out of a number of matches to save her from unnecessary risks.

But what a lot of writers will be talking about for the next five months is whether Ellis’ long-time professional relationship with long-time U.S. team members will preclude her from bringing in the likes of Jen Johnson or Crystal Dunn or Amy Rodriguez into the starting 11.

At the very least, this time around, Ellis has more roster to work with; if she makes a mistake in roster selection, she has 23 players to work with. It is worth noting that, heading into the 2003 Women’s World Cup (with a roster limit of 20), April Heinrichs was dealing with three injured players coming into the World Cup, and when Brandi Chastain broke her foot in the opener against Sweden, the original United States roster of 20 was, in effect, reduced to 16.

That’s what loyalty can do for you if you don’t take the blinders off as a coach and can assess the entire team. This site has a maxim, codified as the TopOfTheCircle.com Fourth Law of Field Hockey: “While games are won on the pitch, games can so often be lost by the decisions that coaches make in picking their teams.”

I can but hope Ellis makes 23 good decisions.

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