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Archive for July 7, 2019

July 7, 2019 — What the Holland women’s soccer team didn’t learn from its field hockey team

This afternoon, the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated Holland 2-0 in order to win its fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was a game that was eminently winnable on the part of the Dutch, as their bend-but-don’t-break defense and the goalkeeping of Sari van Veenendaal did something that nobody had done during this World Cup: hold the United States without a goal for the first half.

That was the good part of how Holland, the current European champions, were able to make the championship final. But in the second half, it all fell apart.

It didn’t have to, had the football team taken a few simple lessons from the current world women’s field hockey champions in the same country.

Holland’s stickwomen, which went 15-1 in FIH Pro League play this year, attacks from different points on the pitch. But the soccer team attacked up the middle almost every single time it had the ball. If you drew a line from the sides of the goal box and extended them upfield, this 20-yard corridor was the entirety of the Netherlands’ attack area, and you saw that Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn were able to cheat in towards the center of the park to help center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper, making it nearly impossible to get a shot of any quality on goalie Alyssa Naeher.

But what I think also happened is that the U.S. team out-cultured Holland, the same way the reverse has happened in field hockey. Here’s what I mean: back in 1991, when the United States participated in the first world tournament which would retroactively be named the first Women’s World Cup, one aspect Anson Dorrance brought to the team from his days at the University of North Carolina was the concept of “play for each other.” For three decades, the ethic of the U.S. team was to not let their teammates down by a slack bit of skill, not going 100 percent for a loose ball, or through losing.

The Dutch hockey system, however, has relied on grass roots. The game has taken a strong hold in Holland’s society. Entire families often join a single hockey club, with children playing on age-group sides, and the adults on social sides unless they are at an elite level, in which case they would be on the club’s best team. This has given the Dutchwomen tremendous success, having won 11 world titles since 1971 and three Olympic golds, making the medals stand every Olympiad since 1996.

I have a feeling the shoe may be on the other foot very soon, especially given Holland’s dominion over field hockey the last 50 years.