A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good 'ole U-S-of-A . If you're looking for a viewpoint that you won't see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you've come to the right place.
With the U.S. Women's National Team having captured the 2002 Women's Gold Cup title just last week, is it too early to start thinking about our chances at the 2003 Women's World Cup in China? The Armchair Midfielder doesn't think so. He wants to know: are the Golden Girls ready to defend their world crown?
What did we learn from the 2002 Women's Gold Cup? Well, for starters, that Mia, Millie and the gang are the class of CONCACAF, the rulers of the region. Sure, Canada gave us a serious run for our money and we needed a golden goal to hoist that trophy that we've so easily won in the past, but let's be honest - who didn't think that we'd finish number one in North America (etc.)?
But next September will be a different story, and we may not want to know just how much the gap has closed. If the WWC started tomorrow, would we be ready to fend off the likes of traditional world powers like China and Norway, or consistent European challengers like Germany and Sweden or even wild cards like Brazil and France? Recent results (i.e., a 4-0 win over Norway on July 21) would suggest that everything's in its right place, but we all know how much things can change in a matter of nine months. Just ask Joy Fawcett.
So let's put the mighty U.S. women under the microscope, position by position:
Goalkeeper: Historically a strong point for the U.S. women over the 90's, this position has basically been a revolving door since that fateful day at the Rose Bowl in which that strength between the pipes was most evident. And thankfully for most U.S. fans (and a certain head coach named April), after almost three years without her starting spot, Scurry is back guarding the nets and looks to be in top form (Of course we wouldn't know it from her recent performance for the USA, with her only being called on to make 13 saves throughout the entire Gold Cup). Assuming she stays healthy, there's no doubt that Bri will be the top contender heading into 2003.
As for challengers to the throne, well … Siri had her shot in 2000, but she took some lumps, suffered through some injuries and ended up losing the #1 gig to what has been essentially a goalkeeper-by-committee situation across the last two years. But having said that, she has responded with a solid performance over the WUSA's first two seasons. Is it enough to warrant a second chance, especially over the likes of the very capable LaKeysia Beene or young upstart Hope Solo? That's for April and new Goalkeeper Coach Phil Wheddon to decide. But the bottom line is, much like the U.S. Men's World Cup team, the goalkeeper position presents an embarrassment of riches.
Defender: For a team with few weaknesses, this might be the one position where we're susceptible in September, not because of lack of talent, but because this group has not had too many games together in their current positions on the backline against big teams. While the current crew only allowed a total of 11 shots across the last five Gold Cup games, Panama isn't China and T&T ain't Germany. Of course, we all know that Joy Fawcett remains one of the best defenders in the world at age 34. And anyone can tell you that in addition to being the queen of the TV screen, Brandi Chastain is one of the best defenders in the game at getting forward and making an impact in the attack. The two paired together in the center defense bring a tremendous amount of veteran savvy and composure that makes up for the half-step they may have lost over the last 15 years. We also saw the press release announcing Danielle Slaton as the 2002 WUSA Defender of the Year. And come to think of it, what has Kate Sobrero ever done wrong besides having never scored a goal for the U.S. in her many, many games? The answer: not much. It's also hard to argue against the ability of Cat Reddick, who can play just about anywhere in the U.S. defense and make you forget that she's just 20 years old.
But beyond these five standouts, there is a noticeable drop-off in number of games at the full international level. With that in mind, let's hope this isn't the last world championship for either Joy or Brandi. While the potential is there for the future with the likes of Jena Kluegel, Jenny Benson and Heather Mitts, they're not exactly used to epic battles with Norway in a world championship final.
Midfielder: This is a tricky position for the U.S. Sure, you have living legends like Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly organizing the middle of the field, but some days they can look every bit of their thirtysomething years. Yes, Julie is the team's leader and sparkplug on and off the field, and of course Kristine Lilly does all the little things to help the team succeed, but will they still have their legs when they step off the plane in China after what will surely be a busy 2003 campaign of double duty for club and country?
At defensive midfield, both Lorrie Fair and Tiffany Roberts have shown that they can get the job done, in the WUSA and on the international stage. But let us not forget just how much of a difference Michelle Akers made at that position in the '99 tourney. Without Michelle, there's a good chance there wouldn't be that second star on the sleeve of the current women's jersey.
How about Miss Aly Wagner? Admit it-she's about as fun to watch as anyone in the women's game. But while she's shown flashes of brilliance and is clearly the team's best passer, it remains to be seen if she can be relied upon game in and game out as the team's playmaker. Hopefully her injuries are a thing of the past, as there aren't many choices to fill in at attacking middie, except maybe Mia. But like with the defense, beyond these five standout players, the challenge for April is grooming that next Lil' or Foudy.
Forward: Mia Hamm, Tiffeny Milbrett, Cindy Parlow, Shannon MacMillan, Heather O'Reilly. Nothing else really needs to be said. That's it. End of story.
At the end of the day, we all know that the U.S. Women's National Team is loaded and seemingly always will be. It would take some fluke goals and shocking results to stop the team from challenging for that first ever back-to-back Women's World Cup championship.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (The U.S. Women: Ready for China 2003?)
2) In Threes (w/ MNT defender Carlos Bocanegra)
3) Making it in the Show (w/ U-20 MNT forward Santino Quaranta)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT goalkeeper Briana Scurry)
5) Mark That Calendar (Nov. 17 - MNT vs. El Salvador)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ WNT midfielder Aly Wagner)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Biggest Surpise on the U.S. MNT Roster)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (2002 MNT trivia x2)
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