Sunday, January 20, 2008

Retracing the Silk Road 3: A New Hope

And so it ends: USWNT 1, China nil this afternoon in Guangzhou. A rewarding finish - and a promising beginning to the "new" look of the USWNT. Congratulations to the women of the U.S. squad, and especially to Coach Sundhage, who has taken a team that visibly lacked game skills, attacking confidence, and leadership in the WWC only five months ago and turned them around.I should state for the record that Abby Wambach is a great striker and a terrific asset to the USWNT. My issues were never with Wambach, her skills or her game play. My problem during the Ryan period was that she was usually used as the team's only weapon, an ugly one-dimensional "target man" offense that would have embarassed a relegation-bound British Third Division side. It's nice to see her freed up to play a more distributive role, the sort of game that Michelle Akers played late in her career.The USWNT now returns to Southern California to prepare for the Olympics - again in China - this summer. I think the team is shaping quite well.

Again Hope Solo played in goal, again she kept an easy clean sheet, handling the one shot (!) China managed on goal. I can't help but feel for Brianna Scurry, whose career must be coming to an end. Her inclusion in this squad has to be classified as an oddity. Although "veteran keeper in reserve/young keeper between the pipes" is pretty conventional, after this September the relationship between them has to, at best. I can't see Solo patiently receiving Scurry's keeperly wisdom, or Scurry patiently tipping her rival off to game situations. Scurry is, finally, a player descending from the heights. Soon she will be the fourth keeper on a three-deep chart. But the situation has to be complicated by the reality that for a woman player cut from the USWNT there is no "tomorrow". There is no pro league for her, no future.

For Scurry, the last time he walks up the ramp to the field for the U.S. team is probably going to be the last time she ever plays competitively. Hopefully Coach Sundhage will find a way to release this great veteran while sparing her pride.
Special shout-outs to Lindsay Tarpley, for taking the Golden Boot, and Heather O'Reilly for the well-deserved MVP. Terrific. Outstanding. THIS is the USWNT I love to watch...

And - as I mentioned back in October - the other story here is the Steel Roses. China, although playing at home and playing their oldest rivals - a team they should know how to beat, that they should feel confident or at least hopeful of beating at home - pretty much admitted defeat before kickoff and bunkered up almost from the start. They never seriously threatened. They never even really showed much energy. The lack of confidence was justified: look at their line for the tournament; a win over hapless Finland (who never should have been there - more damn FIFA makeweight), a draw against the Canadians, who have proved again and again that they have gone nowhere since 2003, and this loss to the U.S. And they're OLD - this team is mostly in their thirties. If the Chinese want some soccer to celebrate on the Olympic field this summer, something needs to be done, and soon.

Coming tonight: fun with Peepers, and Travels will Dopey McFlightsuit in Search of The Lower Middle-East.

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