In the Women’s Game, It’s a New World Order

Upset central. From left, Heather Mitts and Amy Lepeilbet after Mexico defeated the U.S. in a regional qualifying match for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Germany.

I really appreciate the comments readers have posted on this blog. After my previous post, one reader asked for my thoughts on how we stack up going into the World Cup this summer in Germany. Obviously, not such an easy question to analyze, but I’ll try.

It’s only my opinion, but I think most people would agree that a great deal has changed since the days of the 1999 World Cup (the last time the American women were world champions).

From what I’ve seen, many countries have made huge advances in the women’s game. All over the world, especially in Europe, teams of athletic, skillful and soccer-savvy women are being assembled. Maybe financing in most other countries doesn’t come close to what is provided the United States, but the rich soccer culture elsewhere is definitely spilling over into the women’s game.

That said, we have some great up-and-coming talent in this country as well. Going into the World Cup, I think the U.S. always has a huge advantage. Physically, we are superior to most teams. In addition, we are stacked with players who know how to win when it’s important. From Christie Rampone, who was part of the Women’s World Cup championship team in ’99 and has two Olympic gold medals, to a number of N.C.A.A. and W.P.S. champions, the roster is full of winners. I believe that can be the deciding factor in a tight game.

Mexico players after their first victory over the U.S.

Soccer-wise it is true that we’ve had some unexpected losses and slightly shocking game results lately. We come from a women’s soccer culture that is used to success, and anything less is considered disappointing or a failure. I think it’s important, however, that we adjust our mind-set with the changing times. Even men’s World Cup champions Spain don’t dominate and win every game. The more time that goes by, the more competition we’ll see from around the world, and the same, winning results can’t be expected or taken for granted.

Granted, scores may look different, but then what about our brand of soccer? It’s interesting and complex to analyze the U.S. women’s national team style of play and how it’s changed over the years. Coach Pia Sundhage now is challenging us to play a possession-oriented game. It’s an attractive way to play, and combined with the speed and versatility that we have in the attack, with players like Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, and Abby Wambach (to name a few with different, yet effective tools), we have the potential to field the best women’s team ever to play this game.

The American women have always been solid defensively. I would say that’s our strength as a team. Starting with that as our backbone, the challenge is to successfully adopt Pia’s philosophy and combine it with the physical gifts and win-at-all-costs mentality that truly separates our team.

So how do we match up going into the World Cup in Germany this summer? It all depends on how the pieces come together. There is no doubt that we have every tool necessary to be champions. But now, so do a handful of other countries (among them Germany and Brazil). We will have to be at our best — peaking physically and mentally, as well as being technically and tactically sharp.

And now you know the kinds of things we meet about nearly every day after dinner at a national team training camp!

Speaking of training camp, I left Thursday for a six-day training camp in Florida, leading up to the selection of the roster for the Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal in March. We will do fitness testing on the first day and then play a lot of small-sided games, with the emphasis on fitness. I’m looking forward to it as an opportunity to get better, continue to fight to earn a spot, and see some much-missed sunshine!