What Do You Think About This? “Storybook Cup Win Will Hurt In Long Run”

16 Jul

Watishista! notoriousjk sent me this article this morning and I’d love to  know what all you think. Me? I think it’s a steaming pile of crap and way to rain on the parade, Billy Witz, but you know me, I’m grumpy. Anyhow, read it for yourself. Will winning this World Cup hold US soccer back?

Storybook Cup win will hurt in long run
by Billy Witz, FoxSports
Updated Jul 15, 2011 9:37 AM ET

It has been a rather calamitous summer for United States soccer. First, the American men get schooled by Mexico in the Gold Cup final at a teeming Rose Bowl, a performance that underscored the talent gap – chasm is more like it – between the two rivals.

Then, in the U-17 World Cup – the one eventually won by home-standing Mexico – the Americans were embarrassed by Germany in the knockout phase, losing by four goals. As for the U-20 World Cup, which begins later this month? The United States failed to qualify.

And yet, the worst news for American soccer this summer could come Sunday – if the United States wins the Women’s World Cup.

There has been much to admire about the United States’ run to the final in Frankfurt, where they will play upstart Japan.

The good old romantic American character traits of grit, hustle and determination have lifted them past Brazil in the quarterfinals and France in the semifinals, both in dramatic fashion. (Their effort, it should be noted, has also supplied the same sort of easily packaged storyline – heavy on the schmaltz – as the pig-tailed All-American “girls” in the 1999 World Cup.)

The problem is the big picture.

If the United States wins, it will validate an increasingly outdated style of play: one that values speed and strength over skill and imagination. And that would be awful for American soccer.

Remaining married to those qualities – from the youth levels on up – is going to continue the United States women’s steady backsliding over the last decade. Soon, they will be in the same position the men find themselves – hopelessly overmatched against the world’s elite.

It is already happening.

Watching France and Brazil elegantly and consistently move the ball in and out of tight spaces against the United States with great skill and vision it was hard not to think: geez, was it only a generation ago that the Americans, with unmatched power and pace, ran roughshod over all but a few nations (China and Norway)?

What has been on display in Germany does not appear to be a fluke. The United States women were beaten last year by Mexico for the first time ever, and nearly failed to qualify for the World Cup. Last summer, the United States was eliminated from the U-20 World Cup in the quarterfinals – its earliest exit ever – while the U-17 team failed to qualify.

Then consider the five goals the United States has scored in the last two games: a corner kick, two crosses, a breakaway and an own goal. The only bit of imagination came from Carli Lloyd, whose clever back heel freed Heather O’Reilly down the left flank. Her cross was deftly redirected into the net by Lauren Cheney giving the United States an early 1-0 lead against France.

The Americans then went an hour before they put another shot on goal.

The two supposed next-big-things, Amy Rodriguez and Alex Morgan, have looked overmatched in this tournament, particularly Rodriguez, who appears to have no answers on how to beat a defender other than sprint past them.

This is not a condemnation of this United States players or coach Pia Sundhage, whose temperament is a perfect fit, but of the system and a culture that gave birth to it. The first time most of the players kicked a ball, it was probably in front of parents who cheered when little Johnny or Jane booted the ball far down the field.

Youth coaches pick the fastest and strongest players because they’re the ones that will help them win tournaments. (It’s easy to imagine Lil’ Messi or Xavi being left on the sidelines as kids.)

And, too often, developing the problem solving that is required at the world-class level is a casualty of trying to win. (Example: kicking the ball out of bounds under pressure robs players of the trial and error of figuring away out of their predicament.)

While it is simple to shrug, say so what and point to the scoreboard, look at what is happening in men’s soccer.

What Barcelona and Spain have done is prove that creative, attacking soccer and winning do not have to be mutually exclusive. And Germany has transformed itself from a pragmatic, build-from-the-back outfit to one that attacks with exciting young stars like Memut Ozil and Thomas Muller – all while winning. In the last five years, Germany has reached the World Cup semifinals twice and the European Cup final once.

So, back to the women. As Brazil and France – among others – are able to match the United States’ organization, fitness training, strong goalkeeping and attention to detail on defense, it appears only a matter of time before the Americans are looking up at them.

It is something to consider Sunday when the Americans, trying to get by again on steely determination and the hard head of Wambach, are again chasing the ball against artful Japan.

A victory for the United States might be reason to cheer, but if there was a real commitment in this country to playing the beautiful game – instead of the brute-ful game – that would be a real reason to celebrate.

11 Responses to “What Do You Think About This? “Storybook Cup Win Will Hurt In Long Run””

  1. I kinda agree July 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    I’m torn about the final. As an American, I want our team to do well. As a football fan, I would love to see Japan win. They have been the most fun to watch. They’re as close to Barca/Spain as any women team can be at this time. The execution isn’t quite as spectacular but you can see what they’re doing–possession, possession and skillfully going forward. Wonderful to watch.

    PS. I’ve also lived in Japan and have a very soft spot for the country. I will be watching tomorrow with a dear Japanese friend…who lives in and loves America 😉

    • headbandsandheartbreak July 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

      I definitely enjoy Japan’s play but I think that the author’s assertion is poo.

      If we do lose, I will be happy for Japan. I have a soft spot for them as well. I also know how much it will mean to them. I think both teams making the final is a wonderful thing and a boost for the sport in both countries. Win-win, IMHO.

      • I kinda agree July 16, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

        I think he has a point that the US team is on the slope of the mountain. Still good enough to get to a final and even likely to win but it’s an archaic empire. The US team will continue to be competitive because the national support structure is so good but thankfully and in the long term, football still needs skills. Call me a romantic but I’d rather watch a fat Maradona producing pieces of magic rather than a methodical and physical Norwegian team grind out 1-0 wins.

        Off a tangent here, but the article made me think of Chelsea. A team who were primarily about strength and power during its heyday but now that age is catching up, that game can no longer dominate the opposition. So the team is a crossroads and best of luck to Villas Boas to transition the team while simultaneously winning trophies. A very, very difficult task. Whatever the case, the Chelsea system that has worked the last 7-8 years is unlikely to continue to work any more. Hence the hiring of AVB and the likelihood of the change or modification of the system.

        The US women’s team is in a similar situation. Look at England and see how middling they have been for generations and one of the culprit has been a lack of top technical players. It’s not all about players who can run and run forever.

        Watch out for Brazil should they ever properly support their women’s team. Because you’ll see technically skilled players with proper coaching, fitness levels and financial foundations. I believe the Brazilians outplayed the US in the 1/8 but didn’t quite have the fitness and mental and physical preparation to hold off the Americans.

        In any case, I’m obviously biased. I admire hard physical play but as a sports romantic, I’ll always want to see creative, technical, and skilled play triumph over brute physical power.

  2. manie July 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    I think the article brings up a few good points regarding the value teams are putting on skill over strength. But saying that a win by US WNT would push the institution backwards? I think that’s a load of crock. I think (rather, I hope) that the US soccer federation is seeing the same thing we are, that the US midfield has been comprehensively outplayed for the most part because of poor ball skills, and I think they will take steps to fix it. Other than that, I don’t think a win validates current methods that are becoming less valuable. Go USA!

  3. Leo July 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    As a former professional female soccer player all I have to say is that I have never seen a stupider article in my life. Not only is comparing men’s soccer to women’s soccer like comparing apples to oranges – women don’t think tactically like men do in steps but are instinctive and therefor speed and physical force is what works best in female soccer. What part of anatomy & physiology class did the columnist miss? seems like he didn’t even attend biology 101 in junior high.

  4. Notoriousjk July 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    I’m so tired of the Barca/Spain comparisons. As if no one else can play real football.

    • manie July 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      I thinnnk we established last season that only Barca play “real, good, real good, true, pure (etc) football.”

      I’m tired of the comparisons too.

      • emily July 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

        real good real pure diving and referee bullying

  5. Susie July 17, 2011 at 2:19 am #

    If the women winning sparks interest from fans and young girls to pick up the sport which means more funding, better programs and ultimately better skilled players at the higher levels, then I’m all for them winning. I’m sick of people turning this final into “igniting another historical moment vs ‘quake survivors.” It’s not even about that and to pinhole the game into that makes people think “well I don’t want to be a horrible human so… go Japan?” Urgh. Regardless of the social/political/economic status of either country, it’s the game that matters. The players and the plays because each team is putting it on the line for their country equally.

  6. jellyace July 17, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    One major flaw in his logic: he assumes that a team cannot improve after a win. Hogwash!

  7. notoriousjk July 17, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Another thing I take issue with, and I have this entire World Cup is the insistence, even by female commentators, is the constant comparisons to men & men’s teams.

    “Marta is the female Pele”

    “This Japanese team plays like Barcelona”

    “The captain of the Japanese team plays like Messi”

    And this guy is doing the same thing comparing the Japanese women’s team to Barcelona/Spain (although I think he forgets that the Spanish team is not just Barca players but whatever).

    Women’s soccer/football is different from men’s soccer/football & I for one, think the men could learn something from how they play (much less diving, although I’m side eying Erika from the Brazilian team)

    Ok, end of rant. I was just furious when I read this article.

    Anyways, today’s the final, so let’s go US ladies!!!

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