Women’s World Cup Day 7: USA Roll; Sweden Cannot Finnish

On this day the United States Women’s National Team rolled over Colombia in front of a sold-out crowd, while Sweden completely unimpressed in a 1-0 victory over North Korea.  Must be the lingering effects of the lightning.

Sweden v. North Korea

I feel bad to say this, but I hate watching Sweden play.  I like Sweden, mind you.  The people are nice.  The only openly gay (male) footballer in the world is Swedish.  My first car was an old Volvo.  The Swedes gave the world ABBA which is an invaluable gift.*

But my God, Sweden (the team) are so boring.  They are completely incapable of scoring on gimme shots.  Rather than dancing around at the end of their pitifully poor 1-0 victories, they should be trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with their game.

North Korea’s problems are pretty apparent, and they are not weather-related.  North Korea are too young, too inexperienced, and lacking in attacking weapons.  Defense does not really win tournaments.  I worry about though is what will happen to the North Korean players.  Unlike the men, the women are a powerhouse of the AFC, but like the men they could not get out of the group stages of the World Cup.  Will there be a six-hour dressing down?  Will the coach be sent to a labor camp?  More importantly, without the massive attention that a men’s World Cup brings, if those things do happen, will anyone pay attention?

United States v. Colombia

The US needed a statement game.  Sure, in the first round they were the only team to win by more than one goal, but since then France and Japan each put up four goals.  Furthermore, the USWNT’s first half against North Korea was not convincing, even if the second half was a complete US domination.  The US needed a 90 minute domination.

And they got it.  3-0 is a great result, although on another day that score could have been far more embarrassing for the Colombians.  The goals, first from Heather O’Reilly, then Megan Rapinoe,** and finally Carli Lloyd were all from distance.  O’Reilly’s shot in particular was of stunning quality; it will be one of the top strikes of this tournament.

Three positives are readily apparent.  The first is that the US has looked better than it has in a long time.  The second is that Pia Sundhage is the best coach the US has had since Tony DiCicco.  Finally, there is extraordinary depth in the US squad, and any player can come off the bench and play brilliantly.  Both the US and France have scored five goals.  Only Japan have scored more.  Unlike Japan and France, all the US goals came from different players, which indicates that there is not just one dangerous player.

On the other hand, the US finishing has left a lot to be desired, particularly from the forwards.  Amy Rodriguez should probably not be starting, and Abby Wambach, as good as the rest of her game has been, seems to be under some kind of hex.  Time after time she could not put the ball in the back of the net, even though some of her attempts were agonizingly close.  Wambach is one of the leaders of the team, and taking her off is highly unlikely.  Nevertheless, I could not help but wonder what the score would have been had Alex Morgan played.

One thing that has struck me about the USWNT is how white it is.  When US football fans complain about how the USSF doesn’t try to go into the inner city and immigrant communities, we are usually talking about the failure of the men’s program.  Nevertheless, I wonder why these same criticisms are not applied to the USWNT. Is it because of how successful they are?  Or is it just not something we think about?  Compared to the US women, the men’s team is a veritable Rainbow Coalition, and yet I never see arguments that the USSF could be doing more outreach.  I offer no opinion, but I am curious what people think about that.

Colombia, like North Korea, is essentially a junior team with senior aspirations.  Like North Korea, they were found out in a major way.  Not that they were particularly awful (although they are arguably the worst team at the tournament), but the inexperience–both the team’s and the coach’s–showed.  Hope Solo was basically a spectator as the Colombia attack could not trouble her.  It was telling that Yoreli Rincón, the self-proclaimd “next Marta,” was left on the bench after a disappointing performance against Sweden.  If Colombia had been better, how would the US have fared.  It’s important to remember that before feeling like this is 1999 all over again.

One hopes that Colombia is a team for the future. although there are reasons to fear otherwise.***  There is talent there, but other factors are always at play.  This is the story of women’s football, particularly in Latin America.  All the talent, but none of the infrastructure, and worse, confronted by at best apathy and at worst utter contempt.

The US now plays Sweden.  Both nations have qualified, but this match is for control of the group.  The US needs only a draw to win the group and (hopefully) not face Marta and Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Footnotes: 

* Once upon a time, Sweden was one of the great sides in world football.  In the 1940’s, they were near the very top; had the World Cup been held in either 1942 and 1946, Sweden may have even won one.  Sweden hosted the 1958 World Cup, the tournament that gave the world the Brazil of Garrincha, Didi, Vavá, Djalma Santos, Nilmar Santos, and a seventeen-year-old kid whose real name was Edison Arantes do Nascimento (you might have heard of him.)  Sweden were such good hosts–the Swedish crowd cheered for the brilliant Brazilians as vigorously as they cheered their own home side in the Brazil v. Sweden final–that the Brazilians carried two flags in their victory lap: their own and the Swedish flag.  Since then Sweden has again never reached those heights, although there was the occasional good result, such as 3rd place at the 1994 World Cup.

** Rapinoe, a starter before the World Cup, was relegated to the bench before the tournament in favor of Lauren Cheney.  Today her goal came shortly after she was substituted for Amy Rodriguez.  Immediately after scoring, Rapinoe ran over to the microphone in the corner and belted out “Born in the U.S.A.”  While I appreciate the exuberance, I would question whether Rapinoe has ever actually listened to the song, which is not the patriotic anthem it is made out to be.  I would humbly suggest that the next time Rapinoe scores a goal she sings this instead (warning: not for those with delicate sensibilities.)

*** As I write this, I am watching ESPN’s brilliant and tragic documentary “The Two Escobars” which I would advise everyone to watch if you haven’t already.

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