Now that I am getting more views on this blog (thank you all so much for reading; I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it), I want to ask a question that did not receive any responses the last time I asked it. Who you would put on a greatest ever women’s team?
One of the most enjoyable things about following sports is those endless pub debates about who is the greatest ever. It’s completely meaningless, but so much fun. On SI.com, Jonathan Wilson just published the last part of his Greatest Ever Team Tournament (Ajax ’72 over Barcelona ’11 3-2 in the finals–probably a fair result), and although I have expressed some reservations about it, I think these kinds of debate that Wilson has engaged in is a fundamental cornerstone of a successful fan culture. Sometimes the arguments can be very persuasive and other times less so. Even when the results are less convincing, the effort reveals a passion and energy that is admirable. Even in sports I don’t normally follow (cricket, Australian rules football, hurling), I try to find out who the greatest ever is when those sports cross my path–even if I don’t know or care about such basic things as the rules.
That is why I am a bit surprised that I have not been able to find this kind of debate among followers of women’s football. I think it will make the fan culture a richer experience. So for the sake of the growth of the women’s game, I am hoping to start a trend. Please leave your own selections below in the comments section, and tell your friends too.
Now a caveat: I am no expert on women’s football. There are experts, lots of them, but I am not one of them. My knowledge is particularly woeful outside of the USWNT. I so adamantly state my non-expertise is because I need to explain why my list has only a few non-Americans. In fact, this list is probably closer to being an All-Time American Women’s XI with some foreign influence. Not only is it mostly American women, but specifically American women who played on the 1999 World Cup winning side.
I have no excuses for this other than it is what I know. There are not many books on the modern history of women’s football, and YouTube can only take you so far. News on foreign women’s leagues and tournaments is hard to come by, and I am holding out judgment on the current crop of American women. So take this with a grain of salt, and please join in if you can.
My Starting XI:
Now this is probably an awful list, but having said that let me explain why I made the selections I made.
Goalkeeper: Hope Solo is currently the best goalkeeper in the world. Is she the best ever, I don’t know, but I suspect yes. This was not an easy choice. Briana Scurry was a great goalkeeper for the US, with the 1999 penalty shootout as the highlight of her career. But she also had a few lows: the 2007 semifinals, of course, but she also fell out of form after 1999, lost her starting place, and had to get back into shape. The other goalkeeper I considered was Nadine Angerer because it is very hard to side against the only keeper ever to go an entire World Cup without letting in a goal. Still, I believe that Solo is the best bar none; aside from her talent, she has that insanity that great keepers have.
Defenders: Of all the choices, these are the ones I am most uneasy about, first because all four are Americans (granted, multiple title-winning Americans), and second because all of them were on the 1999 team. Three of them were on the 1991 team, although Brandi Chastain was not a starter. All of these four defenders were at the top of the women’s game for around a decade and a half. (Plus Chastain gave women’s football its single most iconic moment. What is often overlooked is that although Chastain took the final winning kick, Overbeck and Fawcett converted the first two kicks.) Markgraf, although only on one World Cup winning squad, won two Olympic gold medals. I am confident that they are four of the best defenders ever even if not the absolute four best.
Midfielders: I am on shaky ground with the midfield because Michelle Akers and Sun Wen were really forwards. I could have used more orthodox midfielders such as Kelly Smith of England (who also played at forward), Shannon Boxx or Julie Foudy of the US, or Sissi of Brazil, but if that were the case, I would have to leave out players who I believe to be better.
Kristine Lilly is a legend of the game. She is the most capped player, male or female, in history and probably will remain so. She won two World Cup titles, two Olympic titles in her long, long career. She was one of the best midfielders in the game bar none. Michelle Akers is one of the greatest players of all time; only Marta can also lay claim to that title. Akers was always the strongest, fastest, most monomaniacal player on the field the commentator during the 1991 final gave her what he believed to be the ultimate compliment, “she plays like a man.”) She was heads and shoulders above her peers, and when her team underperformed she put them on her back and carried them to victory. No wonder that FIFA named her Player of the Century. Akers was not the only player named Player of Century. Akers was honored by FIFA’s technical committee, but Sun Wen of China won the honor by an Internet vote. What Akers was for the US, Sun was for China. She was their best player, and one the greats. She won the 1999 Golden Ball and co-won the 1999 Golden Boot. China has never been able to replace her, and the Chinese women’s program has sank into mediocrity.
Forwards: I debated excluding Mia Hamm. Hamm was one of the all time great, and the sport’s first superstar, but she was also not of the strongest fortitude and tended to vanish in big moments. Nevertheless, any list that did not have international football’s most prolific scorer (again man or woman) would be worth even less than nothing. Before her problems this World Cup, Birgit Prinz was an icon. All she did was score goal after goal for club and country. Prinz was a feared name in the 00’s and led every team she was on to success, including two consecutive World Cup wins for Germany in 2003 and 2007. It is a shame what happened at the 2011 World Cup, but that should not diminish her legacy. Finally the last person on the list has to be Marta, arguably the greatest individual player of all time. Now tied for Prinz as the record World Cup scorer (and a ridiculous record of 14 goals in 14 matches), Marta has a simply unmatched technique and she can do thing other women simply cannot. She has been compared to Pele and Messi although comparisons to Garrincha and Maradona would not be that far off either. Marta is something of a tragic figure. Opponents cannot stop her, but her own national federation, though its disdain and apathy for the women’s game, has all but ensured that Marta, when she retires, will do so without a world title.
So am I completely off? Am I right on target? Who would you put on your starting XI?