Note from the editor: And so begins our U.S. Women’s National Team coverage here at The Shin Guardian. With the arrival of Little Miss Shin Guardian and
the notion that she will one day reach the pinnacle of all she attempts–perhaps in soccer…nay, hopefully in soccer–TSG is going to begin covering the Women’s National Team, a team that is expected to the win the World Cup every four years. How about that?! A U.S. team expected to win the World Cup!
We kickoff our coverage with an overview of the the team–the ABCs if you will–from a frequent TSG contributor in advance of the Women’s opening match, this Thursday October 28th, in the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament.
This is guest post by Dan Weirsema who typically writes here.
If you’re a regular reader of The Shin Guardian you’re probably already a passionate fan of the United States Men’s National Team. But while you’ve got no problem telling Dempsey from Donovan and second guessing Coach Bob Bradley’s squad selections and formations, you might be less familiar with the U.S. Team on the fairer sex’s side of the game.
At the end of October the U.S. Women’s National Team begins the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional qualifying tournament for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and as TSG ramps up its coverage of the Lady Nats we thought it’d be helpful to put together a cheat sheet of sorts for our readers to ready themselves to support the ladies’ efforts.
All you didn’t know, need to know, and probably never knew you’d know (what???) about our Women’s National Team:
A is for. A-Team: The Lady Nats feature two clinical forwards in Abby Wambach and Amy Rodriguez. Wambach, one of the world’s best female players, brings loads of experience and talent to the squad and has an unbelievable strike rate of 109 goals in 142 matches (with 43 of those with her head!). Rodriguez is less potent, but no less dangerous with eight goals in 49 caps.
B is for… Boxx: Midfielder Shannon Boxx redefined her position during this tenure for the National side. As the defensive mid her presence has clogged many an opponents’ attacks while leading and distributing in the attack with skill. Although she’ll be 34 come Women’s World Cup time, there’s no reason to not expect the 129 capped Boxx won’t be in the starting eleven.
C is for… Captain: The USWNT is captained by Christine Rampone, that’s World Cup gold medalist and 219-caps affixed to her belt Christine Rampone to you.
D is for… Dark Ages: Much of the 2000s is considered a lost decade for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Despite a resurgence under coach Pia Sundhage and a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, the years before under coaches April Heinrichs (2000 – 2004) and Greg Ryan (2004-2007) dealt with the departure of the core of players that led the team to their 1999 World Cup title under Tony DiCicco.
Under Heinrichs the National Team (with one exception in the 2004 Olympics) missed out on capturing women’s soccer’s biggest prizes. The time the 2003 WWC came around she relied too heavily on the same squad that won the 1999 tournament and the squad crashed out of the tournament 3-0 losers to eventual champions, Germany.
Ryan’s reign at the helm of the National Team proved to be even more disastrous. He was charged with rebuilding and recruiting a new class of women’s players to take the place of retired stars Hamm, Foudy, and Akers. The USWNT cruised through WWC qualifying and the opening rounds of the 2007 WWC. Shockingly Ryan benched starting goalkeeper Hope Solo for veteran Brianna Scurry to face Brazil in the semi-finals.
The U.S. suffered the worst loss in their history, 4-0 to the eventual tournament runners-up, and post-game comments by Solo and the fall-out from that and the tournament defeat led to his ouster by the end of the year.
The USWNT needed a fresh start and in November 2007 the U.S. Soccer Federation hired Sundhage, the team’s third woman, and first foreign, National Team coach.
E is for… Entertaining: The USWNT Blog at USSoccer.com provides one of the finest, in-depth, random, behind-the-scenes coverage of any professional team I know. A great model for any sporting franchise, particularly soccer, to follow to provide timely, relevant, and human interest news of a team and their players.
F is for… First: Since March of 2008 the Women’s National Team has held the number one ranking in the FIFA Coca–Cola Women’s World Rankings. In fact, the USWNT has never been ranked lower than second since FIFA began tracking women’s national teams in 2003.
G is for… Germany: The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held in Germany. This will be the sixth time the tournament has been held and the USWNT will seek their third world title next June 26th through July 17th.
H is for… Heather: U.S. defender Heather Mitts is known almost as much for her beauty as she is for her standout play in the back for her squad. More than just a pretty face, though, she’s led the back four over 100 times since becoming a regular starter in 2004.
I is for… Injuries: Several key USWNT players are out injured or just recently returned from injures. Starting goalkeeper Hope Solo is sidelined for the next six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. She’s to return right before the summer’s WWC. Midfielder Lori Chalupny may never wear her country’s colors again after the U.S. Soccer Federation has refused to clear her to play after a series of concussions.
J is for… Just in Case: Luckily both roster voids will be filled by quality players in their absence. Midfielder Carli Lloyd recently recovered from a broken ankle and will hopefully return to the form that saw her named 2008’s U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year. Backup goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart plays her club ball for the current Women’s Professional Soccer champions FC Gold Pride and has 11 shutouts in 24 appearances for the National Team.
K is for… Kirstine: Veteran midfielder Kristine Lilly has to be one of the hardest working people in professional sports. The 39-year-old has featured on the USWNT roster since 1987 and has 350 caps in all (the most international appearances of any player in the world, ever). If anyone doubts her ability to run with the youngsters, recent aerobic tests through the whole women’s National Team system from the youth on to the senior side showed that Lilly was the fittest of all of them.
L is for… Lockdown: in 2010 the USWNT has, so far, compiled a record of 9-0-2. In those 990 minutes of play the team has only allowed a paltry six goals in total, or just more than 0.50 goals per game. DAYYUM!
M is for… Moms: The current roster for the Lady Nats features not one, but two moms. Captain Christine Rampone is the mother of two, Reece (born in March of this year!) and Rylie, while iron woman Kristine Lilly is the mother of one, Sidney.
N is for… Natasha: Nataska Kai is one of the more unique of the Lady Nats. While not on the qualifying roster for the USWNT, perhaps she’ll feature later in the plans for Coach Sundhage. The Hawaii native makes her mark on the field with solid play, but also the 19 tattoos she sports!
O is for… Old School: Names like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Julie Foudy, and Brianna Scurry have come, gone, and left their mark on the Women’s National Team. These names led the USWNT to American soccer’s highest profile moment, the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final.
That dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over China burned the stars of that team into the American consciousness. And while no one wants to discount that success, the Lady Nats, for over a decade, have been trying to get out from behind the shadows of their accomplishments.
P is for… Pia: Head coach Pia Sundhage has the U.S. Women’s National Team rolling. Coming off the controversial reign of Greg Ryan, the Swedish born Sundhage has found a effective combination of veteran leadership and young stars to fill out her rosters. She’s brought the Lady Nats back to the top of the world rankings and put them in poll position for WWC success.
Q is for… Qualifiers: Starting on October 28th and going until November 8th the USWNT will be participating in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament in Cancun, Mexico. The tournament serves at the qualifiers for the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany. The first and second places finishers in the Gold Cup qualify for the WWC. The Lady Nats will face Haiti, Guatemala, and Costa Rica in the group stages.
R is for… Résumé: The U.S. Women’s Team is one of the most accomplished National sides in the history of the game with more major tournament titles that any other country in the world. The team has won two Women’s World Cups (1991 and 1999), three Olympic Women’s Gold Medals (1996, 2004 and 2008) and seven Algarve Cups (2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2010).
S is for… Selection: On October 13th coach Pia Sundhage announced the 20 players that would lead the USWNT into qualifying for the 2011 Women’s World Cup. A proper mix of youngsters and veterans, the roster includes seven players with previous WWC qualifying experience and ten that participated in the qualifying process for the 2008 Olympic games.
Up-and-coming midfielder Tobin Heath: “Double…oops!”
T is for… Teams to Watch: Although the USWNT is on top of the world now they’re staring down at a whole host of teams chomping at the bit to replace them. The list of established and up-and-coming powers in the women’s soccer world is growing at the nation’s are increasingly pouring more resources into their women’s programs.
The national teams of Germany (2003 and 2007 WWC champions), Brazil (2007 WWC runners-up), China, Norway (1995 WWC champions), and Sweden are the traditional powers in the women’s game. Regional rivals include Canada and, increasingly, Mexico.
U is for… Undergarments: The most electrifying and memorable moment in USWNT history comes not necessarily from it’s lengthy list of tournament victories or massive star-power marketing names, but for a moment of sheer joy following a dramatic win.
After having sealed the Lady Nats 5-4 penalty kick victory over China in the 1999 WWC defender Brando Chastain tore off her jersey, revealing her sports bra, and sank to her knees before being mobbed by her jubilant teammates. The sight of a female athlete in such a position, quite a common celebration for male athletes sans the undergarments signaled everything from empowerment to controversy to sex appeal.
V is for… Vanquishing Opponents: In the 25 year history of the U.S. Women’s National Team the squad has played in 453 matches and complied an astounding 352 victories, 49 ties, and only 52 losses. A win percentage of .831 making it one of the most successful teams in all of professional sports (New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team holds the all-time greatest win percentage at 84%) .
W is for… WPS: The Women’s Professional Soccer league is the highest level of the professional women’s game in the United States and the successor the the failed Women’s United Soccer Leagues. Launched in 2009, 18 of the 20 players featured on Sundhage’s roster for WWC qualifying play in the WPS. Despite its struggles financially the league is still the top-tier league in the world for the women’s game.
From the USWNT Website on the importance of the WPS:
“Although no players emerged as revelations for the national team during the inaugural WPS season, the league did give U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage a chance to deepen the player pool while sharpening the games of some valuable veteran players.
With the crucial World Cup qualifying tournament on the horizon, Sundhage and her staff are paying very close attention during season two of the new league as it will provide the WNT players a chance to perform at the highest levels every week while giving them new challenges to test their leadership, competitive grit and versatility. WPS matches often require the players to play different positions from the ones they play for their country, which should help increase the versatility and options for Sundhage.”
X is for… X-Factor: Despite the more recent success of the USWNT the team is still missing an impact player the likes of Mia Hamm. Hamm was one of thse “once in a generation” forces both on the field and in the boardroom in terms of marketability. And while she can never be replicated the National side is still struggling to find someone that leave her mark on a match and the American psyche like Hamm did. Today’s stars like Boxx, Wambach, and Solo (all with Nike contracts like Hamm) have proven to be great on-field contributors, but lack the marketing power that Hamm had. The search continues…
Y is for… Youth: Players like Alex Morgan (who snagged third cap and goal for the squad in a recent 1-1 tie with China) and Sydney Leroux are projected to become the next set of stars for the Women’s National Team. Alongside the WPS, the USWNT has proven to be a place for young players to feature and develop into stars on the world’s stage.
At the U-20 WWC in Chile, former senior National Team coach Tony DiCicco lead the U-20’s to the tourney title signaling there was loads of talent under the full National side to continue the U.S. Women’s winning tradition.
Z is for… Zzzzzz No More: There no sense in sleeping on the U.S. Women’s National team. The squad plays serious, fundamentally sound soccer and its lists of accomplishments grows each and every year. In 2011 the Lady Nats will seek their third WWC title in Germany and as supporters of the American game we should be getting behind this great U.S. team and watching their road through qualifying next week and the efforts in June.