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US Women's Soccer Team: Pre-Knockout Round, A Review

Megan Rapinoe #15 and Alex Morgan #13 of the United States during the second half of the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group E match between Portugal and USA at Eden Park on August 01, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand

Megan Rapinoe #15 and Alex Morgan #13 of the United States during  the second half of the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group E match between Portugal and USA at Eden Parkon August 01, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand

© Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty

 

I am no expert at soccer, a sport I came to when our sons played youth soccer a couple of decades ago. However, I learned a great deal from two family friends who played college soccer here is the US.

One said, "Watch the play at midfield. The moves, the passing. It is intricate. That is where the game is won or lost."

The other emphasized technique. He continued to play well into his '40s as he finished his Ph.D. in Art History, moved to Florence and played for several amateur clubs as he taught for a variety of colleges over there. He used to get a phone call where the message was simply, "Piazzale Michelangelo, stasera!"  (Piazzale Michelangelo, tonight!) There, they would play calcetto, soccer on a small court, like a basketball court, where the action with dribbling, passing and headers, was fast, furious and demanding. He was regularly asked, so, he had the respect of the Italians, which means he was really good.

Next, I got to share in the sport as a fan when one of my students, a chap from London, a diehard Tottenham Hotspur fan, taught me how to follow a team through a season as a fan. That, too, was enlightening, plus quite fun to share the experience.

Finally, while training for snowboard racing on a longboard, I ran into an old Ukrainian fellow atop Cobb's Hill above Rochester. He told me about the sport scene in Odessa when Ukraine was part of the old Soviet Union. People used to watch the game and, afterwards, retire, with men and women dressed in their Sunday finest, to local cafes, where the discussion of the game was intellectual and elegant. That, he said, was a time gone by and now lost.

There are thousands of such experiences with the sport everyday all around the globe. Soccer is a great game.

I got up last night to watch the US National Team take on the women from Portugal. I also watched our game against the Netherlands and our first one against Vietnam.

From what I can see, there are pluses and minuses with the US squad.

On the negative side:

1) Athletes on the other teams are now as fast and agile (the ability to change direction) as our athletes. Gone is the former superiority we had in these important athletic measures.

2) We are slow off the ball. By this, I mean to say, we do not react as a unit, as a team, as quickly as other teams when plays develop.
 
3) Both 1 & 2 put us at a disadvantage where soccer games are won or lost, that is, the midfield. If you watch the midfield in any soccer game, you can tell which team has the advantage. It is also the area where the most complex and artful play takes place.
 
4) In the games against the Netherlands and Portugal, each of those teams was well coached. They knew how our team reacted in the compressed area of the midfield and, as such, were able to stop our team from improvising and developing plays. By the second pass, we were stymied before we could break out of the midfield area.
 
On the plus side:
 
1) Our squad defends quite well.
 
2) We got legitimate, albeit hurried scoring opportunities.
 
3) The team looks fit, strong and technically sound. We are able to carry forth well into stoppage time at the end of the game.
 
4) Goal keeping is excellent, something that can make or break a team, for sure.
 
It is pretty clear that women's soccer has developed to a point where there are a number of very fine squads, which means the US has fewer and fewer pushover games.
 
I hate to level criticism at our team, so I will not. The women seem to all be on board.
 
However, because of the flaws I outlined above, it may be more a matter of coaching than talent. The other teams know our on field identity and are prepared to stop us.
 
Can we respond?
 
Marc A. Cirigliano

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