June 7, 2015
by Charles Cuttone
Begging to differ on USWNT's opinion of itself
In one of a series of promos by Fox Sports for its upcoming Women's World Cup telecasts, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo calls the current National Team "The strongest team in the history of the program."
Solo is wrong on a couple of counts. First, the current crop of players hasn't won a World Cup, and second, in the entire history of the program, which I have covered since its infancy in 1989, this is the first time that there is a distinct possibility the team might not advance out of group play, let alone medal or win the Cup.
Now, I'm not making the prediction that they won't advance, or that they won't win, and the former is much less likely than the latter, but look at the facts.
First, their group, though not exactly the Group of Death, isn't exactly a cakewalk. They open against Australia, which should be an automatic win. But games against Sweden, coached by former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, and Nigeria, a team the U.S. traditionally has struggled with, could make advancing difficult.
Then, look at the makeup of the team. Itís a combination of newcomers, nine with no World Cup experience, and veterans. Now every team needs a good veteran core. The problem with this group is most of the veterans are well past their prime or are hobbled with injuries.
All-time leading goal scorer Abby Wambach has taken the year off from the rigors of playing in the National Women's Soccer League to ease the wear and tear on her battered 35-year old body. Alex Morgan is recovering from the latest in a series of injuries, and won't be 100% for the early round games. Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny were selected to the team after not being part of the mix for several years, Boxx coming off surgery and pregnancy and Chalupny dealing with the repercussions of concussion issues. Megan Rapinoe suffered a knee injury earlier this year and sat out last Saturday's sendoff match against South Korea with a thigh injury. Captain and veteran defender Christie Rampone, who is on her fifth World Cup squad and is the only member of the team that has won a World Cup, has been plagued by several injuries since January and has only played 75 minutes all year, coming on as a 60th minute sub Saturday.
The fact that all of the World Cup games in Canada will be played on artificial turf can only be expected to compound the team's assortment of physical woes.
One thing American teams always seem to have going for them seems to be the will to make things happen and the presence of the outsize personalities who can take the team and carry it on their backs. Wamabch has done that twice, with much more talented squads, and still not taken the ultimate prize.
Even one of that past generation of players, one who carried the team on her back as it won the game's biggest prize, isn't so sure.
"Our personalities, we can definitely win," said Michelle Akers, who was on the World Cup winning teams in 1991 and 1999.
"Do we have all pieces in place in time, or do we have all the pieces in place, I don't know," said Akers. "They've had a tough run. (Tom) Sermanni and how he was fired, he was trying to put together a team, then Jill comes in, it's been hard to follow the strategy she's had in many ways. I think that's a million dollar question. I want us to win, but I don't know. "
I'm not sure any of us know.