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May 5, 2010
Sundhage on sharing players with WPS

By Charles Cuttone
Executive Editor

WNT coach Pia Sundhage is logging a lot of miles keeping an eye on current and potential national team players competing in the WPS.
WNT coach Pia Sundhage is logging a lot of miles keeping an eye on current and potential national team players competing in the WPS.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Having a full time professional women’s soccer league in the United States has presented a new set of challenges for National Team coach Pia Sundhage and her assistant, Hege Riise.

“We are travelling every weekend,” said Sundhage, after taking in a recent Women’s Professional Soccer game between the Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat.

“It’s good and it’s bad, or it’s good and it’s challenging,” Sundhage said of having a pro league, as opposed to the National Team being a full time squad. “The good part of it is, you look at (Independence midfielder) Lori Lindsey, I think she was the best player on the field and she played with Caroline Seger, the Swedish player, and I think they bring out the best performance from each other.”

Sundhage explained that, in the league setting, players from different nationalities can learn from one another.

“The challenging thing is to put a team together,” she said. “In 2008 we spent 200 days together, something like that. We had a cohesive team and we had tactics and we spent so much time together .”

Since WPS started last year, the National Team has had a handful of chances to get together. They trained early this year, and played in the Algarve Cup in March. They will face world power and rival Germany on May 22 in Cleveland.

While it may be easier at times to have the entire team together all the time, Sundhage says she supports the WPS. “I think it’s important not only for the national team but for women’s soccer overall, the fact that we have international players here,” she said.

With a World Cup coming up in 2011 in Germany and qualifying later this year, the logistics of balancing a league schedule with time for the national team to train and play friendlies could be problematic.

“What is important is to have enough time with the national team, and that will be tricky in the next year,” said Sundhage. It could be a problem for the league as well. Last year, a number of the teams lost their top European players just as the playoffs were approaching because of National Team call-ups for the European Championships.

Sundhage says despite the generally high quality of the WPS, the level of play is not near that of international competition.

“It’s getting better and better. Still, I have to say for all the national leagues, if you compare to Sweden, Norway, Germany, even here, it is a big gap between this level and international level, so we play against Germany or Sweden, the level there is a big gap.

“I spoke to Silvia Neid, the coach for Germany, she said the same thing. Bundesliga they have twelve teams, but only four or five of them are really good. I think we have eight pretty good teams, so that makes a difference. They have some easy games over there and we don’t have easy games here.”

Sundhage, the first non-American to coach the U.S. Women’s National Team, says the ability to keep possession, create chances and how teams defend in the back four are the biggest differences in the level of play between the WPS and the national team.

The game against Germany at Cleveland Browns Stadium will be a big test for the U.S. team. It is the first time they are playing a formidable opponent on U.S. soil since they faced Brazil before the 2008 Olympics. Sundhage says she expects it to be a challenge, one the U.S. team could be facing with some new talent as a result of their early play in the WPS. When asked if she planned to call up players based on their WPS performances, she said “absolutely.”

The U.S. has won their last two matches against Germany, but that’s not enough to satisfy the U.S. coach, who spent three seasons as a coach in the Women’s United Soccer Association, two as an assistant with the Philadelphia Charge and one as head coach of the Boston Breakers.

“We played Germany last year in late October, and they were so much better than we were,” she said. “Their flank play was so much better and they created a lot of chances. But Abby Wambach scored a goal so we won.

“ When we went to Algarve Cup we played them again in the final. I think we did very well against Germany. It’s always a learning time to play against Germany. Especially talk about wing players, because their wing players are so different from all the other countries. They are dangerous and they are scoring goals. It will be a cat and mouse game for our outside backs and our mids. So that will be important every single minute when we play against Germany.”

While some new faces from the WPS will probably be called into camp for the game against Germany, expect at least one familiar face who was missing from the team last year to be there as well. Kristine Lilly. After sitting out the 2008 Olympics to have her daughter Sydney, Lilly was passed over for the national team in 2009, despite playing every minute of every game for the Breakers and being named a league all-star.

“The reason is flank play,” Sundahge explained of Lilly’s return. “She has so much experience and she likes the line. I’ve seen that so many times. And she can keep the ball. That’s something we are looking for.”

With midfielder Carli Lloyd sidelined by a broken ankle, that’s one spot that could be filled by a WPS discovery, and Philadelphia’s Lori Lindsey is emerging as a strong candidate. Lindsey, whose only National Team appearance came in 2005, has assisted on four of the Independence’s five goals this season, and scored the other. Sundhage seemed to like what she saw of Lindsey against the Beat, commenting that “if I look at Lori Lindsey she will be perfect playing central.”

If Lindsey is called to the WNT, and sticks long enough to make it to next year’s World Cup, she could very well be taking the field in Germany alongside another player who earned her big National Team break with strong play at the pro level – U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx, who in August 2003 became the first uncapped player ever to be named directly to a Women’s World Cup squad, based on her play in the WUSA.

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