July 14, 2011
by Phil Stephens, Dallas Soccer News Editor
PIA FOCUSES ON CREATIVITY
Says U.S. transition game key to winning Cup
For the United States to win the World Cup, the greatest challenge in facing Japan in Sunday’s game will be in the transition game, to be more unpredictable, to not be quite so eager to the attack according to the team’s coach Pia Sundhage.
The U.S. Women's National Team would love a repeat of the success it enjoyed in 1999, the last time it won the women's world cup, as shown in the photo above.
photo by Phil Stephens
Boiling it down, the Swedish native who came to the U.S. to coach the team in 2007, stressed the team needed more creativity. That was the biggest theme Sundhage drilled into the players when she arrived here to take charge, according to her own admission and that of the players. Creativity and of course, defense, will be the key to a United States victory on Sunday.
In responding to questions on a media conference call, she said she well understood the U.S. Federation was looking for a change when she came, because they hired herself, a foreigner to lead the team. In the beginning, she started with the expectations of her back four. She wanted players to look ahead, make decisions. She said she “hated player to just poke the ball out of bounds.” She stated an example of Christie Rampone as a player who wanted to keep the ball and make decisions. She wanted Abby Wambach to be more unpredictable. She felt the play was just too much to her head. She wanted the team to change the tempo, both to increase and decrease, according to the situation.
The Swedish coach stressed high expectations to her team, but wanted them to feel free to make a mistake, and learn from it.
“The biggest mistake is if you don’t try,” Sundhage said. “I try to give positive feedback, not negative.”
Looking ahead at Sunday’s game, Sundhage was very appreciative the team had played Japan a few months ago in warm-up games, though she quickly said the Japanese had improved greatly, calling them, “more sophisticated, especially going into attacking mode.”
She observed Germany and Sweden were both much bigger teams than Japan, but it didn’t help them much.
“We must have good defense,” Sundhage said. “Key is transition, but we must not be so eager, be a little more unpredictable. They’re organized and get players behind the ball.”
Asked about the ability of Brazil and France to control possession of play against the United States, the coach said, “We’ll address that. At times we controlled by good defense. We need to keep better possession, be more patient and must run more . . . complete passes and find rhythm of attack.”
The coach talked about leadership on the team when asked about goalie Hope Solo’s leadership.
“She is one of many leaders. Even more so on field. . . She has good feet. . . she leads by example. She’s a winner, wants to win.”
Then the coach talked about the overall atmosphere in the U.S. locker room. “We create phenomenal atmosphere in locker room. They are singing, excited to play.”
While the team loves to promote a joyous, fun atmosphere, Sundhage said the players grew because of some of the tough times it faced.
“Because we had such a bumpy road, we had to come out stronger. I told them to try to enjoy every day. . . They have great heart and spirit. . . It is a team.”
Sundhage stressed her players success came from a collective effort and not from one player. She you feel the positive atmosphere in the locker room, adding they had gained confidence and energy in the last two games.
The players certainly appreciated the role their new coach had played.
Hope Solo said of their coach, “From the moment she stepped on, had an immediate impact. She wanted us to think and read the game for ourselves . . . to let the game come to us. She gave us the freedom to play the way we feel like it should be played.”
Solo said the coach might want to change the tactics at halftime, but the players loved that freedom to feel like it was when they were kids.
The goalie acknowledged the media has a big effect on the team, but not as a distraction, saying,”Our one and only goal is to win the tournament.
Solo said the team’s interaction with the German fans was very good, when asked about it. She was sad to see the German team exit the tournament, saying they saw as lot of sad faces among the crowd. She wanted to play Germany in the final, saying the German loss (to Japan) even affected her team’s mentality.
“Now the Americans are the local favorites,” Solo said.
Abby Wambach really praised her coaches for the astute substitutions made during the game. But she also said, “Getting to the finals is not good enough. We want to win it.”
Asked where she derived her inspiration to play like she does, Wambach said to look at all the losses and adversity. She learned it at an early age, she said when she was thrown into a hockey goal and had to compete. She recalled breaking her leg in 2008 and coming back from that.
The big forward said she feels “a bit on fire,” in this tournament as does the team. Then, when prompted, she paid some homage to the U.S. teams than came before, such as in 1999, the last World Cup Champion U.S. team.
“Respect has to be given to the players before us.”
She said not acknowledging them would be like slapping the women that came before.
“They’ve given me the right to do this and so much more. The game is better now and those women gave me a platform to play from.”
The very intense Wambach said minor injuries and fitness should not be a factor at this stage.
“If you are feeling pain going into the next game, then something is wrong with you as a soccer player. This is our dream, a pinnacle. We want to have a storybook ending. We are in the final with a very good chance to be the champs, but it will take a very good performance.”
Wambach looked to her teammates when asked to describe her significant goals in the tournament, saying, “I knew the goals could come, with enough craft from others. I don’t know how it happens. I was put in a position to score. I want to give my teammates thanks.”
Then she mentioned the Brazil game, when the team played more than 55 minutes a man down and still won, explaining, “If we play with a ‘we’ mentality instead of a ‘me’ mentality, we are more likely to win.”
Wambach said they had a, “dream job. It is our job and duty to give them (young players) a platform to inspire themselves, kind of pay it forward.”
She said she loved interaction with the little kids. She said she sees it as a responsibility, not a burden. Wambach showed a sharp wit when asked if the team could get a sense of how they are affecting people back in the states.
“Absolutely. There’s this thing called technology,” she cracked. “We saw people jumping out of their seats. Imagine the energy of millions of people back home supporting us and now we’ve won over the support of the Germans.”
Like her teammates, Wambach was so appreciative of Pia Sundhage, saying, “Pia has been a great coach to follow. Everyone plays a role. As long as we play our roles, that’s the only thing that matters.”