What we learned in China
U.S. not as bad as semis loss; Solo saga far from over
Posted: Sunday September 30, 2007 11:10AM; Updated: Monday October 1, 2007 12:42PM
SHANGHAI, China -- A few final thoughts from the World Cup:
Things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem. After the U.S. lost its semifinal to Brazil 4-0, all anyone could talk about was how far the program had fallen, how outclassed the players were and how grim the future looked.
Well, three days later the U.S. took apart a very good Norwegian team, winning the third-place game 4-1. The Americans basically did to Norway what Brazil had done to them -- they dropped a free-flowing attacking display on them, and in the process, they looked like they could have given any team in the world a run for its money.
So how good is this team? As usual, the truth lies in the middle. It's a very good team that was hurt at times by inexperience and a brutally difficult schedule. Every game was must-win, even what was supposed to be its easiest group match, against a very tough Nigeria team. As a result, there was never a comfort level, and that's a big deal when you've got a lineup that's got five starters who have never played in a World Cup before.
Sunday was the first time they weren't playing for their lives, and it's no coincidence it was the first time they looked relaxed. I'd be very surprised if anyone beats them 4-0 at the 2008 Olympics.
That said, some of the newbies were awfully good. Lori Chalupny and Heather O'Reilly were outstanding. Central midfielder Chalupny, 23, had her best game of the tournament against Norway, bringing tons of energy and creativity to the engine room. O'Reilly, 22, was the most dangerous one-on-one player the U.S. had, and like Chalupny, she was brilliant against Norway. With the tournament under their belts, they're only going to get better.
Greg Ryan deserves credit for facing the music. He never ducked a question about the Hope Solo affair or the decision -- benching her -- that started it. If anyone had second guessed Bruce Arena like that, I don't think it would have been met with as much grace.
And while we're at it, if you're going to criticize Ryan for his personnel moves against Brazil (he did a lot of tinkering with the back line when he needed attacking), give him credit for his moves against Norway. With Kate Markgraf out with a sprained ankle, he could have just put Tina Ellertson in her place. Instead he moved Christie Rampone inside and gave Marian Dalmy a shot at right back, and Dalmy was outstanding. And within about 10 seconds of being brought on as a sub, Lindsay Tarpley stormed down Norwegian keeper Bente Nordby, which led to O'Reilly's goal.
The U.S. players are taking the Solo business seriously. None of her teammates seemed sure if she'd be flying home on the team plane, and none of them seemed to care too much. She's definitely persona non grata, and it's going to take a lot of work for her to regain her teammates' trust.
The Chinese either love the Norwegians or they hate Americans. Raucous chants of Nor-way! Nor-way! rocked the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium all game. That was pretty much par for the course -- it seemed like every game the U.S. played the crowd was against it. But credit the Chinese fans. They gave the U.S. a warm ovation after their win, and they provided a great atmosphere for the final.
Speaking of the final, that was a fantastic show. Brazil brought an unprecedented level of elan to the tournament, and it showed that you're not going to win on the world stage without a lot of skill and some verve. That might not bode well for some countries, but it's great news for fans.
Finally, Marta is unbelievable. She is so far ahead of everyone else in the world, it's absurd. Athletes like her are the reason YouTube was invented.