A Hairy Situation
Posted: Thursday June 24, 1999 01:02 PM
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl will answer your Women's World Cup questions weekly. Click here to send a question.
CHICAGO -- What was I thinking? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. But for now, I'll just say that I dyed my hair blonde (yellow, really) in honor of the Nigerian women's soccer team. Ann Chiejine , Nigeria's goalie and a Lagos hairdresser, dyed her own locks platinum, as well as those of several teammates. Not everyone went lighter though, Nigerian midfielder "Marvelous" Mercy Akide is sporting a green and white 'do to match her country's colors. In all honesty, the players look much better than I do. And I didn't really dye my hair in honor of Nigeria, but that's not a path we want to go down, now is it? So, let's talk about Thursday's crucial U.S.- Nigeria match instead. Watch it, if you can, because it could turn out to be one of the highest-scoring games of the tournament. Both teams will play attacking soccer, but the key should be the U.S. women's organization on defense -- and Nigeria's lack of it. Expect Nigeria to get an early goal with its speed, but the U.S. will buckle down and romp: say, 6-2.
On to the bag ...
Hi, I've just started paying attention to the U.S. women's soccer team.
They're outstanding! Can you tell me how long the nucleus of this team has been
You've hit upon the main reason why the U.S. team plays so well together. In the late 1980s, former U.S. coach Anson Dorrance took a risk by dumping several veterans and calling in a raft of youngsters. On one particular trip to China in 1987, Dorrance called up four rookies ( Julie Foudy , Mia Hamm , Kristine Lilly and Joy Fawcett ) who are still starters today. They're joined by ironwoman Michelle Akers (who scored the first-ever goal for the U.S. in 1985), Carla Overbeck (who debuted in 1988) and Brandi Chastain (an 11-year vet). While experience is crucial to the team's success, it wouldn't matter at all if the players didn't maintain a high fitness level. Keep an eye on Lilly, Foudy and Fawcett. They can cover acres for a full 90 minutes.
Although the U.S. is favored to win, the players must feel an enormous
amount of pressure, and that's not considering how well Norway or China will
play. If the Americans lose in an early round -- or in the semis or the final --
how detrimental would it be to women's soccer in the U.S.?
Certainly the prospect of a women's league in the States (beginning in 2001) would be advanced most by a U.S. win, but my feeling is that the sport will take a hit here only if the Americans fail to reach the final. I would go so far as to say that, given the right marketing, a women's professional league might be successful in the United States -- on a limited basis, at least. Why? It would be the best league in the world, drawing players from all over, as compared to Major League Soccer, which might be the world's 10th or 11th best league skill-wise.
In reference to the television commentators and the stats they put up on the
players: what are "caps"? I have never heard this term.
A "cap" is one appearance by a player for a national team. It refers to an old European custom of giving players an actual piece of headwear each time they played in the national colors. Caps tend to make players happy, unless you're talking to an MLS player about The Cap (a.k.a. the salary cap) which forces some players to earn as little as $24,000 a year.
My question is about the U.S.'s opening game against Denmark. I haven't seen
many articles criticizing the performance of the U.S. Maybe that's because the
team cruised to a 3-0 victory, but I think there should be some question about
the play of Briana Scurry in goal. I saw many key errors: poor judgment in
coming out, not coming out when she should have and many miscommunications with
her defenders. I think we escaped, and should feel lucky we won by the margin we
did. Are there any plans to bring in the other keeper or do we live and die by
Well, Jeff, denigrating the keeper after a 3-0 win is a bit much. What's more, I disagree with you for the most part. Scurry played a huge role in the opening 20 minutes while the rest of the U.S. team was suffering from a case of nerves. The Danes, meanwhile, threw everything they had into their attack, and it was Scurry who came off her line and sacrificed her body at the edge of the box to make a big early save.
You're right about some miscommunication with her defenders, though, including a particularly bad misplay by defender Kate Sobrero in the second half. Still, my big concern with the U.S. defense isn't Scurry (I think she's a rock) but the lack of speed in the back four. Coach Tony DiCicco has the same worry, which is why he may start a speedster like Sara Whalen at defender against the faster Nigerians on Thursday.
Don't expect to see Scurry get yanked. She has loads of experience, including the 1995 World Cup and the '96 Olympics. Reserve Saskia Webber could fill in for her, but probably only if Scurry is injured.
I saw Danielle Fotopolous play last fall when Florida won the NCAA
championship over perennial champ North Carolina. I think she is a formidable
presence (she's 5'11" and not many can move her from the ball). Why, in
your opinion, is DiCicco playing Cindy Parlow instead of Foto? I feel Foto is
just what the U.S. needs: a physical, yet speedy player.
To be honest, Christine, I don't see why the U.S. needs a big, slow forward in its lineup, whether it's Parlow or Fotopolous. If you think Fotopolous is "speedy," you've been watching too many games at FF on your VCR. She ruled the college ranks, but that success doesn't always translate to the international level, where the game is played at a much faster pace.
Parlow is just as slow, and neither she nor Fotopolous fits the U.S.'s attacking style of play. Look at what happened against Denmark. The U.S. kept the ball on the ground, and Parlow was consistently beaten to passes by faster defenders. The U.S. would be better off with a smaller, quicker player up front, especially if it's not going to attack through the air. I'd put Lilly or Shannon MacMillan up there full time.
What is your opinion of the officiating so far, with the all-women crews? To
me it seemed more consistent and less idiosyncratic than in the most recent
men's World Cup.
There haven't been any major mistakes so far, which means that the WWC referees are doing far better than their pathetic counterparts in MLS, at least. As for comparing them with the men's World Cup, I'd say it's about even so far. It helps the WWC that there are fewer hard fouls and less diving than in the men's game. That said, most of the women refs have little experience because there simply aren't many professional leagues where they can hone their skills. I'm sure we'll see a pretty big gaffe at some point -- most likely on a blown offside call or a phantom penalty in the box.
Send a question to Grant Wahl, and check back every week to read more of his answers.
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