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U.S. should be on the defensive

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Posted: Friday July 09, 1999 01:13 PM


Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl will answer your Women's World Cup questions weekly. Click here to send a question.

LOS ANGELES -- No U.S.-China prediction in this week's 'Bag preamble, but don't despair -- you can get my pick below and a full breakdown on Friday. In the meantime, welcome to CNNSI dot dot dot com:

Why isn't Madison Avenue all over U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry ? ... Hold off on those is- Mia-Hamm -having-a-good-tournament-or-not questions until after the game on Saturday. Before last year's men's final, everybody would have said that Zinedine Zidane was a bust ... Tony DiCicco , meet Harry Reems ... Has anyone noticed that Michelle Akers is having the best Women's World Cup of any U.S. player? ... Good thing German defender Steffi Jones finally met up with her long-lost American father. Who could have known it was Julius Erving ? ... What's up with this misconception that the U.S. players are somehow more appealing because they're not lesbians? For one thing, some of them are, and that does absolutely nothing to change my opinion of them as great entertaining athletes ... (warning: Larry King non sequitur coming) Check out the movie Run Lola Run . The lead character could give pointers on stamina to Alexi Lalas , one redhead to another ...

All right, 'Bag time...

Against Germany and Brazil, the U.S. defense gave me the willies. What is the deal with the open space, and even more troubling, the sloppy play and turnovers? Right now, I'd say China would have to be the sizable favorite to win the final.
-- Ken Flint, Sylvania, Ohio

I agree with you that China should be the favorite. Not only have the Chinese beaten the U.S. on two of three occasions this year -- including once on American soil which broke the Yanks' 49-game streak of home games without a loss -- but they've played much better over the run of this tournament. China's 5-0 win over Norway was easily the most surprising result of the WWC, not because China won but because it made the defending world champs look like an AYSO team.

As for the U.S. defense, you're right on that count too. The key question of the final is whether the U.S. back four can keep up with the fast, smart Chinese attack. So far, only Joy Fawcett has acquitted herself well on the American back line. Brandi Chastain has been too lax or out of position, Carla Overbeck is too slow and has had mysterious brainlocks, and Kate Sobrero has been mediocre at best. (Only the play of Scurry has saved the U.S. from giving up several unnecessary goals.) Compare this to France's magnificent back four at last year's World Cup, and it makes you wonder how the U.S. has been able to get this far.

After all that, I'm picking the U.S. to win, 3-2. Explanation to follow in my final preview which will be posted Friday ...

This is more of a comment than a question. Coverage of the Women's World Cup in the United States is so biased towards the U.S. team. It's true that they are the favorites, but I think credit has to be given to other teams when it is due. In the semis against Brazil, the U.S. was outplayed. The Americans won, however, thanks to a bungle by the Brazilian keeper and VERY questionable U.S. penalty kick.
-- Danstan Bagenda, Seattle

I don't think Brazil outplayed the U.S., but I would say that the game was much closer than post-game reports described. The way I see it, the first U.S. goal was bad for women's soccer. Brazilian goalkeeper Maravilha made such a bush-league gaffe that it surely gave skeptics a reason to say, "I told you the women couldn't play," when in fact this tournament has been largely free of such errors. The PK was a close call, but I believe the right one.

That said, most American media outlets are of the opinion that the public at large doesn't care about the non-U.S. teams, and they're probably right. Whether that's a good thing is another matter -- it's not -- but the fact is, Americans want to know about the U.S. team and not much else. At least that's better than the situation in some countries -- Brazil and Germany come to mind -- where the citizens don't even care about their own women's teams, to say nothing of other countries' teams.

Why doesn't U.S. coach Tony DiCicco start Shannon MacMillan in place of Cindy Parlow at forward?
-- Nigel Campbell, Pullman, Wash.

Well, Nigel, a week ago I would have asked the same question. In fact, I did ask it in my story in the magazine. But you know what? I'm starting to believe that DiCicco may be making the right move after all. Let's pose a more general question: should a coach always start his best 11 players? If the answer is yes, MacMillan would start ahead of Parlow. But if their roles were reversed would Parlow provide the spark that MacMillan has almost every time she's come off the bench? No way. In fact, nobody could. That's why Mac is an invaluable sub, and why DiCicco is looking smarter and smarter every day.

I know that a large number of the U.S. women are married. Are their husbands at the tournament? (I know Mia's husband is away on active duty) The husbands are never mentioned on TV or shown in the crowds.
-- Autumn West, Maryville, Tenn.

Seven of the American players are married, though I must say that I haven't run into any of their husbands in the past three weeks while covering the team. Most of them are, in fact, around, but an odd thing happened when I asked Mia Hamm if I could get the phone number/e-mail of her husband Christian, a Marine helicopter pilot stationed in Japan. She said flatly that she wouldn't give them to me, and added that he wasn't available. I find it strange that he couldn't get some time off to watch his wife -- the world's most famous women's soccer player -- in her showcase event. Equally strange is that she wouldn't want me talking to him, since it would make for a good story about how he's watching the games, etc.

Was China's 5-0 trouncing of Norway surprising to you? I thought it would be a very tight match but, to my great surprise, it turned out to be extremely lopsided. Do you think the match was an accurate reflection of the two teams?
-- Xun Xiong, Munich, Germany

Xiong, the scariest thing about China's destruction of Norway was that it could have been much worse. China could have scored in double figures (no joke) had its forwards been able to finish more chances. Norway just wasn't any match defensively for the Chinese attack. Just think of what China might be able to do in the final with rested players! In other words, it's no exaggeration to call China the favorite. At the same time, I think the U.S. is due for a big game after three so-so outings. Hence my call for a 3-2 U.S. win.

Hi Grant, I'd like to clear my name with regard to an earlier comment I made in response to the person who said Danielle Fotopoulos should be starting. I was attempting to say that Parlow -- with her ability to hold the ball, attack with the dribble and set up others with passes as well as score herself -- is more versatile and more valuable than Fotopoulos. I meant to say that Parlow is the type of player who could replace Michelle Akers IN THE FUTURE. I absolutely did not intend to imply that Akers should be benched now in favor of Parlow, only that DiCicco is right to play her ahead of Fotopoulos.
-- William Wallace, Charlotte, N.C.

Fine, William, fine. I didn't mean to besmirch your reputation in the last 'Bag. I agree that Parlow is more versatile than Fotopolous, which isn't saying much, since Foto is awfully one-dimensional. I haven't seen anything from her to show that she has the potential to be an international player, except that she's big. So is Fat Bastard from Austin Powers , and you don't see him getting any caps for Scotland.

As for Parlow, the semifinal against Brazil was clearly her best game of the WWC, and not because she scored. She made some wonderful passes, and for the first time started moving toward passes coming her way, instead of waiting for them to arrive and watching a defender make the steal. Parlow has the potential to be a pretty good player in the future, though she'll never have the explosiveness of Hamm or Tiffeny Milbrett . The quest for the U.S. women post-2000 Olympics will be to find a forward in that mold -- Parlow and Fotopolous certainly won't fit the bill.

FIFA's president, Joseph Blatter, has said he wants the men's World Cup to be played every two years, but he that didn't think that schedule would apply to the Women's World Cup. I think he has it backwards. The WWC should be played at least every two years. It would work best if it alternated between the U.S. and "new" markets like Australia and Brazil. As a matter of fact, until the U.S. women get the pro league they deserve, the WWC should be played every non-Olympic year. What are the chances of this, Grant?
-- Saivan Lujan, Miami

The big question is whether a U.S. pro league is able to get started in 2001. If it is, then I would argue for holding a Women's World Cup every two years and keeping women's soccer out of the Olympics. Why? The Olympics have never been a good mix with soccer. I'm referring mainly to men's soccer, in which the Olympics is a glorified under-23 tournament. But if there's a women's pro league, having the Olympics the year after a World Cup would be overkill and stunt the growth of the U.S. league, which presumably would have the best players in the world. The WWC has shown that soccer can survive just fine on its own, without the Olympic umbrella (and the attendant distractions presented by the other Olympic sports.)

If there ISN'T a U.S. pro league, however, I would suggest having a women's world championship every year, whether it be an Olympic tournament or a World Cup. Women's soccer needs a kick start in most countries, and annual global events would provide that.

Send a question to Grant Wahl, and check back every week to read more of his answers.

Related information
Previous Wahl Mailbag: Akers of respect, DiCicco for a day
Wahl Q & A: China's offense is its best defense
Wahl's U.S.-China breakdown
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