The United States women defeated Argentina, 7-0, on Thursday to advance to the International Tournament of Brasília final against host nation Brazil. Besides its solitary victory, the U.S. has struggled in the tournament, drawing with China before losing to Brazil.
Brazil and China are both strong sides in the top 15 of the FIFA World Ranking, and both of them will be at the 2015 World Cup (Argentina, No. 36, will not be).
The U.S. has never been more vulnerable to other nations in a sport it used to dominate, and it relinquished the No. 1 overall ranking on Friday to Germany for the first time since 2008. The FIFA Ranking is less than a perfect mechanism, but this change has been coming for some time.
Here are three thoughts on the team’s current state and how things could end up in Canada next summer:
• Nobody fears the U.S. anymore, nor should they
Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Kimika Forbes said as much in her post-game television interview when her team narrowly lost to the Americans in World Cup qualifying. Putting a smackdown on teams such as Argentina and CONCACAF minnows in qualifiers masks a larger problem that the U.S. has stagnated with its physical playing style while the rest of the world matures technically and tactically.
Players such as Morgan Brian and Christen Press have started to play bigger roles on the team, and they’re closer to the global standard toward which the U.S. should be striving on both the men’s and women’s side. However, the old guard still seems to have a stranglehold on the general direction of the team, and the ethos of “bigger, faster, stronger” players haven’t fallen flat enough on the world stage yet to get more players like Press and Brian their extended opportunities.
• If World Cup qualifying showed anything, it’s that powerhouse nations on the men’s side have started taking the women’s game seriously as well
Spain qualified for the World Cup for the first time, as did the Netherlands. Spanish men’s manager Vicente del Bosque told FIFA.com, “It’s the same kind of development that we’ve seen in the men’s game.” Spain has made three major youth finals in the past year, and 2014 Portland Thorns playmaker Verónica Boquete, 27, recently emerged as a major star.
France, Germany and Sweden continue to pace Europe, and the U.S. has played each of them closely in their last few encounters. A trip to France and England in February should provide another good litmus test as the World Cup approaches, where the U.S. was drawn into the toughest group with Nigeria, Australia and Sweden.
• A poor World Cup could be a catalyst for some much-needed change
The U.S. is in the toughest group of the World Cup, Alex Morgan is still recovering from a series of ankle injuries over the past year and the process of managerial turnover from Tom Sermanni to Jill Ellis still hasn’t finished. One of the goals for the Brasília Tournament was to test the depth of the player pool, and it hasn’t produced many inspirational moments other than a seven-goal victory over a team that has never won a World Cup match.
Rather than denying that others have caught up and trying to power through with the same philosophy as in the past, it’s time to embrace the challenge. The U.S. should be the best team in the world with its vast infrastructure, population and history of emphasis on women’s sports. The kind of players needed to compete in the new global marketplace already exist here — the national team programs just need to do a better job valuing their abilities and identifying and developing them.