FOX Soccer Exclusive
Festivities cannot erase USA's issues
The United States women's national team earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Germany at Toyota Park Saturday night, with an early goal from Abby Wambach cancelled out by a fine strike from Anja Mittag. The USA next travels to East Hartford, Conn. to face Germany again on Oct. 23.
Saturday’s game was a friendly, part of the USA’s extended post-Games tour, and the outcome had no effect on anything but the team’s wallets. But it was more compelling than many exhibitions, as it pitted two of the world’s best women’s teams against each other. The Americans are reigning gold medalists and were World Cup semifinalists; the Germans have dominated the European Championships but shockingly failed to qualify for London. Both attempt to play a passing, technical style of soccer and both have a long history of support for the women’s game.
In fact, the ties between the two nations may grow even deeper in the coming months. Germany has several strong women’s professional teams, and the USA, of course, is currently without a league. It’s not a stretch to suggest that soon, some of America’s finest players will be plying their trade in Frankfurt or Potsdam.
That is a major reason for this barnstorming tour of the USA. Billed as a “fan tribute tour,” the reality is the Americans need games to stay sharp. There is little else on the horizon: the 2015 Women’s World Cup seems very distant, and talk of a third attempt at a fully professional women’s league remains just that for now. The Americans don’t even have a coach: Pia Sundhage departed after the Games to take the head job in Sweden and there is no timetable to name her replacement.
Nonetheless, the USA were here to entertain, and for large spells they did. The Americans got on the board swiftly, with Wambach slotting home a cross from Alex Morgan in only the second minute of play. For the Bridgeview crowd, it felt like the rout might be on.
But Germany wasn’t about to concede the day. Building off the work of Bianca Schmidt, Linda Bresonik and Mittag, Germany began to pass and probe, putting pressure on the Americans’ left flank. Just 12 minutes later, the Americans would cough the ball up in midfield, allowing Simone Laudeher to collect and find Mittag, who coolly chipped Hope Solo.
The Germans would firmly impose themselves on the game from that moment on. The Americans lacked crispness and ideas up top, and Solo found herself under steady bombardment as the game drew on. The USA were forced into an old habit: playing long balls up to Wambach and hoping. That hope would not be repaid.
Mittag and Bresonik would continue to vex Kelley O’Hara and Christie Rampone, and until the flood of second half substitutions fragmented the game, the Germans looked more likely to score. Former Chicago Red Star Megan Rapinoe had a forgettable evening and later departed at the half; Morgan was active but unable to find the mark. German sub Alexandra Popp would come closest to breaking the deadlock late in the game with a towering header that just eluded Solo’s far post.
The festive atmosphere in Chicago could not erase the fact that the women’s game in America is, in fact, in deep trouble.
Exhibition games are fun, and popular, but they only employ about 25 women at a time. For the USA to continue to prosper, they need a full-time league and opportunities for hundreds of women. If that feeder system is not in place, then the women’s team, as Americans currently know it, will cease to exist.
Yet after two consecutive failures — the profligate WUSA and the far more conservative WPS — it’s hard to imagine that many American businessmen will sign up for a third women’s league. Any new league is likely to require heavy subsidies from US Soccer to survive in the short-term and is going to have to be able to absorb heavy losses.
If that sounds like wishful thinking – well, it probably is. Despite the fact that Solo and Wambach are household names, few fans can name the WPS teams they played on. Fewer still could name their teammates at those clubs. Despite the ardor that the sellout crowd at Toyota displayed toward the women in red, white and blue, the fact is that when those same women change from national uniforms into club strips, they disappear from the landscape.
Still, for one night, under a clear fall sky, the USA’s women had to feel on top of the world. Their present looks just fine. It’s the future that is uncertain.
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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