Women's World Cup: Scrubbing Bubbles; or, Fools, Drunkards, and the United States

Gold Cup preview: I hate Klinsmann and I hope we lose.  Now, let's wrap up the Women's World Cup. 

Boy, Fox Sports was right - no, not about having a studio of Abdo's authentic British accent, Lalas' random hot takes and Wynalda's patronizing boredom.  There IS a lot of soccer this summer. 

Well, I shouldn't go too much further into this before I apologize to Jill Ellis.  And I'm trying not to do it with backhanded smarm.  The problem with the US, especially in retrospect, seems like it was so easily solved.  That tall, slow person? Yeah, don't start her.  Everybody saw this except the tiny minority of Abby Wambach's multitude of fans.  So why didn't Ellis do it weeks, or months, earlier? 

My preliminary working theory was that Abby Wambach was the definitive over-mighty subject, the Kobe Bryant of the USWNT. 

It's hard to read Jeff Carlisle's excellent analysis of the decisions Ellis made without concluding SOMETHING was going on behind the scenes, politics-wise.  Frexample:

"It's not easy to [sit] one of the most decorated goal scorers in the world," said Wambach without a hint of modesty. "But Jill and our coaching staff were confident, as was I, in the players who were starting ahead of me."

Woe betide the USMNT player who offers unsolicited public advice on a Juergen Klinsmann lineup....well, once the USMNT gets around to fielding one of the most decorated goal scorers in the world.  I suppose the situations aren't completely parallel. 

In this scenario, Abby Wambach was indeed the most important player in the tournament.  Carli Lloyd gave Abby the armband in gratitude for not destroying the team.  The effusive praise of Wambach's leadership came from her simply accepting what untold thousands of players take for granted - we have better players now, go rub your cheeks against some bench and enjoy the view.

Arguing against this cynical theory of Wambach's malignancy, sadly, are some pretty salient facts.  The respect the rest of the team showed to Wambach and Rampone, putting them front and center for a highly symbolic moment, shouldn't be lost on anyone. 

I had the same reaction Beau did in the aftermath - the tell-all book will be amazing!  But there's a distinct possibility that what we saw is exactly what we got.  Jill Ellis used Wambach and Rampone (and, one assumes, other grizzled and scarred veterans like Shannon Boxx) as de facto assistant coaches more than for on-field contributions.  Ellis created a bubble to protect her team, because her team needed continual positive reinforcement.  Her upbeat comments after the Colombia game were for her team's benefit, and the team responded. 

Hey, remember all those things Pia Sundhage said to Sam Borden, that inspired the US to prove her wrong?  Sure you do:

“Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach, by the way,” Sundhage said offhandedly at one point, her fork dangling as she considered Lloyd, who is a top midfielder for the United States. “When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.”

She took a bite of salad. “It was so delicate, so, so delicate,” she said.

Sundhage did not hesitate to offer opinions on her other players as well, explaining that she was sharing nothing more than she had told the players themselves. Christie Rampone was “probably the best captain I’ve ever seen, including myself,” she said. Hope Solo, whose various off-field disciplinary issues lingered over the run-up to the World Cup, and burst into the open again this week, was one of the most challenging players Sundhage has ever coached, “especially when it comes to trouble,” she said. And Abby Wambach, 35, who is playing in her fourth World Cup, would not be a starter if Sundhage still coached the team.

“I said that to Abby,” she recalled. “I told her: ‘If I stayed, you would be a sub. The best sub ever. But a sub.’ There was no question about that in my mind.”

Every word of this was gospel truth.  And, in the aftermath of these comments being publicized, the US proved Pia painfully correct, by stinking it up against their old coach's team (who, fortunately, were equally stinky).  Yet Ellis won the World Cup, and Pia Sundhage Croons The Classics languishes at the bottom of the download stats.

This was a team that needed positive feedback, Ellis gave it to them, and it paid off.  Ellis built up egos where Klinsmann mows them down, but they each get results that defy numbers and analysis.  Some flowers need rain, others need sunshine.  As long as the garden blooms, I suppose.

I mean, it's that, or give Ellis credit for picking the side of the field that didn't have the sun shining in the goalkeeper's eyes. 

This also vindicated the decision (whether by Ellis or dark forces unknown) to keep Hope Solo.  I saw nothing in particular that suggested Ashlyn Harris couldn't have won the World Cup, but if there's one thing we've learned from the troubles of the past eight years, it's that goalkeeping changes must be done with extreme delicacy.  God help Harris or Naeher if one of them had let in a shot or two, and someone then stuck a mike in Solo's face and asked whether she would have saved it. 

Was keeping her on the team the right decision?  Well, obviously I was wrong - of course it was.  IF the federation, or the team, or someone who cares about Hope Solo can get her to stop drinking.  Yeah, I'm not a doctor, and I'm not qualified to diagnose alcoholism.  But if, say, chocolate chip cookies are screwing up your family relationships AND risking your career? Maybe it's time to put the jar aside for a second and seriously address the underlying issues.

But then again, her not getting help after being kicked off the team would have the same outcome as her not getting help after winning the World Cup.  So hey, why not win a World Cup?  If you're going to crash, might as well crash an Escalade than a Geo Metro.

Now that the Women's World Cup has broken viewing records, the team has decided to expend some political capital on the NWSL.  The economic realities of women's soccer players in this country have been scrutinized in great detail this tournament.  And just because the USWNT have it better than Brazil or Nigeria doesn't mean it isn't jarring to hear Jeff Van Gundy on ESPN radio talk about hosting financially-strapped Morgan Brian and Meghan Klingenberg. This is the other side of the picture, when you see Wambach and Alex Morgan wrap themselves in the flag in order to wrap themselves in dollar bills. 

But now the Houston Dash - who, by the way, I've loved since their wonderful dating-site parody ads.  Weird that I detest the Dynamo and love the Dash - now have a monstrous potential windfall.  They boast three significant contributors to the world champions - Brian, Klingenberg, and....remind me to look up who the third player is.  Someone mentioned her name, and I've completely forgotten.

It's a foregone conclusion that the NWSL won't get every fan who cheered on the USWNT.  They probably won't even get a realistic percentage.  The financial situation of Brian and Klingenberg might improve - I assume it will - but their anonymous teammates won't be going on any ticker-tape parades.  Their financial situation, barring (a) NWSL achieving Beatlemania status and (b) a successful re-negotiation of their current contracts, is set for the foreseeable. 

Since the players' fortunes for the most part won't be any different, my suggestion to the NWSL is not to adjust their business models based on Sunday, either.  If the product is good enough to justify turning on the lights and fielding teams, then losing to Japan wouldn't have changed that. 

What certainly won't help, as ample experience has proven, is demanding club support for the good of the national team.  Hectoring casual fans for their non-support of, let's face it, terribly obscure teams is an awful strategy.  And most NWSL teams, let alone lower division teams unblessed with national team stars, cannot begin to promise the emotional atmosphere of a World Cup.  Even if they can provide the FieldTurf.

....although the changes, they are timing.  My local women's team is now suffering a spate of hooliganism, of all things.

I'm not saying that it's a good sign when women's soccer fans are so passionate they will destroy private property - but I'm not NOT saying it, either.  If passions run this high in the WPSL, then the NWSL has a bright future.