FC Indiana coach Shek Borkowski has shared his thoughts on the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Follow Shek on Twitter
USA’s 1:0 win over Mexico demonstrated that the spine of the team is on its last legs and not likely to participate in another World Cup. Rampone 36, Boxx 34, Lloyd 29, Wambach 31 are at an age when recovery takes longer, reaction time slows down and effectiveness decreases. There are physiological changes, which take place as we age, and regardless of diet and exercise regiment, older players are unable to compete against younger players on equal footing. Zidane knows that, and so does Scholes.
With USA’s game historically based on athleticism and power, these four players specifically will be tested by younger, more agile, fitter players, and it will not be easy. Rampone is still a defensive leader and organizer, but at this World Cup she will be severely tested. Boxx is no longer the box-to-box midfielder, and she has struggled in the last 12 months with consistency. Lloyd never was and never will be the quick, creative playmaker the US so desperately needs and lacks. Asking her to frequently get into opposing teams’ penalty box can lead to gaps and quick counters. While shooting from distance is her strong characteristic, that alone can’t be criterion for selection. Heather Mitts’ inclusion in the squad can only be attributed to sentimental reasons, as she no longer appears to be first choice even for her club team. It’s been reported that Mitts was told on the field that she was going to Germany. Surely Pia made that decision before Mitts’ very average appearance against Mexico, which included two moments when she was badly exposed. Inexperienced Mexicans did not punish the USA, but Germans will be a lot less forgiving.
Wambach in her prime struck fear in opposing defenders. She had the “box presence,” the ability to get on the end of all balls served into the penalty box, and making defenders hesitant. It is no longer the case today. Nowadays, with her pace a step slower, Wambach increasingly prefers to come towards play to get involved instead of attacking space behind defenses. Her style of play and injuries took their toll on her body. Her ferocious and well-timed runs into the box are no longer ferocious, and as of late they’re not even happening much anymore. And when she gets opportunities as she did against Mexico, she missed a sitter from 6 yards out. Pia’s insistence on playing Wambach may have more to do with lack of options than her form of the last 12 months. Wambach’s contemporary, Birgit Prinz of Germany, is two years older, but German coaching staff has continuously developed her style, and her role with German WNT has changed. More in Wambach’s mold in her younger years, Prinz’s game has evolved and she drops off to become a linkup player, more of a playmaker than a striker. Technically very good, Prinz is capable of making space for teammates as well as making accurate long and short passes and involving her teammates.
Post Germany 2011, USA has O’Hara, Heath, Cheney, Morgan and 3-5 other youngsters with much potential. Their tactical and technical development in the next 2-3 years will be key to their personal and USA’s future. Players such as Rodriguez and Masar could replace Wambach but both require refining of their game. Masar’s development has benefited from WPS in year one and two but not so sure about this season. Rodriguez in WPS off-season needs work on timing and precision of her runs as well as improving her general technique. While Pia plays Rapinoe as a wide player, I believe she may be more suited to playing in the middle as a playmaker. She prefers to seek the ball as opposed to running behind defenders; a more central role should be in her future.
It’s been 12 years since the USA won the World Cup. In that time most countries, from Australia to Russia, have invested in infrastructure and development of the game. The state of women’s facilities in this country is beyond critical. W-League and WPSL, the long-term hope for post college development, have around 90 teams between them. Less than 10% have access to quality soccer facilities for training and matches. Year-round access to conditioning and medical facilities is nonexistent. Comparing access to modern training/conditioning and medical facilities in Germany, Sweden and many European countries to those in the USA will make one weep. Year-round training, competition, access to modern facilities and compensation is what increases professionalism and standard of individual and team play. Today, even WPS can’t deliver that. We are losing a large percentage of good, post-college players who are willing to continue their playing careers outside of WPS. Recognizing that in the USA players are limited to 3-month playing seasons and no access to quality facilities, they lose interest and move on. The Federation and Soccer United Marketing must demonstrate leadership and become proactive. In partnership with Nike, state and local governments, state adult associations and adult clubs, they must invest in small facilities, which can be utilized by adult teams in each state. (Another option is to have MLS teams field professional women’s teams and allow those teams the use of their facilities.) If ever there was a country that needs a long-term strategy when it comes to women’s football, it is the USA. The last decade, the USSF has been in stagnation, refusing to modernize and to invest long term, living on its 1999 success. With the reality that in the last 12 years we’ve witnessed a huge women’s football opportunity destroyed for some years, if not for good, the perpetrators who mismanaged our women’s programs have pretty much run out of excuses. These people, if they ran banks, mutual funds, if they were doctors, they would be accused of malfeasance, of malpractice, and of mismanagement.
We can continue to pretend that everything is well with the women’s game in this country, but without serious long term strategy and investment, we are facing a long, downward trend in performances and results on international stage.