By Phillip Brents
SAN DIEGO - Qualifying for the 2007 FIFA Womens
World Cup begins in November. The United States womens national team
looks in fine shape to advance to its fifth consecutive tournament if the
outcome of its July 23 international friendly against Ireland a resounding
5-0 victory is any indicator.
We scored five quality goals. I am real happy
with that and we created a lot of other chances as well, USA head coach
Greg Ryan said after the game, played in front of 3,574 fans at USDs
Torero Stadium. We had a lot of young players on the field. I dont
think we quite had the rhythm with possession but I am always happy to see
the goals go in.
The U.S. squad, which improved to 8-0-3 in 2006, has
a decidedly new look these days without familiar faces Joy Fawcett, Julie
Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and many of the teams other veteran
players from the first four Womens World Cup tournaments. But this
youthful collection of skilled players looks to create its cast of heroines
before it eventually yields the field to another generation of players.
Ryan is also part of this new guard movement. He took
over reins of the team in March 2005 and since then Team USA has gone undefeated
under his leadership. The July 23 victory raised Ryans record to 16-0-4
as the teams head coach.
Defender Cat Whitehill led the Americans attack
with two goals while forwards Heather OReilly, Abby Wambach and Natasha
Kai each scored once as the defending Olympic champions out-shot the unlucky
The result marked the fifth consecutive time Team USA
has defeated Ireland by a 5-0 score.
Playing in a clearly 5-4-1 defensive formation, the
Irish did not penetrate past the U.S. midfield until 10 minutes had elapsed
in the contest, played in hot 86-degree temperatures, and challenged U.S.
goalkeeper Hope Solo (two saves) only late in the match when both teams had
made extensive substitutes.
After several near-misses, Team USA finally broke through
on OReillys goal in the 20th minute, assisted by Christine Welsh,
and led 2-0 at halftime when Whitehill blasted in her first goal of the game
in the 39th minute.
On the first USA goal, Welsh got past the entire Irish
defense and dribbled the ball into the box to the near post before laying
off a pass to OReilly, who scored from short range against Ireland
goalkeeper Emma Byrne. The Americans second goal originated off a corner
kick. Byrne made a heroic diving save on defender Tiny Frimpongs initial
shot but the rebound came directly to Whitehill, who promptly crushed the
ball into the empty net.
Team USA added goals in the 62nd, 74th and 89th minutes.
Wambach, who earned Woman of the Match honors, increased the U.S. lead to
3-0 on a spectacular diving header. Lori Chalupny drew the assist on the
crossing pass. The goal was the 56th in her national team career for the
Kai scored her fourth career goal in just seven
international appearances by out-racing the Irish defense on a curling pass
from Aly Wagner. Whitehill scored unassisted as the ball bounded between
bodies in the six-yard box following a cornerkick by Wagner. The goal was
the ninth for Whitehill best all-time among American defenders.
The U.S. lineup was rounded out by defenders Heather
Mitts, Christine Rampone and Amy LePeilbet, midfielders Leslie Osborne, Marci
Miller, Carli Lloyd and Lindsay Tarpley and forward Megan Rapinoe. Only veteran
goalkeeper Briana Scurry was not used in the match by Ryan. Fellow veteran
Kristine Lilly, who scored in stoppage time to give Team USA a 3-2 victory
against Sweden in an international friendly July 15 in Minnesota, did not
suit up for the July 23 contest.
If many of the names sound unfamiliar, they are as a
new generation takes over control of the fortunes of the U.S. womens
senior national team.
While an occasional Hamm T-shirt still shows up among
loyal fans, those sporting Wambachs number 20 are increasing in number
and with good reason. Wambach ranks seventh on the all-time scoring
list, just four goals behind Shannon MacMillan (San Pasqual High School).
MacMillan played for Team USA from 1993 to 2004, appearing in two Womens
World Cup and two Olympic tournaments. Of particular note, it took Wambach
64 games to notch 50 goals second best all-time in the history of
the womens national team program behind Michelle Akers (48 games).
It took Hamm, the worlds career scoring leader with 158 goals, 94 games
to score 50 goals.
Part of the reason for the new-look lineup has been
due to recent injuries. Midfielder Shannon Boxx was the latest to go down.
She likely will not be back in training until January after tearing anterior
cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee.
It took us a while to get in gear to get
that first goal. It helped that I scored it, OReilly said.
Theres a certain amount of stress and anxiety that we as players
feel. We knew that it was going to come but it (the first goal) helped reduce
the stress. Things began to fall into place after that.
The fifth FIFA Womens World Cup will be held Sept.
10-30, 2007, in five Chinese cities. The U.S. will qualify through the North
American and Caribbean region but will face its toughest competition against
rising European powers. Sweden finished second to Germany at the 2003
Womens World Cup while Team USA defeated Canada in the third-place
All of the European countries are improving,
OReilly said. All are committing more resources to their
(womens) national team programs. Every time we play them, theyre
Ireland is one European team that will not take part
in the 2007 Womens World Cup after being placed in a difficult qualifying
group with Germany ad Russia. Ireland, however, has shown promise for the
future after tying Scotland and defeating Switzerland 2-0.
We are never going to be satisfied losing
five-nil, said Irelands Byrne, who allowed four of the five U.S.
goals. Its depressing. Every time we play them its five.
We were trying to keep them to three or four (goals). Weve got a lot
of young players. It looks good for the future. But its going to be
a long way.
As for where this younger, new-look U.S. side stacks
up on the international scale, the Irish had a chance to act as a barometer
after playing defending Womens World Cup champion Germany last month.
The Germans defeated Ireland by a 1-0 score. Irish coach Noel King called
the loss a moral victory for his side.
Team USA and Germany played to a 0-0 draw in the
championship game of the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, with the U.S.
squad falling to the reigning Womens World Cup champions in penalty
The U.S. team is very aggressive, always going
forward, Byrne said. America is more direct. Germany is more
clinical. America is more creative in creating chances.
But measuring up against other teams doesnt seem
to be the Americans concern at the moment. It is how they measure up
against their own program.
We dont really focus on how many goals we
score against certain countries. We focus on ourselves, Wambach said
after the match against Ireland. With Shannon Boxx (and other key players)
going down to injuries, our younger players had to step it up. Thats
pretty much what this game was about.
So far, so good, it appears.