Brazil rolls to 4-0 victory over Americans in World Cup semifinal.
U.S. Women's World Cup fortunes declined quickly in rout by Brazil.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, September 28, 2007) -- A soccer match lasts 90 minutes, but it didn't even take a half hour for the United States Women's World Cup effort to turn into a train wreck. Essentially, everything the U.S. had built over the last two years at a cost of millions of dollars came unraveled last night with Brazil's 4-0 dissection of the Americans at Hangzhou (China) Dragon Stadium.
Coach Greg Ryan set the Americans down the road to disaster with his controversial decision to replace goalkeeper Hope Solo with Briana Scurry. Suddenly, the U.S. camp became embattled as word of Ryan's move spread around the media and the entire tournament. Discussion of American positives -- such as their three straight shutouts and a strong second half in defeating England 3-0 in the quarterfinals -- became secondary.
Possibly there was something to Ryan's rationale that Scurry was a better shot-blocker -- Solo disputed that concept -- and had great success previously against the Brazilians, but he went about it in the wrong way. He sprang it on his team at the last minute and apparently didn't communicate it well to Solo and her teammates, disrupting the chemistry of the close-knit squad with devastating consequences.
The U.S. actually got off to a good start, pushing the ball into the Brazilian end and getting two quality chances on goal in the first 10 minutes. The Brazilians started to come back and the next 10 minutes were physical and even. Then the roof fell in.
In the 20th minute, Brazil midfielder Formiga sent a rather harmless left-side corner kick in front of the near post. Scurry should have easily stepped up and controlled the ball, but she stood fixed on her goal-line, looking like a deer in someone's headlights. Although she was under no pressure, Leslie Osborne made a panicked dive, heading at knee height a ball that easily could have been kicked. The ball twisted off Osborne's head and went three yards into the corner of the net.
Seven minutes later, Marta controlled a ball, carried into the box and let go with the type of shot that Ryan specifically said was his reason for inserting Scurry. She got a hand on the ball, but failed to steer it away from her net and the U.S. was suddenly in dire straights, down 2-0. Twenty minutes before U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx was sent off with a second yellow card, the American prospects were looking bleak.
What few have focused on is that Ryan built this team with a certain opponent in mind, a Scandinavian\German model of big, aggressive, physical players who don't have much pace. The American team was not designed to take on the fleet Brazilians or the speedy, technical North Koreans, for that matter.
The U.S. midfielders looked slow as they tried to contain, usually by chasing, faster Brazilians. Case in point, the relatively immobile Boxx had had trouble keeping up with her marks throughout the first half and had to resort to fouling. The "foul" -- a figment of referee Nicole Petignat's imagination -- that led to a second yellow and Boxx's ejection was preposterous, but she should have been sent off a few minutes earlier for a hard foul that many times would have drawn a booking.
So the U.S. started the second half two goals and a player down and there was not the leadership on the field or on the bench to reverse its fortunes. Ryan then started making unfathomable substitutions. First he removed his most mobile defender, Stephanie Lopez, in favor of midfielder Carli Lloyd. Fair enough, but then he used his two remaining substitutions by bringing in Tina Ellertson and Marian Dalmy, both defenders when goals were badly needed. Talented attackers Lindsay Tarpley and Natasha Kai languished on the bench.
In the meantime, the Brazilians had taken over the midfield.
So much went wrong for the U.S. it's hard to know where to start. Ryan made a series of errors, some long before his decision to bench Solo in favor of Scurry. This was a American squad that showed little leadership on the field and underperformed in all of its matches.
Brazil might be in the final against Germany, but it is not some super team in the making. It has two star players in goal-scorers Marta and Cristiane, but only average goalkeeping and few other really noteworthy players. The U.S. should have been able to handle Brazil, but the Americans had their confidence shaken when Ryan yanked Solo and the team resembled one trying not to lose, rather than going for the win.
What resulted was the worst U.S. Women's World Cup loss ever and certainly the team's worst performance in memory, given the 44-0-7 record in its last 51 outings. It's a shame the meltdown had to come on a world stage. How long it takes the American women -- they play Norway Sunday for third place -- to recover remains to be seen.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Briana Scurry - 2 : Did almost nothing right, but she was put in an almost impossible situation having played only a handful of matches in the last three years.
Defender Christie Rampone - 4.5: Her worst outing of the tournament. Fine at times, but just not quick enough at other times.
Defender Catherine Whitehill - 4: Provided little or no support as Marta created space for herself or when Cristiane came roaring down the middle, unmarked, for the third Brazilian goal.
Defender Kate Markgraf - 4.5: Also her worst outing of the tournament. Was often pulled out of position.
Defender Stephanie Lopez - 5: Was the sacrifice on the back-line when the U.S. went needed an additional attacker. Was perhaps the most involved U.S. defender in the first half, but that's faint praise.
Midfielder Lori Chalupny - 5.5: Remained aggressive the entire match and helped create a few chances.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 3: Could not keep up with the swifter Brazilians, so she fouled. Her dismissal seemed almost pre-ordained.
Midfielder Leslie Osborne - 4.5: Inexplicably made a difficult play on an easy ball and resultantly caused an own goal that put the U.S. in a hole. Won few battles in the middle.
Forward Heather O'Reilly - 5: Received little service, but was working hard when she was surprisingly pulled early in the second half.
Forward Kristine Lilly - 5: As the senior member of the team, it fell to her to right the ship and push forward. Maybe that was too much to ask of anyone.
Forward Abby Wambach - 4: Had one chance all night and could not connect. Otherwise was not much in the match.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd (46th minute for Lopez) 5.5: Played decently in a fairly hopeless situation.
Defender Tina Ellertson (60th minute for O'Reilly) - 4: Made to look silly by Marta. For some reason, she replaced a striker when the U.S. was down three goals and seemed to have no clue what her role was.
Defender Marian Dalmy (74th minute for Markgraf) 4: Made little impact in her first international appearance, replacing an ailing Markgraf. What role she was assigned when goals were desperately needed remains a mystery.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Lori Chalupny.
The U.S. Women's World Cup roster:
Goalkeepers (3): Nicole Barnhart (Gilbertsville, Pa.), Briana Scurry (Dayton, Minn.), Hope Solo (Richland, Wash.).
Defenders (6): Marian Dalmy (Lakewood, Colo.), Tina Ellertson (Vancouver, Wash.), Stephanie Lopez (Elk Grove, Calif.), Kate Markgraf (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), Christie Rampone (Point Pleasant, N.J.), Catherine Whitehill (Birmingham, Ala.).
Midfielders (7): Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Lori Chalupny (St. Louis), Angela Hucles (Virginia Beach, Va.), Marci Jobson (St. Charles, Ill.), Carli Lloyd (Delran, N.J.), Leslie Osborne (Brookfield, Wisc.), Aly Wagner (San Jose, Calif.).
Forwards (5): Natasha Kai (Kahuku, Hawai'i), Kristine Lilly (Wilton, Conn.), Heather O'Reilly (East Brunswick, N.J.), Lindsay Tarpley (Kalamazoo, Mich.), Abby Wambach (Rochester, N.Y.).
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Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.