How could you not be pulling for the USWNT after that run to the final? The breathtaking win against all odds vs. Brazil. The late dominant surge against France. My girls teams were talking about it all summer and were pumped for the final. I had encouraged them to watch every game they could – watching players off the ball, how they moved, how they reacted. I already had players getting their haircut like Abby – ponytails gone. We even had seen the USWNT beat Japan in a friendly in May when 80 of our parents and their daughters bought a block of tickets. Women’s soccer had people excited! And then heartbreak. The fairy tale ended.
While commentators will likely stop talking about the resurgence of women’s soccer, there’s no denying that World Cup had an impact. As coaches, we need to ensure we take advantage of that. So while it may have been easier to utilize the final as a coaching tool if the US had won, it still will serve as a valuable tool.
After the Brazil match, the coaching point was easy. Never, ever, give up. Too many youth players, down a goal or two, will ease up in the 2nd half. All it takes is one goal to get fired up and potentially snatch a win from certain defeat. With the final, it may be easy to try and pick apart the USWNT’s performance – try to highlight specific technical and tactical mistakes. But honestly? I thought it was one of the better matches the US played in the World Cup. They controlled the ball better than they had the entire tournament. Despite Japan having possession 53%, it didn’t feel like it. The US outshot Japan 27-14 and early in the match the difference was much higher. Many of the attacks on goal were fantastic. I hope my players watched how the US kept the pressure up and clearly had Japan rattled in the 1st half. If I were to highlight one tactical mistake, it was too many gorgeous runs to the goal line only to shoot the impossible angle shot instead of slotting to a teammate in the box. I saw many on Twitter upset with the US defense, but I thought they did an amazing job 1v1 and stripping the ball from the quick Japanese strikers. Yes, the 1st goal was frustrating, but we’ve ALL seen those in matches. One frantic clearance attempt startles another defender who gets a bad touch and the ball drops in front of an opponent. It happens. But what about the dozens of other times the defense maintained possession and built attacks in the midst of a swarm of opponents instead of resorting to kick and run? When it comes to goalkeeping, not sure you can use Hope Solo this time for coaching moments. Not because she had a bad game, but because she hardly touched the ball until the very end when she unfortunately guessed wrong on a few PKs. But how about Ayumi Kaihori? While her stat sheet may only show 3 saves, she was the impact player of the match well before her multiple saves in the shootout. She was kept busy by the US attack all game and made some spectacular acrobatic saves. She’s 5′ 6″ tall! And her performance in the shootout was solid. I hope my keepers paid attention to Ayumi’s presence in the area and how she pursued the ball among a swarm of larger bodies.
In the end, the overall coachable moment I’ll use with my players is sometimes you can play a very good match and still lose. I felt the US had the better performance. How many times could we hit the crossbar or the post? Shots on frame that always seem to hit the frame can be frustrating, but it showed we were shooting – a lot. All it took was one to edge in and the US takes home the trophy (or one defensive clear to not hammer into a teammate in the goal area). But they didn’t, and a very valuable lesson for kids can be that the score is NOT the only thing to focus on. If you come off the field, having played your heart out, attacked the goal often, played solid defense, and yet still find yourself a goal short, that’s OK. Hold your heads high knowing you left it all on the field. The US Women’s Team certainly did.
And you certainly have to give Japan credit for an amazing run in the tournament. As David Hirshey highlights on ESPN.com:
Sunday’s final was a fitting capstone to the best, most competitive Women’s World Cup ever played. As heartwarming a backstory as Japan brought into the tournament — team of destiny, looking to provide some joy to a country ravaged by the devastating tsunami and earthquake this past March — it wasn’t the global response to the tragedy that won the World Cup for the Japanese. No, it was a magnificent display of resilience and fortitude, long considered indigenous American traits, that helped them overcome two seemingly insurmountable leads during the taut, pulsating 120 minutes of open play. And then, when the Nadeshiko were faced with the daunting task of scoring from the spot against the world’s best goalkeeper, Hope Solo, they fell back on their greatest strength — technique.
In the end, as a coach, this was a great World Cup for my players to watch because it was exciting, instructive, and disappointing. I think much can be learned from it.
What coaching points do you plan to make with your players/teams?