There and Back Again

The Bride and I took our first vacation in…urgh, seventeen years!…a couple weeks back. Nothing spectacular, a car trip to Vancouver Island and back. Lots of scenery, pretty gardens, mountains and ocean in a very “Pacific Northwest” style…it was fun.

The photo above? That’s from the land-end of something called “Whiffen Spit” in the Victoria bedroom community of Sooke, BC. Said bruin would have had to stroll through about a half mile of dense suburban development to get there. Sorry. I don’t buy it. This isn’t Bear Grylls, here…


So two clubs are out of their respective tournaments.

The Thorns slid out of the Challenge Cup (and “…onto the hard floor of day”, as Bruce Cockburn put it elsewhere) with a lifeless scoreless draw to the top-of-group Reign. Both sides had more fouls than shots, both had low-single-figure shots on frame, and while Seattle simply needed a point Portland could have, at least, ended with some ferocity.

They didn’t.

Plus all the NorrisBall issues showed up. Lack of finishing. Poor passing and turnovers. Little semblance of connection within the squad. Same problems, different day, and the same things that have been dinging this squad all season. The only difference was that we had the Replacements on the pitch instead of the Nats, and they couldn’t power through the derps.

Now we’re getting the Nats back, though, because…

…the USWNT crashed out of the Round of 16 on a PK shootout which included misses from Alex Morgan, Meghan Rapinoe, and Sophia Smith.

I won’t say I’m surprised. But in a way I am.

Vlatko Andonovski was one of the most tactically-clever domestically-produced managers in the NWSL. His record stands up against everyone except Mark Parsons (who got his start coaching in the UK) and Paul (spit!) Riley, who’s also a Brit along with being a garbage human being. I’d expected him to at least look decent amongst the internationals.

Instead his US squads looked tactically undercooked, technically gifted individuals who never seemed to be more as a sum of the parts. He seemed to have issues figuring out where to play people to use them best. The squad stumbled through the group and even bringing their best against the Swedes couldn’t make a goal.

But who do you replace him with? Particularly, who do you replace him with that’s not a European or South American (or, hell, Japanese – Ikeda has looked terrific this year!)?

This is where I remind everyone of the Soccer America fulminations about the tactical crudity and technical barrenness of the US soccer development system. The youth clubs under the AYSO, and the colleges under the NCAA were, according to the editors of the magazine, producing tactically undercooked coaches and technically underskilled players.

The player recruiting was limited to wealthy kids instead of hungry strivers; the future Pele’s and Messi’s were being overlooked. Infrequent minutes, baby-step techniques, overgenerous matchday substitution in the youth and college games meant slow progress.

Worse, coaches were taught to rely on pace and physicality and hero-ball rather than working on tactical nous.

Well…has the bill finally come due?

Who do we replace Vlatko with, if not someone like Ikeda or Wiegmann? Tom Sermanni? He’s a million years old. Someone like Michelle French, who’s doing well here are University of Portland but who, like Vlatko, lacks international experience.

It’s been fun to watch the former-minnows like Colombia and Morocco advance (and Nigeria, who handed England every damn thing they could handle and more before falling to PKs, as well…).

But it’s also a good reminder that the US isn’t the 800-pound gorilla anymore. The rest of the world is so much better it’s a real question whether the 1991 champions could even get into the quarterfinals this year.

The US will be back again. But I’m not sure that if we want to do more than just “be back” we need to rethink the way we get there. Hmmm?

At least we got further than the Canadians. Tough break, hosers, eh?

John Lawes
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