Women's World Cup: U.S. beats Brazil

Jul 11, 2011

The United States defeated Brazil in penalty kicks after an improbable comeback in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals Sunday in Dresden, Germany. Longtime soccer journalist Brian Straus chatted about the game, the team and its matchup with France in Wednesday's semifinals in today's discussion. Brian also discussed women's soccer and its growth and development over the past 12 years.

Good morning everybody, and thanks for joining us. It's exciting to be back at the Post for an hour or so. I covered soccer here for five years and focused primarily on Mia Hamm, the WUSA and the U.S. women from 2001 through 2003.

I'm now covering soccer for Sporting News. I'd be happy to answer questions about yesterday's dramatic quarterfinal, the state of the women's game and American soccer in general, the U.S. men and other soccer topics.

Fire away like it's the 122nd minute.

Brian, The U.S. win over Brazil has to rank up there as one of the greatest comeback moments in sports. Please explain, though, how the Brazilian player (Erikia ?) got away with feigning an injury, jumping off the stretcher and running back into the game. That seemed to be a pretty blatant disregard for the rules, don't you think? Thanks. Skip

Hi Skip. Those sorts of delay tactics are frustratingly common in soccer these days (see Ghana v. US, 2010 World Cup). If a player requires "medical" attention on the field, he/she must leave and can only re-enter with the ref's permission. That's a formality.

The hope is that the ref adds the appropriate amount of time onto the end of the half/game to compensate. In this case, Erika's antics may have come back to bite Brazil. Wambach scored 2 minutes into stoppage time.

Do you think the US will be emotionally and physically worn out for Wednesdays game against France?

Good question. I was wondering something similar as the Americans celebrated yesterday. It was a physically and emotionally taxing 122 minutes (how about Wambach's effort on a bum Achilles? Incredible). And now the U.S. has one day fewer to rest than France.

This U.S. team is quite deep and experienced, and coach Pia Sundhage has been trying to give them days off during the World Cup. The Americans will be hoping that whatever fatigue they might bring to Wednesday's semi will be offset by French stage fright -- France has never made it this far.

I must have watched that replay of Hope Solo's penalty kick save a dozen times now. Wow what an ending!

People often deride the goalkeeping in women's soccer, but there's no criticizing Solo. Clearly the best in the world, and there was almost no doubt that once the game went to PKs, she'd find a way to get one.

Was the referee paid off or did she just not know the rules?

Are you referring to the obvious and intentional handball by Carli Lloyd early in the 2nd half that should have resulted in her 2nd yellow card of the game and ejection?

Can anything be done to punish a player for diving? That defender who fell in the last minutes of the game and then sprang up on the stretcher should have been tossed from the game. It's disgusting that they can do that and still play on.

Diving and faking injuries are two different things. But yes, diving can be punished. It just requires the will to do so. And sure enough the people with that will just happen to run Major League Soccer.

D.C. United's own Charlie Davies was fined $1,000 for diving in a game against Real Salt Lake last month, and MLS has promised that larger fines, and suspensions, are to come for players who clearly intend to deceive referees.

I've got a story about this in the upcoming issue of Sporting News. (Plug!)

Is the officiating as bad as it seems?

The quality of officiating is a huge problem in soccer right now. The game has become just too fast for one person to monitor everything correctly in such a large space. UEFA, the European governing body, has been experimenting with an additional assistant behind the goals, but other than that, soccer's overlords haven't done much to help the overwhelmed men/women in the middle.

Does Solo's play call into greater attention how bad a coaching decision it was in the last World Cup to sit her? Hard to defend her actions after that decision but the decision was horrible...

No, everyone has known for four years how stupid it was to bench Solo against Brazil. Solo didn't surprise anybody yesterday.

Just a comment that I would like your thoughts on....Marta's skill is undeniable, really, her touch is amazing. But so is her flopping and CONSTANT arguing with the ref. I can't help but think she would be unstoppable if she just quit it with that stuff. I get that she is passionate, and perhaps those things are part of the Latin American/South American game. But I feel that she did herself no favors yesterday, the catcalls and booing were defeaning.

I thought it was telling that she got a yellow card for dissent at the close of the first half. She was already heating up and, perhaps, losing the plot. But it was a WWC quarterfinal and the stakes were high. Different players have different personalities.

As far as her being unstoppable - she kind of already is. But you need more than 1 player to win in soccer, and Brazil didn't have the mettle or the fitness to close out yesterday's game. This is a team that, recently, has proven to be less than the sum of its parts.

The reason that the US fans do not care about "world soccer" was clearly on display yesterday and will not care until FIFA cleans up it's act. The officiating was ridiculous. And if the "rules" allow such assinine play then it has to be changed. I want no part of a sport that allows blatant cheating if not encourages it.

There is no question that officiating needs to improve and that certain aspects of the game need to be cleaned up. No question. But If FIFA were to "clean up its act", my guess is that Americans who "do not care about world soccer" will find another reason not to care about it. And as for blatant cheating, my guess is you still watch baseball/football/hockey/basketball despite steroids/chopblocks/hooking/flopping to draw charges.

Do you think the Women's World Cup suffers from women refereeing it? Some of the worst calls I've seen at this stage of a major tournament yesterday. Obviously, the referees weren't up to the task.

Producer's note: Julie Foudy seemed to say as much during yesterday's broadcast.

The referee who called back Maurice Edu's perfectly good goal against Slovenia and the referee who failed to see Frank Lampard's shot against Germany go 2 yards over the goal line were both men. Refereeing suffers because the game is now too fast to be officiated by one person, regardless of gender.

It didn't appear that Solo came off the line, so was the official explaination that another player encroached from behind? It seemed a bit much to call.

I've still not heard an official explanation, and Solo said after the game that the referees didn't give one. This is an aspect of soccer that must change. Referees should be have to explain why they made a call, even if its through a FIFA/league rep following a game. There must be accountability.

The Brazilian women seemed to complain excessively, toss the balls away from us (out of bounds), fake injuries (the Lazarus act just mentioned in the last comment), and very few players lined up to shake hands with the U.S. women (notably star players like Marta, who was nowhere to be seen). I know this happens to some extent in all matches, but it explained the whistling/boos from the crowd and made the end of the match comeback that much sweeter!

The Brazilian men traditionally have called everybody's second favorite team because of the style, panache and passion with which they play. I have a feeling the same won't be said of the women. Didn't win many fans yesterday with their antics. Glad to see that sort of behavior criticized, at least in the court of public opinion.

The US seems to struggle with possession and often plays a long ball game that I associate with desperation. A lot of their balls don't seem to have a receiver in mind. Why does this so often seem to be the American style, and is a new generation (Japan, etc) going to eat our lunch?

Great question. The one player on the U.S. who thrives in the sort of possession game you're talking about, Lori Lindsey, has played only once at the WWC (against Colombia)

To this point, the U.S. women haven't suffered becuase they stress fitness, commitment and athleticism over possession and technique. If at some point they're routinely beaten by teams like Japan or Brazil, then perhaps that'll change.

But right now, the way players develop in the U.S. -- at youth clubs that care more about winning trophies than developing for the long-haul and in a college system that allows for almost unlimited substitutions -- produces more athletic, less technical players.

How will the US deal with not having Buehler on Wednesday and considering how much more dynamic the squad looked with Alex Morgan and Rapinoe on the pitch do you think either will replace Amy Rodriguez in the starting 11?

I think we were all surprised that Cheney was subbed out so early, but clearly Pia is pushing the right buttons right now. Rodriguez has struggled in front of goal, but her speed and movement can still trouble and stretch a defense. I thought O'Reilly was excellent for stretches yesterday. Some intriguing options against France. Boxx to come back for Buehler? Perhaps another shot for Lindsey?

Just a note for question 12, the continued coverage did show Marta and other Brazilians shaking hands/etc with the USA players -- Marta hugged a couple of folks. The "extended" tv coverage showed it later.

Thanks for that note. I saw that too -- it was almost a Stanley Cup playoffs handshake.

Do you think a US WC win will do anything for the WPS? I tend to think that there just isn't a market for women's pro team sports. The WNBA, after all, only exists because the NBA subsidizes it.

My hunch is no, unfortunately. People love to see the U.S. win, but that doesn't mean there's an appetite for a given sport beyond the occasional patriotic fervor. For example, we all watched Michael Phelps in Beijing. But how many have gone to a swimming meet since? WPS really is struggling, and the loss of the Washington Freedom lessened my interest in the league considerably.

In the 2010 Men's World Cup there was a bunch of terrible refereeing. The refereeing in the 2011 Women's World Cup has had some bad refereeing. So why do some (many online) people blame the refereeing mistakes in the Women's World Cup on the fact that the ref crews are all female?

See my previous answer. I agree with you. Refereeing is suffering around the world because they can't keep up with the speed of the modern game. Gender isn't an issue.

Were you surprised that Carli Lloyd wasn't subbed for following the handball non-call? What was your take of the substitutions on the U.S. side?

That was a brave decision by Pia Sundhage. Lloyd hit the crossbar with a header a few minutes later, so it almost paid off. Was surprised to see Cheney come out so early too, but like I said earlier, you can't argue with the result. Once reduced to 10, the U.S. maintained shape and composure and at times looked like the better team.

What's the over-under for the chances that the Australian referee crew that handled the USA-Brazil match will be allowed to officiate any of the remaining games?

If Brazil's penalty kick was allowed to be retaken because of encroachment in the penalty area, then by the letter of the law, they got it right. Rampone was a step in. Missing the offside on Marta's second goal was a blink-of-an-eye play. The red to Buehler was a judgement call.  I'd be surprised to see them officiate again, but only because there are 4 games left. Most of their decisions were at least defensible. I've seen worse refereeing.

Who on the women's team has surprised you the most? Who needs to do more? Which team is most surprising? I cannot say that I have been "surprised" by Japan, because I always knew that they were talented, but their ability to stay calm, execute a gameplan meticulously, and not crumble under pressure has been amazing!

Cheney and Ali Krieger (Hylton High) have been the revelations for the US at this WWC. Don't think there's any question about that. Do more? Rodriguez probably should have another goal or two. Boxx finally showed up yesterday. Wambach seems to have ended her slump.

I've enjoyed watching Japan and France. They play good soccer and deserve their spots. Both semis are pretty intriguing.

FIFA likes to pick refs from as many countries as possible for the World Cup. Especially in the women's game, there are very few high-level matches that will prepare a referee for the pressure and speed of the World Cup. This is as true for the men as the women. Some referees definitely have "it"--the woman who called the U.S.-Sweden match and (I believe) the England-France match has seemed very competent and in control. But far too many of the other officials (refs and line runners) don't.

Correct, FIFA likes to spread the refs around. Just like it likes to spread around World Cups hosts. There are many who think that policy should be dispensed with and that refs should be chosen entirely on merit, regardless of nationality.

You know he's smarter than you and on to yours and Goff's and Wahl's role as cheerleaders for the entire corrupt US Soccer enterprise. HOW MUCH DID GARBER PAY YOU OFF WITH!!?!?!?!

I'm going to start at left midfield in the MLS all-star game against Manchester United. I'm a bit nervous about marking Ryan Giggs, but Garber said he has total confidence in me. Can't wait!

Brian, thanks for defending the refs. I saw both the Brazil-Norway game and yesterday's game live and was astonished at the vitriol directed at Marta both times, especially yesterday. Why do you think the crowd turned on her the way they did? Compared to most players, she neither dove nor time-wasted, Solo (who was great) was at least as aggressive as she was (and wasted far more time when the US was ahead), and let's get real, her technical skills, like Christiane's, are so far ahead of the US players who brought quite different talents to the pitch. OK, last question: why do so many think Wambach played so well? As far as I could see, she flopped more than all the other players put together and called for the ref's attention more than once in totally unnecessary ways.

I'm not defending the refs, really, just acknowledging that they face an impossible task. A huge issue facing US soccer these days is trying to recruit new refs. People don't want to do it, in part, because of the abuse. I think it's telling that MLS has had a program in place to fast-track former players through referee training, and NOT A SINGLE ONE of them has accepted the offer. They don't want to go through it.

I wasn't in Dresden, so am reluctant to comment on the crowd. But as far as Wambach -- her commitment and effort are unmatched. She puts more into a game than just about any player I've ever seen. She's big and strong and often doesn't get the benefit of the doubt from referees as a result. But her style of play is going to result in a lot of dirty jerseys. I don't think she's a diver.

From your producer: Ali Krieger played at Forest Park High (at least she graduated from there). Her dad, Ken, coached at Hylton for a long time. 

Ah, thanks for the correction. She must have transferred when Ken moved from Hylton to Forest Park. (Confession: I covered boys high school soccer when I was at the Post. Not girls. But I should've known this anyway.)

That was when Marta disappeared (along with her other "star" team mates). She may have had a few hugs right after the match, but she was no where to be seen after that. The line up hand shake is an act of sportmanship that should be adopted in all team sports. We do it after every water polo game.

Do you stay in the pool to do that? If so, that's kinda cool.

A change of pace from yesterday's incredible finish. With Donovan seeming to lose a step and Dempsey seemingly still improving, will Landon look back at his career and wish he had stuck it out in Europe like Clint did? I dont think Landon ever reached his potential and I think Clint became the player that Donovan could have if he had played against the best every day.

Good queston. One could easily argue that Donovan wouldn't have reached his potential in Europe if he wasn't comfortable in that environment or with that lifestyle. So perhaps this is his potential. Unless he moves soon (and he's got 2.5 years left on his Galaxy deal), how Donovan would've fared in his prime in Europe will be a great "what if" of American soccer. People wonder the same about Pele, who never played professionally in Europe.

I won't begrudge Donovan anything. He's the best player in U.S. history and passed his final exam at the 2010 World Cup with flying colors. I question anybody who doubts him at this point.

But yeah, gotta wonder...

Brian, do you remember covering a knock-out weekend of such compelling games? Three of the four matches were just riveting! Between Japan-Germany, England-France and US-Brazil, which result surprised you the most? Which winner was most deserving? Which loser was the least deserving?

It was pretty incredible, wasn't it? Surely Japan is the shock -- knocking out the two-time champs and hosts in the quarterfinals. Nobody saw that coming. England fought hard but lacked France's quality, and Brazil just didn't have the fortitude to see the game out. Not sure if I'd qualify any of them as least deserving losers. Think all 4 results were fair in the end.

Would women's soccer be more popular and more successful if there was pro/rel? Just kidding.

There is relegation in women's soccer. See the LA Sol, FC Gold Pride, St. Louis Athletica, Chicago Red Stars and Washington Freedom.

The women's game seems to be growing throughout the world. I fear it is only a matter of time before the USWNT falls to the second tier like the US men. Is this the last best chance for the US women to win a major trophy or can the team stay a step ahead of the competition?

Good question. Interestingly, 1999 US coach Tony DiCicco said it would be 12 years before the US won another WWC because other countries are producing players with better technique and tactical understanding. Now the US is 2 games away.

I think the US will always be a contender in women's soccer. So many girls play in this country, the program is so well organized and well funded. That alone already puts the US women in the global elite. They won't always win, but hard to imagine a point where they're second tier.

If it wasnt for the Washington Area Girls Soccer in mid 70's there would be no women's World Cup Soccer or even Women's soccer at the collegiate level. The current players on the US team owe a big debt of gratitude to the parents who started WAGS and the girls on the first teams. Without WAGS there would ahve been no UNC dynasty and no soccer scholarships for the ladies.

Posting this because I like when people point out the roots that soccer has in this country. It's as much our game as it is anybody else's. WAGS has a place in American soccer history.  And a shoutout to the boys league as well, the NCSL.

In your opinion is this the best game ever men's or women's? - Katie in CO

Yes, Katie. The best ever! But it was even bigger than that. A seminal moment in American history. Watching that game was like riding a bald eagle while watching Abraham Lincoln read the Gettysburg Address as he exited the Apollo 11 lunar module.

(Katie is a friend everybody. Please address your complaints to her. She started it.)

Was this the most exciting game of women's soccer ever? Even more dramatic than 1999? I felt like I was watching one of those rare moments in sports when it really does become something astonishing, like Ali-Foreman, or Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon 1980, or the Miracle on Ice. What do you think?

I think this was better than the 99 final. That was kind of a dull game until the overtime and then PKs. Yesterday's was just full of incident, controversy, a couple of great goals. Easily the better game. Best ever in women's soccer? Hard to argue against it.

Will the U.S. have all of the players back for the France game without the accumulated yellow and red cards?

Yes, I believe the slate was wiped clean after the quarterfinals.

Brazil and Japan both produce very technically proficient players. I would argue Brazil does it naturally with kids playing with a ball all day long on their own (getting thousands of touches without drills per se) and Japan probably uses practices and drill structure to produce players with good technique. The US seems to be stuck between the two approaches--too much formalized league/club team game play where kids aren't either getting thousands of touches playing around on their own or practicing basic technique enough with their teams. How do we fix it or can we (with the money maker that club soccer is)?

This is a huge question that I've written about extensively and will continue to do so. A lot of the issue is about what American kids choose to do in their spare time, as you referenced with Brazil. And a lot has to do with players developing at independent youth clubs who strive to win tournaments rather than within professional organizations whose goal is to develop players for the long term. I know more about men's development than women's development, to be honest. Without stable, solvent pro clubs that can step in and develop girls the right away, I'm not sure how things are going to change for the U.S. women. And maybe they don't have to. They're still alive.

Delay tactics are common, I can accept that. But one thing that has been refreshing (in my opinion) about this Women's World Cup, has been a lack of diving, arguing, and other forms of gamesmanship that have almost made the men's game a farce. Diving happens everywhere, but the women seem to get up quicker. And when a dive does occur, the women are not afraid to police themselves to send a message (notably Kelly Smith's aggressive confrontation with Bompastor). Now, after Brazil v. USA, I am worried that the gamesmanship, haggling with the referees, etc. will become more a part of the women's game. What are your thoughts?

I was just reading some articles about a study that found that women engage in less of this sort of behavior than men. Fascinating. It is an appealing aspect of the women's game. I don't think Marta is going to change that.

Kelly Smith may be my favorite women's player of all time.

Brian, Who do you see advancing to the finals?

And who will win it all?

Hard to bet against the US and Sweden right now. Experienced at this level. World Cups for both men and women traditionally see one or two surprise semifinalists, but rarely a surprise finalist. I think the US will have a chance to avenge its first round defeat in Sunday's final.

And with that, we're through. I'm exhausted, and am going to roll on the field for a bit until somebody subs me out.

Thanks for all your questions and your interest. Sorry I couldn't get to all of them. And please check out Sporting News' soccer coverage at your newstand and on aol.sportingnews.com. After 125 years, SN is covering soccer. Please support those who support the game. Thanks so much!

In This Chat
Brian Straus
Longtime soccer journalist Brian Straus covers the sport for Sporting News and is the magazine's first soccer writer in its 125-year history. He has also written for AOL and The Washington Post, where he covered the 2003 Women's World Cup and the WUSA's Washington Freedom, which featured Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach. He covered the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for AOL.
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