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When Did The USWNT Become England?

As I was pulling my hair out the other night watching the United States Women’s National Team fail to break down a clearly inferior Colombia squad, the guys over at 32 Flags brought up a very interesting comparison for the US.

Holy crap that’s an amazing spot on comparison. Well done 32 Flags.

The USWNT has become exactly what England’s “Golden Generation” became. That last tweet couldn’t have hit the nail more on the head. Both teams seem to have stuck with the same players for just a little too long. They both have clung to a 4-4-2 formation for way too long, even though everyone else has long since abandoned it.

The comparison goes beyond that. Despite having other options both teams stubbornly kept forcing the same pieces into the wrong formation trying to make it work. England did it over and over again with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, moving one or the other around to try to keep them both on the field even though the squad was better off with only one of them out there. The United States is now doing the same thing with Abby Wambach, throwing her onto the pitch and forcing the U.S. to play to her game, even though that doesn’t fit the rest of the team.

Playing Wambach every game forces the U.S. to play with two strikers, leaving no room for a creative central midfielder. Similar to the English team of the mid-2000’s, the tactics become eerily similar to exactly how you used to play the FIFA video game up until around FIFA 12–get the ball out to the wings, run down the sideline, then boom a cross into the box for a header. What it leads to is really boring and ineffective soccer until each team gets rescued by their only marketable star. In England’s case that was usually a moment of brilliance from Wayne Rooney; for the United States it’s Alex Morgan.

The United States entered this tournament relying on recent history to get them through. They won the Gold Medal at both the 2008 and 2012 summer Olympics, and were runners up at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. While England couldn’t rely on history (they had none), they relied on the tremendous club records of their individual players. In neither case did that lead to on field success.

While this has been a tremendously successful generation of players for the United States, they have still failed to win a World Cup like the previous generations have. That’s one of the reasons why the U.S. has forsaken the opportunity to get more youth into the squad and instead decided to give this current generation of players one last shot at glory.

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking though. Four years is a very long time in international soccer; hell, even one year is. We’ve seen what happens on the men’s side when countries hold onto a generation for one tournament too long. It usually ends with them flaming out horrifically (Spain in WC 2014 after winning in 2010, France in WC 2010 after finishing as runners up in 2006, Brazil a little less so in 2006 after winning in 2002).

England had their best chance at glory in Euro 2004. They kept that generation alive and it failed to even qualify for Euro 2008. They even ran that team out again in 2010 after a very misleading qualifying campaign made people believe they had bounced back (it should be noted, England always does well in qualifying since they win all their home games). The 2010 World Cup proved they certainly hadn’t bounced back. They scored just two goals in a very weak group in the group stage, then had their doors blown off 4-1 by Germany in the knockout round.

For the USWNT, it hasn’t been a total flame out. After all they’re still alive and well in the quarterfinals, but it has come at the expense of them being able to play their best soccer. Watching the U.S. take on Colombia it was clear what the U.S. had become, especially when Abby Wambach was on the field. They’d become a set-piece team.

A set-piece team?!? This team entered the tournament ranked No. 2 in the world in the flawed FIFA rankings (as flawed as the FIFA rankings are, there’s no question the U.S., Germany, and France are top three teams). You don’t get that high by being a set-piece team, and you shouldn’t be relying on set pieces when you’re the second best team around. That’s what a middle-tier team does when it’s trying to win a game against a team above it’s weight class.

I’m not going to sit here and lie about how big of a fan of the women’s game I am, but after casually watching a few USWNT games this year I never thought they’d win this World Cup despite entering the tournament as the favorites. The team just isn’t as good as it was four years ago and age is starting to creep up on them really fast.

I watched Germany dismantle the Ivory Coast 10-0, though even I admit you have to take that game with a grain of salt, but by the time I finished watching their 1-1 draw with Norway it was clear that Germany is by far and away the best team in this tournament. If the U.S. doesn’t get their act together and France can’t stop the Germans in the quarterfinals, then when we wake up on July 6th, Germany will be the champions of both the men’s and women’s World Cup. Quite an impressive feat.

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